Halloween is coming up and for so many of us, Free The Children’s campaign, We Scare Hunger, is too. We Scare Hunger is all about collecting non-perishable food items and donating it to your local food bank for people in need in your community. This is a great way to create change locally. I have been hearing and seeing that so many people have already been collecting canned goods and donating them to food banks. So many of us start this campaign weeks before we go we go out trick-or-treating and I know that a lot of schools have boxes set up in classrooms all over Canada. One of the things that I love about We Scare Hunger is that it really proves that we are never too young to make a difference.
I had the chance to sit down with Jonathan White – the man behind We Scare Hunger! He has been involved with Free The Children more than 15 years and he sits on the Free The Children US Board of Directors and he is the Director of Service Learning and Professor of Sociology and Politica Economy at Bentley University. Jonathan is also The Professor in the “Ask a Profesor” Series on the We Day website where he shares about issues that are importatnt to him and to all of us. I wanted to know the story of We Scare Hunger, how it came to be and all about his passion. Please meet my friend, Jonathan White.
How did you think of the Free The Children campaign We Scare Hunger?
When I was in university in the late 1980s, a group of friends and I were sitting around our dorm room at Brandeis University in Massachusetts on Halloween day. There we were, feeling too old to go out trick-or-treating, but still wishing that we could. It wasn’t so much that we wanted to get the free candy- as by that age we could get candy anytime we wanted- but it was more that we wanted to get dressed up, act goofy, and just have a great time. Somewhat jokingly, I suggested that we go trick-or-treating but that instead of candy we would ask for cans of food. My friends thought it was a great idea! So, with little time to waste we thought up Halloween costumes and we hit the local neighborhoods to put our plans into action. That year, we went by foot and we gathered hundreds of cans of food that we brought to the local food pantry the next day. We had a great time, we felt really good to be making a positive difference in our own community, and we felt empowered for the rest of the year to continue thinking of ways to help,.We had our spark! We were motivated to seek real change! And Halloween for Hunger (now also We Scare Hunger) was born!
How did your idea turn into what We Scare Hunger is today?
Many years ago, I was speaking at an early Take Action Academy for Me to We and Free the Children. My wife Shelley- also a professor and also a member of the Board of Directors for Free the Children. I told the story of how I started Halloween for Hunger, how each year I grew it with more schools, more students participating, and more cans being raised, and how much fun I had doing it. Well, if you know anything about Free the Children youth, you can only imagine the ideas they had to bring the campaign to their schools and their towns! I felt so humbled and went to work creating resources and guides for them to carry the campaign forward.
A few years later, Halloween for Hunger had become so popular with the Free the Children youth that Craig and Marc Kielburger asked me if Free the Children could partner with me in bringing Halloween for Hunger to the organization as an official campaign. Of course I said yes! It’s very exciting to me that it is a campaign that has stood the test of time, always remaining one of our most popular campaigns, and especially that so many of our youth members use this campaign to a) spread awareness about the issues of domestic and global hunger; and b) get more students involved in Free the Children and We Act clubs at school. We hope that We Scare Hunger is a bit of a jumping off point – a campaign early in the school-year that it is the start line for a year of campaigning and fundraising for Free the Children, and for building knowledge about hunger and poverty. We believe that Knowledge is Power- the power to change the world in the ways that it sorely needs to be changed!
How did you get involved with Free The Children?
I became involved with Free the Children in the very early years. I was researching child labor as I was preparing to teach my students about this vast social problem, and I must admit to becoming quite depressed with what I was learning. Imagine that today there are 220 million illegal child laborers around the world? That nearly half of these work in what we term the “worst forms of child labor,” such as child soldiers, deeply dangerous agricultural work, child slavery, the child sex industry, and others. You can see why I felt so depressed!
But then I happened upon an article of another person who had been researching about child labor and who was also depressed, but who had decided to DO something about it. And he was only 14 at the time! You guessed it, this article was about Craig Kielburger. How lucky for me to have met him through this article, and I decided to bring him to my university to teach my students about child labor and about the ways that we can all make a difference. It was a magical night, with hundreds of students attending, and both Craig and Marc Kielburger (who was studying at Harvard University, nearby to where I was teaching) came and they were, of course, tremendous and inspirational! We spoke, the three of us, deep into the night and from there we formed the foundation of our long-time friendship and work together.
Soon after, I went on the first ever Me to We trip, which was to Kenya. Me to We Trips are incredible, inspiring, shocking in the exposure one gets to poverty and exhilarating in the exposure one gets to wonderful people living in communities throughout the world. As I believe it does for anyone who goes on a Me to We trip, it changed my life. Upon return, I spoke at the annual Free the Children Leadership Academy, and since then I’ve committed to being involved in any and all ways I can! Whether giving talks at Academy, helping to develop campaigns, consulting with the INCREDIBLE Free the Children and Me to We staffs on growth and curriculum, serving on the Board of Directors, leading trips, or volunteering to help in the office I am always feeling just so lucky to be involved.
What are you passionate about?
I’m passionate about so much in this wonderful world of ours! I’m passionate about family and friends and community, and especially so about my 13 nephews and nieces. They inspire me in deep ways that they don’t even know! And I’m passionate about teaching, about my students, and about intellectual dialogue that allows for the civility of disagreement while equally allowing for strong moral vision. I’m driven in my passion for social justice, to identify and learn about the issues of human rights violations and injustice that plague our planet and to be creative, idealistic, and unbending in searching for solutions.
The issue that drives me most, both in my academic and activist lives, is the issue of hunger. So many questions that beg me to challenge myself to better understand, and to challenge myself to “be the change.” Why are there 50 million hungry people in the United States and millions of hungry individuals in Canada, amidst vast wealth and waste? Why, in both countries, are children the largest age group afflicted by hunger, and what does this tell us… not about those who are hungry, but about our societies and about all of us who allow for these social problems without fighting to create change? Why are there nearly a billion hungry people in our global family, in the context of a world that has more than enough food to everyone on the planet several times over? What does this say about us as a civilized world, as citizens of this world, and what can we do to eliminate hunger from our planet once and for all?
How can we take a campaign like We Scare Hunger: Halloween for Hunger and use it to not only collect cans of food for those who are hungry, but also to raise awareness about the issue, to educate a generation, and to equip ourselves with the tools we need to eradicate hunger from the earth? So, hunger is certainly one of my biggest issues of passion, but I have another issue I’m equally passionate about. And it’s that I passionately believe that young people can be the leaders of today and I walk proudly behind the 2.3 million youth in the Free the Children network and try to help in any way I am able.
What advice do you have for young people who want to make a difference?
I believe so deeply in the ability of young people to change the world, that it’s actually difficult for me to even put my thoughts into words. Be bold, be courageous, think outside the box. Be shamelessly idealistic, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t make a difference or that you’re too young to take the lead, see roadblocks as detours that will always show you to a better path if you’re creative and persistent. Have fun and experience joy as you’re changing the world or you’ll burn out and we need you for the long-term, believe in yourself and believe (know!) that there are millions of others around the world equally as passionate and working as tirelessly as you are toward social change. And most of all remember that knowledge is power and that the more you learn about your issue the more powerful you’ll be at creating real solutions.
Throughout history, students have always been at the center of the most powerful movements, such as the Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa, the Save Darfur Movement, today’s Sustainability Movement, and many more. The WE Movement is YOUR movement, the social problems of today will be solved by you and your generation, and there is little doubt that you will grow up to be the generation who radically and beautifully create the changes in the world we so desperately need in order to best protect people and planet. And know that we, older generations, believe in you, are inspired by you, and are here to assist you as you turn passion to action and dreams to reality!
On a final note, I hope that you have the best time, tons of fun, and a deeply meaningful experience as you head out for your We Scare Hunger activities this year. And, from the very bottom of my heart, THANK YOU!
Isn’t he amazing? Thank YOU Jonathan for letting me interview you and sharing your story about We Scare Hunger and your passion.
Jonathan proves that we’re never too young and that everything and anything that creates change starts with one person and one idea. We Scare Hunger started with Jonathan and his friends going out for Halloween and collected canned foods for good. Now, We Scare Hunger is one of Free The Children’s biggest campaigns!
Last year, students raised more than 875,000 pounds of non-perishable items for We Scare Hunger! This is a big impact, and I know this year we can do even better!
After we collect all of our food donations, we need to find a local food bank. If you don’t know where your local food bank is, here is a link to find them: http://www.foodbankscanada.ca/utility-pages/find-a-food-bank.aspx?lang=en-CA
So, what are you waiting for? Go to your schools, your after school programs and your community and get involved in We Scare Hunger!