How Bentley Students Use Social Media to Feed the Homeless

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A viral video of a University of Connecticut college student verbally assaulting a cafeteria manager—because he wanted jalapeño bacon mac and cheese—is feeding into the negative notion of a spoiled generation.

But Bentley University junior Sathya Peri and his friends took it as a cue to use social media for social good, and feed 100 local homeless people. What did they feed them? You guessed it: jalapeño bacon mac and cheese.

“We wanted to take all that negative energy and reverse it for social good,” says Peri, who spearheaded the idea and grew up doing community service for the homeless.

The team included Bentley freshman Devin Quinn; Darnisa Amante of Harvard Education School; David France of Revolution of Hope; Justin Mott of Hatch Fenway; and MIT student Erick Pinos.

Learning that nearly 49 million Americans struggle to put food on the table every day, they decided to launch an online campaign to raise money to cook jalapeño bacon mac-n-cheese.

Less than a week later, on October 12, the Changing Lives project launched. The goal: Raise $500 to buy supplies to feed the homeless, using crowdfunding platform Indiegogo. After initial donations from friends and family, the fundraiser took off on social media—so much so that within nine days enough money was raised for 40 volunteers to provide 120 jalapeño mac-n-cheese meals to homeless people in the Boston area on “Social Good Saturday” on November 21.

With time left on the campaign (Indiegogo operates on a 40-day cycle), Changing Lives upped the goal to $4,000 to partner with Y2Y Harvard Square youth homeless shelter in Cambridge, Mass., and provide socks, gloves, hats and jackets to 30 youth. “We were just hitting our stride and gathering a lot of momentum behind us. We wanted to have an enduring impact on the community,” Quinn shares. Through receiving multiple donations, the campaign was trending #1 on the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo.


Learn more about how the Mac and Cheese campaign shed light on local hunger and homelessness.

Thinking about starting your own social media-social good campaign? Peri and Quinn have five suggestions:

  1. Provide Relevant Project Updates
    Relevant project updates are critical. Both Peri and Quinn realized that it took about six interactions with their audience before many people started to get involved or donate. Updates also keep donors and followers connected.
  1. Be Vulnerable and Tell Your Story
    People want to know why this cause matters for you. Let them see the motivation you have for your project and how much you care about it.
  1. Make It About Your Mission, But About You and Your Team Too
    Use personal pronouns. (Think: I, we, us, our). Talk about your group and always mention how the people who support you are part of the project too.
  1. Use the Same Hashtags Across all Platforms to Keep Everything Connected
    Make sure your hashtags and the content are appropriate not only for your project, but for your intended audience as well
  1. Track What Works
    Use technology to compare how different parts of your campaign are performing. For example, try to see how effective emails are, and make Bitly links to monitor how many clicks your project gets.

“Creating social good doesn’t take as much as people think,” says Peri, who is using the Changing Lives Facebook page to help spread that message. “We can all be a small part of a big solution.”

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Want to start your own crowdfunded project? Check out these secrets to a successful Kickstarter campaign, from research by Bentley graduate students.

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Kristen Walsh is a freelance writer and editor in the Boston area with a niche in higher education, healthcare and small business. She enjoys the behind-the-scenes information gathering and personal interviews that bring stories to life and strike a chord with readers. Online content and magazine writing includes blogs, opinion pieces, features and healthcare reporting. Her work has been published byThe Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Hechinger Report and The MetroWest Daily News.