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Friday, April 18, 2014

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Novels inspire student’s campaign to eradicate hunger

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Lauren Morrison

How much can a 20-year-old Torontonian learn from the Hunger Games trilogy?

Enough to start an international campaign to eradicate hunger and get her message heard by nearly 1,000 online supporters.

Guelph University student Lauren Morrison says the novels, written from the perspective of a 16-year-old female, inspire her because they remind her how lucky she is to live in a country like Canada. 

The Hunger Games book and movie series, in contrast, is set in a post-apocalyptic world where food is scarce and children compete in a public battle for survival.

“The juxtaposition between our lives and their lives made the books so fascinating to read,” she says. 

“After reading, I knew I wanted to do something that was a tribute to the books’ theme and show that fans can learn from the series and apply it to life.”

Initially, Morrison just wanted to win tickets to the series’ movie première, and started an online campaign to get tickets from TV talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres.

She created a Facebook page, “Get Lauren on Ellen for the Hunger Games,” and quickly amassed more than 100 online supporters.

“After a week or two, I realized I could make something of this support and really make a difference.”

She resolved to combine her love for Ellen, the Hunger Games, and community involvement and do something that incorporated all three.

Since the books featured a class system with mass starvation, she linked that theme to Toronto’s own food struggles.

In June, she started a door-to-door campaign for food donations for her local food bank and encouraged supporters to do the same.

Morrison quickly decided to change her Facebook-organized mission so that it centred around food drives, and got 60 people to commit to collecting food themselves.

The issue of hunger was familiar to Morrison, who has volunteered at a school in Nairobi, Kenya.

“I got to see what it was like for people living in a place where they had nothing,” she says.

“Children would ask us on a daily basis if we had a penny so they could get a piece of bread.”

Going door to door in Toronto for two days, Morrison filled the back seat and trunk of a Ford Escape full of non-perishable food items and donated them to the North York Harvest Food Bank.

“We went door to door in the sun for five hours straight on a scorching hot weekend. People were really receptive to it,” she recalls.

“When I got to the food bank to deliver the food, I saw people lining up for hours in the blazing sun just to get a package.”

Morrison says the summer is a particularly difficult time for food banks.

“The major times people are donating to food banks are on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. So that takes care of fall, winter and spring, but there’s really nothing in the summer to make people consider making donations,” she says.

Her next drive is set to take place later this month.

“My overall goal is to be able to promote my campaign against hunger on the The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” she says.

“I’m a huge fan of Ellen. I respect her. She stands for equality, kindness, respect and love, and is a really good role model to a lot of people. When I hear what she says and what she promotes, it’s empowering.”

She also hopes such an appearance could grow her campaign.

“I want it to be an international project. You sign up with a group of friends, and you go around door to door on the weekend of the event, on behalf of friends, and collect food for your local food bank,” she says.

“There are people all over the world who love this book. I want to help more than just my local food bank. There are more people out there who are struggling, and the more people who can get involved, the fewer people will be hungry.”

Aside from her charitable work, Morrison hopes to eventually become an interventional cardiologist.

“My father has had four heart attacks and a quintuple bypass. Many people would feel awful after something like that, but he’s happy to be alive,” she says.

“And on top of my father, I show symptoms of the disorder. So I want to help people in the future who have heart problems, because I think I could relate to my patients.”

Asked what else she’s reading, Morrison says her other favourite series is Harry Potter. But don’t expect a Potterhead campaign too soon.

“It’s hard to raise wizardry awareness,” she jokes. “That would not go over so well in the community.”

For updates and more information about Morrison’s project, visit www.facebook.com/getlaurenonellenforthehungergames.

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