Students use social media to feed hungry in Lawrence

Next month students and young people from around the commonwealth plan on using social media to help a group disproportionately affected by poverty and hunger -- other students and young people.

The initiative called Feeding Frenzy aspires to feed 25,000 hungry young people for $1 per meal in the last week of October, by bringing to bear resources of teens from around Massachusetts through the social media site Facebook.

"Without the social media it might be a couple of schools that, you know, I give you a call and we try to organize something," said Brendan Eappen, a senior at Weston High School who helped organize Feeding Frenzy. "Then you have to get the word out to all of your fellow classmates and peers. With Facebook we're trying to make it as easy as possible to get as many people involved."

The initiative comes as the result of collaboration between Cor Unum, Labels Are For Jars, and interested teenagers from around the state.

Since the beginning of September organizers have used the page, www.Facecebook.com/FeedingFrenzyCampaign to recruit "team captains," or peer leaders, from as many Massachusetts high schools as possible. Feeding Frenzy organizers update the page frequently to maintain a constant flow of information.

In July, the team posted a public service announcement from Labels Are For Jars and moved on to gain 89 users of the social networking site who "like"-- click a button on Facebook to show support for -- the Feeding Frenzy Campaign. Recent updates informed the users that schools in Andover, Lynnfield and Wellesley became involved with the program.

As the project ramped up, the scope of the project dictated a need for organization and collaboration between team captains at the various schools.

Eappen told The Pilot, "Every Wednesday at nine o'clock we actually have a conference call."

Organizers established the conference to allow students to share successes in their efforts with other students. The collaboration has also allowed students to work with their school staff and administrators to organize efforts on a school level.

The goal of the project, Eappen explained, is to raise the relatively large sum of $25,000 through small donations in a fundraiser between October 24 and October 28.

Early initiatives focused on building awareness through what Eappen called "advertising."

"All of that advertisement is already done. It's already on Facebook. It's already in materials we're emailing out," he said. "So we're trying to make it as easy as possible for people to get involved, get their schools involved, and get their peers to donate."

Organizers and participants hope to raise the money to provide meals to teens in Lawrence through the Cor Unum Meal Center.

The center became a reality through the work of people at St. Patrick Parish in Lawrence. The pastor, Father Paul O'Brien, played an instrumental role in getting the meal center built and inspired people like Lisa Fehl, senior vice president for new business development at Newbury Comics, to get involved.

"Father Paul is very inspiring and has a huge heart," said Fehl, who came in on the ground-floor as the volunteer group rallied around an initiative called Labels Are For Jars in 2004. "Pretty much anyone he gets involved with, they can't say no to him because he's just inspiring and wants to do good in the community."

Before the center reached completion, the organizers searched for unique ideas to raise capital. Father O'Brien and others created Labels Are For Jars to raise funds.

Selling T-shirts with labels printed on them such as "jock," "geek" and "slacker" proved a boon to raise the money to build the center.

After planning and a five-year development process, the center reached completion in September of 2006. The center, with only a single paid employee, runs under the power of hundreds of volunteers to feed the hungry.

Those in need include children who, Father O'Brien said, often come from families where the parents work two jobs and still cannot afford food. The center provides a light for the human spirit against that desperation.

"By feeding kids day-by-day at Cor Unum, we're not just feeding them physically, we're feeding them spiritually" Father O'Brien said.

Recently married cooking-volunteers Jenna and Anthony Sideri said some of the first patrons of the meal center were children.

"We'll show up at 5 a.m. to cook breakfast, and the kids are waiting outside, the older kids like 17, 18 years old are waiting outside to help us cook," said Anthony Sideri. "So they have got something by eating there, and they want to give it back and help to cook for other people."

From the time the couple began their service at Cor Unum they saw children uniting to help other children push back against hunger with the help of Cor Unum.

"If you think about the name, it means 'one heart,'" Jenna Sideri said. "They come in, and some of them take younger kids that don't have any parents that can take them."

"You see groups of like 10 or 12 kids from like three years old to 18 years old all walking together, and you assume that they're related, but then you find out later that they're not."

In an interview with The Pilot, the couple shared their enthusiasm for serving the children expected to have the opportunity to eat as a result of the fundraising.

"Feeding Frenzy is this brilliant way to help high school kids feel important and involved," she said. "It's amazing to know that, you know, North Andover can play against Andover and against all these other sports teams, but then at the end of the day they can all get together, and they can do this really amazing thing as a team."

"There's still plenty of time for kids to get involved in their local communities," said Father O'Brien. "All they need to do is email or call us and we will welcome them aboard and show them how to get organized."

Interested high schools contact the Feeding Frenzy Campaign organizers at feedingfrenzy@comcast.net or by calling 978-984-0118.

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