Alpacas Help Students in Fundraiser to End Hunger

With the help of some camera-friendly alpacas, students at Mercy Academy raised funds to help hungry people around the world and to raise awareness of their needs.

For their efforts, the students earned a $5,000 grant on behalf of the development agency Heifer International through a national contest called the Lead2Feed Student Leadership Program, one of a series of grants earned by students around the country to benefit charities that combat hunger.

About 1,500 groups of students from public and private schools took part in the competition, according to Lead2Feed. The program included grants from the Yum! Brands Foundation — a philanthropic arm of the Louisville-based corporation — and was also organized by the Lift a Life Foundation, founded by Yum! Chairman David Novak and his wife, Wendy, and the USA Today Charitable Foundation.

“It’s always a challenge to try and get an already overloaded teacher to take on new curriculum, but a lot of them were really excited about the service-learning and leadership aspect of it,” said Ashley Novak Butler, director of Lift A Life Foundation.

The aim of the competition was for students to develop programs to help the hungry, through such means as raising awareness about the problem or providing direct assistance to the needy. The grand prize was won by St. Francis Episcopal Day School in Houston, which earned a $25,000 grant on behalf of a local food charity.

Mercy’s project was among the finalists.

“I learned a lot about leadership,” said Cayla Metzmeier, who is going into her senior year at Mercy, a Roman Catholic girls’ high school. “I learned that it can't be just one person; it has to be a group effort and you have to all be working to the same goal to see results.”

Students in Mercy Beyond Borders, an extracurricular social-service group, were already accustomed to taking part in an annual fundraiser during Lent to raise funds for the hungry.

They set a goal of raising $5,000 to purchase a “gift ark” from the Arkansas-based charity Heifer International — an entire set of livestock, from alpacas and llamas to hogs, honeybees, cows and water buffalo — to be sent to needy families around the world, enabling them to develop sustainable sources of food and fiber.

Then they started brainstorming about ways to promote their cause.

“Literally as a joke, people were like, ‘We should bring in an alpaca,’” said Katie Henning, who is entering her junior year and a participant in Mercy Beyond Borders. “I said, ‘Actually I know people who do have alpacas.’ ”

With the help of her farming neighbors, Brad and Roni Perkins, the students played host to the alpacas — small, llama-like animals raised for their wool. They earned money for the cause by letting students get their pictures taken with the furry beasts for $1 each.

The students also sold bracelets to raise funds for the Americana Community Center, whose programs serve many immigrants and where some of the students volunteer as tutors, and raised money for other projects, such as aiding Catholic Relief Services and sponsoring a showing of the movie “Girl Rising,” about educational empowerment of girls around the world.

“It was obviously a successful project on a lot of levels because they were able to identify a particular group they wanted to help — especially women in poverty,” said Rick Blackwell, who coordinates service learning at Mercy.

Theology teacher Kari Sims said the project fit closely with her curriculum’s emphasis on public service.

“It naturally fit with what we already do,” she said, emphasizing “the responsibility you have and how you act on that.”

Students at other high schools in Louisville participated as well, among them the Academy at Shawnee, Breckinridge Metro, Doss, Fairdale, Fern Creek, Liberty, Seneca, South Park TAPP, Southern and Waggener, according to Butler.

At Seneca High, students developed a video to reveal that much food is wasted at the cafeteria on a given day. Their research on that issue, and on the extent of world hunger, was an eye-opener.

“It made them aware, and by doing that they wanted to help out other students and make them more aware,” said Brian Davis, college access resource teacher at Seneca.

It also prompted the students to volunteer for a morning at the Dare to Care Food Bank warehouse.

“I learned how many people don’t know about world hunger,” said Akhil Warrier, who produced the class video. “Many people don’t really seem to care because we live in such a prosperous country. ... It was nice to see people starting to take notice.”

Seneca principal Michelle Dillard said the video prompted both students and staff members to “start thinking there are people out there who don’t have food, and they need to be more cautious before they get ready to throw something away.”