Thursday, July 10, 2008

Pizza for the Hungry: A Smile brings Hope



Obaid Kadwani(WSC '94) is the Business Manager of eyeBLINK, a non-profit arts organization that uses theater, dance and special events to promote social change. Obaid started a philanthropic effort in 2007 called eyeBLINK's "Pizza for the Hungry: A Smile brings Hope," where eyeBLINk donated 5000 slices in 5 days to 5 NYC homeless shelters. In 2008, the project expanded to 13 pizza parties in 4 states in 5 days. The organization's goal is to bring a moment of joy to the shelter's guests. It is also a celebration of the best in humanity as the donors come together in a coalition of many religions, nationalities and races to help those in need. "Pizza for the Hungry" hopes to expand to 20 states next year. Be part of the sea-change at www.eyeblink.org.

It is our pleasure to introduce our first guest blog entry sent in by Obaid Kadwani. Thanks Obaid!

When NYU asked me to blog about my experiences while organizing "Pizza for the Hungry: A Smile brings Hope," my first thought was "I don't know how to blog!" My second thought was "I don't know to blog!" My third thought was, "I blame NYU!" NYU's Journalism dept. taught me how to write news articles, features, broadcast writing and press releases, but not a thing about blogs! By now, you've guessed that I was journalism major.

I put together "Pizza for the Hungry" for the first time last summer, after a continuing education course about fundraising in the spring, taught by Mrs. Naomi Levine (whom I love, one of my best teachers ever...not sucking up here, just the absolute, cross-my-blog, truth), at the NYU Heymann Center. Last year's battle-cry was: 5 Days, 5 NYC homeless shelters, 5,000 Pizza Slices. So as we planned this year's pizza project, I said, "Let's do more." I wanted to help more people and wanted to grow the project because there was such a favorable response last year.

It was a challenge as my background is in entertainment, not fundraising. My goal was to double the project's scope to 10 shelters. Last year, it was hard to find the shelters to participate and to convince them that we just wanted to throw a pizza party. This year, lining up the shelters probably took me about 5 minutes. They'd either heard about us, or we could give them a reference from last year's shelters as well as press articles and pictures from our site.

Happily, we ended up exceeding our 10-shelter target, which, of course, also made it harder putting all the coordination and sufficient funding together. From June 16th-June 20th, eyeBLINK would donate 15,000 slices to 13 shelters in 4 states.I attended all the NYC pizza parties. At the Bowery Mission, there were some volunteers who had come from Australia. The musician, Ken, was playing the conga drums. Guests were bobbing to the beat while enjoying the pizza. In the Love Kitchen, there were all these children who were clamoring for the pizza. In Love Gospel Kitchen in the Bronx, guests were cheering before the party even began. And we ordered 35 more pizzas as the guests kept coming. And we ordered 40 more pizzas after that. From Tulsa, we heard that 70 guests ate 80 pizzas! When a guest asks me to eat with them, or grabs my hand to thank me, or asks when we're coming back, or just smiles...it's totally worth it! It is!

Our donors were very excited, and in fact, many donated, because we had people of different religions, nationalities and races helping people in need. One generous Jewish doctor sponsored pizzas for 2 shelters. 2 Muslim groups took care of pizzas for 2 New Jersey shelters and raised money for a third shelter. A Hindu business sponsored another New Jersey shelter and helped raise money for other shelters. And the shelters/mission/kitchens were all faith-based Christian organizations and they were eager to work with this broad coalition.

We gave an opportunity to our donors to make a person happy for just $1, which bought 2 slices. With Domino's sponsoring discounted pizzas, many donors were able to join the project and be part of the sea-change.

As I look back, what sticks with me is, we made thousands of people smile. We gave them a happy moment, a simple pleasure, a moment that was created specifically to express the fact that others cared...and a smile brings HOPE!



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