Girl, 11, raises $10K for boro soup kitchen

Abby Hofstetter, 11, dishes up some food at Masbia, a restaurant-style soup kitchen. Photo courtesy of Sarah Hofstetter
By Joe Anuta

A Rego Park soup kitchen expected Abby Hofstetter to start a lemonade stand or bake cookies to help raise money. Instead, they got more than $10,000 from the pre-teen philanthropist.

Abby, 11, has surpassed her goal of giving $10,000 to Masbia, a restaurant-style kosher soup kitchen at 98-08 Queens Blvd., by her 12th birthday.

“It feels really good,” said the bashful tween. “I just want to help people.”

But Abby didn’t need to rent reception halls or hobnob with adults over expensive dinners to raise the cash. She did it with the help of her mother and a website called Crowdrise.

“It was so easy,” said Abby’s mother, Sarah, who set up and runs the site since Abby is legally too young to. “It took me less than an hour.”

Hofstetter created a profile just like other social media sites such as Facebook or MySpace. She can post photos, videos and messages, but there is an option to donate money electronically by simply clicking a button, which makes the process easier for Abby and her mother, as well as the people who want to donate.

“A girl that works for me is in Hong Kong and sent a donation,” Hofstetter said. “It’s a great mechanism for charity.”

It is also a great mechanism for people like Abby, who are creative and want to help — but aren’t especially outgoing.

“She’s very understated, so it’s a good way to use her creativity without having to talk to lots and lots of people,” Hofstetter said.

The whole idea started when the Hofstetters, from Cedarhurst, L.I., decided to travel to Masbia to volunteer in the kitchen one Sunday.

Abby was so enthusiastic about helping that she did not want to stop once the family left. She decided that before her bat mitzvah, a coming-of-age ceremony for 12-year-old Jewish girls, she would raise the $10,000.

But Abby didn’t reach her goal without hard work.

Before using the website, she collected hundreds of bottles and cashed them in at a recycling center, according to Hofstetter. She made $7.

Expanding her operations, Abby decided to host a bake sale. She toiled in the kitchen one Sunday and after the last cupcake was sold — mostly to her mother’s coworkers — she had made $250.

But we live in a digital age, so Abby took her message to the Internet.

After a video on YouTube, which she wrote, directed and voiced, Abby’s mother created the profile on crowdrise.com for her, which is when things started taking off.

And according to a co-founder of the company, that is exactly the idea.

“You absolutely don’t need to throw a $100 plate dinner for a fund-raiser,” said Robert Wolfe. “You could be sitting on your couch.”

Wolfe pointed out that the combination of social media integration — users can promote their charity drive on Facebook and Twitter — and a humorous and irreverent Web site make the process of donating fun.

Crowdrise is only seven months old, but is already exceeding Wolfe’s expectations. And he is no stranger to online business. In the 1990s, he ran a successful online shopping website.

“Twenty years ago, everybody told us that there is no way you can sell shoes online,” he said, but he did. “We had the same thought in the fund-raising space. We are supremely focused on the idea of making giving back fun.”

Fun or not, the staff at Masbia was completely surprised by how much Abby has done.

“It’s definitely wowing everybody that she got so much so fast. It challenges even myself,” said Executive Director Alexander Rapaport. “It just shows how much a single person, even a child, could make so much of a difference. It also speaks about the power of social media.”

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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