Andra Tomsa is just back from an International Women’s Day conference in the Dominican Republic, where she was invited to speak to college students about SPARE, the hunger-fighting mobile app she created.
“I just told my story. I spoke about starting a business shortly after having a baby,” says Tomsa, 28, still amazed that the country’s female vice president accompanied her at most events during the conference.
Tomsa has received a flurry of attention for SPARE, which is based on what she calls a “win-win-win” concept. It allows diners to round up their restaurant bills to the nearest dollar, with the “spare” change benefiting one of four New York City anti-hunger charities. Users can round up anywhere they dine, but SPARE partner restaurants offer discounts and freebies for frequent users. The app also tracks how many meals the user has provided (99 cents pays for roughly four meals) and how much closer SPARE users are to closing the “meal gap”—the 250 million meals the city’s residents miss each year according to the Food Bank for New York City.
“If we could get 10 percent of New Yorkers to round up for a total of six dollars a month, we could close that gap in one year,” Tomsa says.
Proceeds raised through SPARE benefit the Food Bank for New York City; City Harvest; City Meals on Wheels; and New York City Rescue Mission, where Vanita Boswell is chief of external affairs.
Boswell admires Tomsa for her innovation. “It’s just a brilliant way that she was able to use technology and mobilize people to do good in an easy way,” she said, adding that New York City Rescue Mission feeds about 500 homeless and hungry people a day. A difficult economy and a cold winter, she said, increased the need for hot meals.
Tomsa was inspired in part by her son, whom she had shortly after graduating from Fordham in 2012 with a master’s degree in international political economy and development. “When he was two months old, I looked at him and I said, I have to do something that I’m proud of,” she says. She thought back to her college bartending days and considered how much New Yorkers spend going out each week. “I decided I wanted to capture a piece of that revenue stream and use it to help people.”
Through events at the Fordham Foundry, which supports Fordham entrepreneurs, she connected with alumni who are now potential investors. “I love Fordham and I am constantly plugging into the resources,” says Tomsa, who recently took SPARE from a nonprofit to a B Corporation, which allows her to accept investments (she’s received $150,000 to date).
She’s currently working on an opt-in system through which New York City participants automatically donate 25 cents when they dine, up to a monthly limit of their choosing. She’s also collaborating with the Dominican Republic’s tourism industry so tourist “round-ups” can benefit food banks there. And she plans to build her team of employees and advisers.
“The beauty of doing good,” she says, “is that everyone wants to help.”