Justin T. Gellerson for Reader's DigestFeeding 5,000 people every month is a tall order. For Lauren Puryear—single mother, full-time mental health therapist, and founder of the nonprofit For the Love of Others—the secret ingredient is coupons. Lots and lots of coupons.
The meals themselves are often quite impressive. Spaghetti and meatballs, rotisserie chickens with vegetables, meaty sandwiches—29-year-old Puryear prides herself on preparing and serving hearty dishes to the poor and homeless. She feeds them several weekends a month, in a number of cities: beans and hot dogs in Atlanta one week; chili and corn bread in Richmond, Virginia, the next. (Speaking of heroes, meet the Trusted League, the heroes of the most trusted brands in America.)
Still, she manages to do it all for next to nothing because the menu depends entirely on that week’s bargains. “The best way to get the lowest out-of-pocket cost is to match the coupon when the item is on sale,” she explains. Her clipping talents save between $250 and $1,000 per grocery trip. Considering that she’s on track to serve her 60,000th meal by the time she turns 30 in September, that savings is huge.
Most of the prep work starts at home, in Woodbridge, Virginia. Neighbors drop off 500 or so newspapers every week at Puryear’s house, and she spends her Friday nights going through them with her six-year-old son, Isaiah—quality family time complete with pizza and movies.
Once she tallies up the week’s critical mass of coupons, she calls her local stores to make sure the shelves are filled with the items on her list. Friends help stock the shopping carts and transport everything to her supersized pantry—a nearby storage unit—where she stashes her haul until she’s ready to head off in her SUV to the next city on her list.
“If I’m out of town and need something last-minute and go to a store, the cashiers look at me like I’m crazy,” she says about her giant shopping lists—and the coupons that go with them. The cooking is done on-site, usually in a kitchen donated by a homeless shelter or soup kitchen.
Puryear inherited her passion for culinary giving from her grandmother Marion Smith. When Smith saw panhandlers on the streets of Paterson, New Jersey, she would offer to buy them food instead of giving them money. When she came across a prostitute, she’d say, “It’s pretty cold out here. Why don’t you put on some warm clothes?” and then give her something to wear.
Puryear got into the act when she was ten. If there were leftovers from dinner, Smith would put them in a container and give her granddaughter instructions: “Now run outside and bring this to the homeless man on the street.”
When Puryear founded her nonprofit, she chose the name For the Love of Others to honor her grandmother, who passed away in 2012. “Love was just the central core of her being,” Puryear says.
Nana would certainly be proud of her granddaughter’s efforts—and her impact. At one meal in Baltimore, three boys asked if they could take extra sandwiches. “We’ll eat this today, but we’ll be hungry tomorrow,” one said. Puryear let them take five each. The boys’ crying mother thanked Puryear, explaining how she uses her entire paycheck for the hotel room where they live. They never know what they will eat day to day.
“Stories like that, that’s why we do what we do,” Puryear says. “To know that something as simple as couponing, which takes a couple of hours out of my day, can help somebody eat for three or four days—that’s amazing to me.”
This other hero will teach you why you need to stop saying, “Let me know if you need anything.”