By Jenn Burka
When I interviewed Winston Lord about his “Stuff the Bus” campaign through his company Venga, the first topic of conversation was the Vengaboys, a band I enjoyed in the 1990s. He told me about this video which had a huge impact on Winston’s creative juices.
This past May, Winston launched Venga as a one stop social media tool for Washingtonians to determine where they want to eat and socialize. The site and
the accompanying app advertise daily deals as well as news about 140 restaurants in the DC area. The site is catered towards what is best for restaurateurs and foodies and combines some of the best elements of groupon and twitter. Winston has spent eight months talking to restaurant owners about what they wanted in an on-line app, and he formed an advisory board with celebrity chefs such as Jose Andres and Spike Mendelsohn to help him develop the site so that it meets the needs of restaurants. Since Winston has never worked in the restaurant industry, the advisory board allows him to turn to a panel of experts to answer restaurant related questions and problems.
Last week at the H Street Festival, Venga teamed up with DC Central Kitchen
to begin a two week long campaign to collect fresh food for those in need. The campaign utilizes a giant bus that Winston and his two co-founders bought for
$1,000 off craigslist shortly after watching the Vengaboys music video. It was the perfect marketing hook. The bus was originally purchased for the street team to drive around in and promote Venga, but Winston always had visions of doing something more with the bus. This opportunity was a great fit because DC Central Kitchen had been one of Venga’s partners since Winston started the website.
Originally, Winston thought about trying to break the Guinness Book of World Records by stuffing the most people in a bus. He says that he still wants to do that someday, but the vision for Stuff the Bus, has more philanthropic goals. The
concept is that they are trying to collect enough food to fill the bus (5,000 pounds) by Truckeroo on September 30. People can donate a wide array of foods, with suggestions listed on their website. The website also has a schedule of
where the bus will be and donation amounts for those that wish to donate money
rather than food. This initiative works to provide nutritious and healthy food to all, one of Food Day’s core goals. Because the bus is mobile, this allows the campaign to go to places that traditional stationary food drives don’t have access to. Winston and his team have been able to get the word out to a greater community, and DC Central Kitchen has been able to utilize their efforts.
Stuff the Bus is the first mobile fresh food drive for DC Central Kitchen and for Venga. The drive has been getting a lot of attention. For example, the DC Food Truck Association has shown their avid support through its members’ social media efforts. The Bus has been partnering up with these trucks to further attract people. This past weekend, the Bus was at Eastern Market on Saturday and Dupont Market on Sunday. To increase visibility even more, Winston has gathered the support of a large handful of celebrities (both culinary and non-culinary alike) to “drive” the bus and spread the word. Although you won’t actually see these celebrities behind the wheel (Spike Mendelsohn sure wanted to drive though), they have been tweeting their support non-stop. Most of their donations thus far have been “virtual” in that they give Stuff the Bus money to purchase fresh produce at a later date. The purchased produce and any non perishable goods they have collected during their pick-ups will be donated to DC Central Kitchen. They have already dropped off a donation from Northside Social consisting of fresh bread to be used immediately.
With one week left until the deadline, the bus was over halfway to their goal. After a weekend out on the road, the bus has now collected 6,000 pounds total – this surpasses their goal of 5,000 pounds and they plan to continue their collection throughout the week. Winston is amazed by the success that the bus has had, and he has visions for an annual event. He envisions perhaps getting a bigger bus or even a truck for the next time around. In the meantime, Venga has been further supporting their cause by donating a meal every time someone downloads their free app.
Keep your eyes open: the Venga Bus is coming! This week you can find the Venga Bus at the following locations: