Pay It Forward Program

A Downtown Ithaca outreach program geared toward helping the community’s less fortunate.

Assisting the homeless and those who are in need is the daily struggle of many cities; however, Downtown Ithaca has developed a compassionate plan called Pay It Forward to help these individuals.

Pay It Forward is a community outreach campaign that allows the public to make a donation that will assist those in need with purchasing a meal or sundries from participating businesses. The public may donate by making a contribution in one of three red donation boxes. Three boxes are on the Commons. One is Aurora St., the second near Home Dairy Alley and the third in Bank Alley. All of the money collected from the donation boxes will be used to buy food and basic necessity items for Ithaca’s homeless and people in need.

The program is managed by the Downtown Ithaca Alliance (DIA), a not-for-profit community development organization charged with creating and sustaining a vibrant and healthy city center.

DIA Executive Gary Ferguson notes, Pay It Forward brings together interested merchants, the donating public, nonprofit providers, and the Community Outreach Worker Program. The DIA is working with the Community Outreach Worker Program operated by the local nonprofit Family and Children’s Services to educate those in need about the initiative.

“Despite our inventory of nonprofits and support programs, we have not always been able to meet the basic needs of people on the street. Pay It Forward is a creative and engaging way to involve the community in addressing one of our most fundamental and basic issues — providing for people in need. It does not duplicate existing programs or services; it complements current services provided by nonprofits,” Ferguson said.

The DIA encourages the public to consider supporting the Pay It Forward Program by placing a contribution in the donation boxes or paying directly to the participating businesses. The DIA is also working to enroll more businesses in the program.

Currently, Center Cafe inside of Center Ithaca on The Commons, Green Street Pharmacy, and Casablanca Pizzeria are participating in the program. You may have noticed near Center Cafe’s food service window a white board covered with sticky notes dollar amounts on them; that’s Pay It Forward!

How it works is giving citizens may pre-pay for a meal, or donate to the purchase without any purchase of their own, or place a donation in the Pay It Forward boxes. Any amount of money is accepted.

“What I like about the program is that it can show people that even the smallest gesture such as purchasing an extra cup of coffee for someone in need can go a long way. I am also hoping to show other businesses that it doesn’t take a lot of work or even too much planning to help those in need. If you set up a way for people to help others they will,” said The Center Cafe Owner Terry Little.

Green Street Pharmacy owner Nicole Pagano adds, “Pay it forward is a wonderful way for people to give to those in need with the security that the money is going to good use. I have seen many people benefit from this program in many ways: including a bagel or hot bowl of soup when they are hungry, first aid items when they are hurt, and a bus pass when they need a ride home. This is a way for people to ask for and receive help with dignity and respect. No other person in the store knows that the person in line in front of them is a recipient of this program. I went into the pharmacy business to help people, and the Pay it Forward program is just another way to help others in our community.”

A person in need may participate in this program simply by going to one of the participating downtown businesses and pulling from a bulletin a note tag that is redeemable for food and other necessities.

Again, the program guarantees 100 percent of the money donated will provide the area’s homeless and people in need with meals and sundries such as batteries, toiletries, or a bus pass.

“Pay It Forward is an exciting, novel effort to help those most in need in a way that preserves their dignity. If you are hungry, there will be food. If you need personal items, or batteries, or any other items, you will have immediate access without scrutiny. We want to help all of our citizens, especially those most vulnerable,” said City of Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick. “Pay It Forward brings together the city, the DIA, caring businesses, nonprofits and community members who agonize over how to give to the people on the street. Now with the Pay It Forward Program, they know their dollars go for the basic needs that people truly must have, but sometimes forego to satisfy an addiction.”

For the creation of this outstanding community outreach program, The City of Ithaca was the recent recipient of a CommunityWins Outstanding Achievement Grant from Wells Fargo. Ithaca was one of six cities to win the grant; 245 cities applied.

These grant funds will be used to augment the program by providing a pool of funds for replenishing Pay It Forward meals and items at the participating businesses and by paying for program marketing materials aimed at Downtown workers and visitors.

The DIA thanks the City of Ithaca and Downtown Ithaca businesses for participating in and supporting the Pay It Forward Program. For more information about the Pay It Forward Program, contact the DIA at (607) 277-8679 or email