In the spring of 2009, Derick Schubert, then 19, held a rock concert in his home state of Pennsylvania (U.S.) to benefit WFP. Mobilizing with his best friend, Dawer Jamshed, the fundraiser was dubbed "starving hunger". Derick, who was fighting brain cancer, threw his entire being into the project. Like hundreds of young people who champion WFP's cause each year, Derick worked hard for every dollar raised. The black belt and engineering student lobbied local businesses for donations, marketed heavily and recruited musicians from other high schools. The concert raised US$1,000 for WFP.
Two years later, on 14 Feb. 2011, Derick, just 21, lost his battle with cancer. In lieu of flowers, Derick's parents, Anne and John Schubert, asked friends and family to make contributions to his favourite cause – fighting hunger with WFP. In a letter to WFP, the couple described their son's passion for global humanitarianism – and helping empower the poorest of the poor.
Derick's story was the most moving of the hundreds of letters sent to WFP in 2010-11, an archive curated by unofficial custodian Olivia Schorestene, a 23-year-old French national who worked as an intern with Private Sector Partnerships from Dec. 2012-June 2013. Olivia estimates that she read anywhere between 600 to 1,000 messages in the off-hours between more pressing work. Although the letters and their donations had already been logged – and their senders thanked – Olivia felt their stories should be shared with staff.
"My colleagues kept on asking me, ‘So, what are you going to do with the letters?' All we wanted to do was share," said Olivia, who will return to France to pursue a Master's degree in entrepreneurship. "It is nice and motivational for everyone, so that people (at WFP) can see that there are so many others out there who care."
During the 2010-11 period when these letters were sent, small school and youth donations raised more than US$87,000. In 2012 – when donations were not broken out for youth and school groups – WFP received 302 cheques from small donors. The bulk of donations came in Canadian dollars (365,438), US dollars (114,159), and euros (24,766) respectively. Adding in smaller donations in Australian, British, Danish, Hong Kong and Singaporean currencies, the total came to more than US$475,000 in donations by mail last year.
For Olivia, these letters and donations represent not only the altruism of young people but also their tenacity and business savvy.
Take American Sarah, who told her mom she wanted all of her gift money for her 13th birthday channelled to WFP. Or the third-grade students from Saddlebrook Elementary School in Nebraska (U.S.) who sold treats in an initiative called ‘Dollars for Africa' inspired by WFP's online campaign to fight the drought and food insecurity across the Sahel region of Africa. Enclosed with the cheque was a photo of nine 9-year-olds, grinning with wide gap-toothed smiles.
Max, a fifth-grader also from the United States, wanted the organization to know about his class's benefit pasta dinner. In the plain but passionate language of children everywhere, he urged WFP to "use the money to stop the children from starving". Meanwhile, high school students from Ottawa, Canada, wrote in a disappointed tone about how their hunger drive was plagued by difficulties because they bought "too much soda" and could only send 45 Canadian dollars to WFP.
What moved the kids to step up and raise funds to fight hunger? Some were inspired by a direct appeal by a WFP representative. Others recount reading a heart-stopping statistic or image of hunger and famine in the media.
WFP's Michael Redante, who leads our online donations team, believes that while the total amount raised through youthful donations can't "compete" with our major contributors in quantity, they are crucial to WFP's greater vision of engagement. "WFP is delighted to receive contributions and messages of support from children – no matter how small – because it indicates that the next generation of youth is aware of the challenges faced by the world's hungry," Michael says. "It shows they are motivated to make a difference." In 2012, he reports, WFP's websites received over US$5 million from online donors, many of them giving less than US$100 a piece.
For Olivia, giving back enriches not only the life of the recipient but also the contributor, and teaches lessons that are critical for youth. "They are learning responsibility, organization and in a business sense, entrepreneurship. But more importantly, whether it is selling lemonade or concerts, these ventures teach them about empathy, the importance of helping those who truly need it," Olivia says. "I think that's very important to the work of WFP. These are the future politicians, the business people with whom we may partner in the future – so why not start now?"
To read more about how we engage young people visit our student and teacher page on WFP.org . – Patrina Pink