Good intentions aren't enough

The young and idealistic start out thinking they can change they world – then often bump up against the realization that it isn't so easy. As the activists in the story at right learn, it takes more than good intentions to make things happen.

The training they received is something I could have used in college, when I worked one summer in the cafeteria of a large corporation. Every day I'd make 10 pounds each of tuna salad, egg salad, and chicken salad. During the lunch rush, I made sandwiches to order.

But many diners didn't have time to wait in line, so each morning I prepared 50 sandwiches ahead of time. At the end of the day, all of the leftovers were thrown away. Sometimes, if the crowds had been thin, we'd toss 35 sandwiches that were still fresh.

Then a new cashier had an idea: She would take some of the sandwiches home with her, because she lived near a homeless shelter. On the bus ride home, she began handing out some of our leftovers, to the delight of recipients.

A week later, she was called into the supervisor's office. The donations had to stop, he explained, because if someone got sick, the company could be sued. He understood that lots of food was being wasted, but charity could be costly.

For the rest of the summer, the cashier and I grumbled about the situation to our co-workers.

If we had known more about effective advocacy, like the students in today's story, we'd have realized that change happens only when you talk to the right people and you are persistent. Perhaps, if we hadn't given up, the outcome could have been different. These days, some restaurants do donate food to shelters, because committed activists knew there had to be a better way.

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