Since 2007, an organization called Will Work for Food – which was founded by students at the University of Michigan – has worked to raise funds to combat global child hunger and malnutrition. And they do it in a very unique way.

Instead of simply raising money, WWFF participants engage in a local volunteer project and encourage friends, family and neighbors to pledge money in support of their service. Think a cancer or MS walk – but replace the walking with community service. To date, WWFF and their partners (mostly student groups) have raised over $70,000 to support the global hunger relief work of Doctors with Borders.

WWFF co-founder and pre-med student, Steven Weinberg, took the time to talk to Repair the World about the importance of doing tangible work, how WWFF doubles an individual’s service impact, and what in the world Plumpy’Nut is.

Tell me about your background with service and volunteer work.
I grew up in Ann Arbor Michigan, which is a very liberal, involved community. That combined with the Sunday religious school I attended laid an early foundation for my service. At Temple Beth Emeth growing up – as early as age 9 – we’d partner with a local church to ensure that people in the community had meals, clothing, and a place to go. Since them, that element of Judaism, that commitment to service, has resonated with me.

What about when you were a bit older?
In high school I was on a grant making board called the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation Youth Council. It was a very diverse group of 25-30 youths from high schools in the area, and we had $80,000 a year to grant to organizations that worked with underserved youth. That was an incredibly powerful experience for me.

What makes Will Work For Food unique from other hunger initiatives?
We decided to focus on child malnutrition because it serves a population of innocent people. Our Jewish backgrounds stress helping those who can’t help themselves – so it was almost a no-brainer.

Early on we decided on adding a local community service twist on top of the international relief efforts as a way of letting people double their impact. We were enamored by the fundraising models where people dance, or walk, or run while raising money for a cause. They ask their social networks for help and spread the message further than they otherwise might. We realized that there’s no reason why, instead of walking around a track or dancing for 30 hours straight, people couldn’t being doing community service instead.

The local service component was also a way to connect people to the cause. Child malnutrition feels distant if you don’t see hungry kids walking around all the time. By doing tangible work, and by getting people to work together while raising money, the issue becomes more real – more personal.

Can you talk about what types of projects groups have taken on locally?
It’s a wide range. The students at St. Mary’s College tutor elementary school kids to help boost self-confidence and create a positive atmosphere around education. At the University of Michigan, students organized a food drive and collected over 3,000 pounds of canned food. A Jewish high school in Baltimore collected athletic equipment for under-priviledged teens. Each group of students is able to bring their own talents and interests to the table, and we value that flexibility.

Is it hard to get donors to make the connection between the service groups are doing, and the cause their fundraising for?
We were having trouble making that connection initially – and the students were having a hard time explaining in a simple pitch what they were doing and why, and how their local volunteering was going to make a difference abroad. So we pre-drafted an email that they could personalize and send out to friends and family, and that seemed to solve the matter. Now donors really understand just how unique the cause they’re supporting is.

What type of impact has WWFF had both locally and internationally?
We currently partner exclusively with Doctors Without Borders, and 100% of the funds raised go to support their work – specifically Ready-to-Use-Foods (RUFs) like Plumpy’Nut. RUFs are these miracle packets of food fortified with vitamins and minerals. A three week supply of two packets a day can help nurture a kid back to life.

As we grow, we’re planning to expand the organizations we work with. Doctors Without Borders does important work on the immediate relief front, but we also want to work with organizations working on the preventative side of things. Eventually we hope to let groups elect the cause they work for.

How can people get involved?
There are lots of opportunities for individuals or groups of people to get involved. People can plug in on our website and Facebook page.

Find out more about Plumpy’Nut and other Ready-To-Use-Foods in the video below: