Feeding Philly's Homeless, One Slice at a Time

Mason Wartman, owner of Rosa’s Fresh Pizza, is trying to help Philly's homeless with dollar slices and one simple question ...

" ... Can I get one off the wall?"

The interior of Rosa’s in Center City Philadelphia is covered in neon and even some pizza-shaped post-it notes. Those notes reflect prepaid slices bought by customers who can afford it, for people who can’t.

If you're in need, you simply ask to grab a post-it off the wall.

The program started just seven months ago, but the idea was brewing long before Wartman opened Rosa’s on 11th Street between Market and Chestnut streets.

Wartman, a native of Plymouth Meeting liked the $1 slice concept — popular in pizzerias in New York City where he spent three years working on Wall Street after graduating from Babson Business College in 2010.

In 2013, he left Wall Street behind and moved back to Philadelphia. That's when he decided to open Rosa's, named after his mother.

When he opened his shop last December, he found himself giving slices to people who came in without enough money. The prepaid slice program was born when a customer came in to buy pizza and asked if he could buy a slice for the next homeless person who came in off the street.

Since then, nearly forty slices have been given to the homeless daily.

One button on the register is pushed for every prepaid slice purchased and another button, labeled with a heart, is clicked for each slice that’s redeemed.

Last week, Rosa’s gave away their 7,000th slice of pizza.

Wartman says the idea behind the prepaid slice is similar to a practice in Italy called "caffe sospeso" where someone buys two cups of coffee, but leaves one behind for someone else to enjoy.

As winter approaches, Rosa's will sell sweatshirts in a similar way. Each sweatshirt will be paid for by Rosa customers and passed on to someone in need. The sweatshirts have inserts with a daily schedule of nearby shelters offering free meals.

Over the past three months, R. J. Mishler has made Rosa's part of his weekly routine while he looks for a job. He often buys an entire pie for just $8.

“You can’t beat it. It’s my breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

Mishler has bought a few of the prepaid slices before but has yet to take one from "off the wall.”

"Those are for the people who actually need it," said Mishler. "I still have a home.”

Wartman admits he gave up on determining whether people were "deserving" of their "free" slice.

"We don’t ask questions."

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