Sunday, December 23, 2012

History Report: Dawn Ratcliffe

Thanks to your support, I was able to reach over 16,000 students and dozens of staff and faculty members this past fall semester as a volunteer. I visited 31 college campuses in my home states of South Carolina and North Carolina, as well as Florida, where I currently reside.

I have been involved with Vegan Outreach since 1996, and remember handing out the first version of the Why Vegan booklet at festivals, tabling events, and stoplights. (Yes, stoplights.) In 1997, I took part in my first college veg leafleting experience...well, sort of. I stood next to a table I had set up at an Earth Day celebration at Davidson College, a prestigious liberal arts college in the Charlotte, NC area. I handed out Why Vegan booklets to students who were waiting in line for burgers and luckily, the stand included vegan burgers, too. Too bad it didn't dawn on me then that colleges were a better venue in which to reach people than stoplights. :-)

Since then, I have watched Vegan Outreach become one of the most effective organizations and am proud of my involvement with them.

As an increasing number of people eliminate or reduce their consumption of animal products, I have found it all the more important to hand out booklets and help people identify veganism with a friendly face who can answer their questions and offer advice. And it's because of your generosity that this is possible, and why 1996's thousands of booklets has burgeoned into batches of hundreds of thousands of booklets every semester. College cafeterias are more vegan-friendly than they were when I went vegan in 1995, and professors are increasingly assigning papers and projects on vegan eating and animal advocacy, no doubt in part because of Vegan Outreach's influence.

Over the last four months, I talked with dozens and dozens of students, faculty, and staff members who were interested in making dietary and lifestyle changes that will benefit animals. Just a few examples: An administrator with the University of North Florida thanked me for the information as she's transitioning from vegetarianism to veganism. At Valencia College’s West campus in Orlando, a student who had been vegetarian for 4 1/2 years lamented not being vegetarian anymore. In his own words, he said he went back for selfish reasons, but was now going to give it another try. I suggested that he start with a few days a week and increase it from there, and he gladly took a Guide to Cruelty-Free Eating. I met a student who was new to veganism at Valencia College East who missed cheese, so I told him to try Daiya and check out the vegan pizza and sandwiches at Mellow Mushroom (a restaurant which everyone in Florida and elsewhere in the south seems to like). As I now do with many interested individuals, I circled the products (Gardein Ultimate Burgers, Daiya, Vegenaise, etc.) in the Guide to Cruelty-Free Eating that may appeal most to him after learning a bit more about his food preferences.

At Polk State College in Winter Haven, FL, one student stopped to ask me what my motivation was to leaflet, and had some really good questions, as he's extremely interested in exploring vegetarianism. He thought it was cool that I had been vegan for so long, and after we talked for about five minutes, he said that he's going to try to get all of his family members to join him in making changes.

A student at Southeastern University in Lakeland, FL, who had happily taken a Compassionate Choices before lunch, came up to me almost an hour later and thanked me repeatedly for handing her a booklet. She and her friend read it from cover to cover while they were eating and were blown away by the information. She said she's definitely going vegetarian and will be frequenting the herbivore station in the dining hall from now on; her friend said she was now going to try to go vegetarian as well. (Multiple students raved about the recently-expanded herbivore station and the new vegan meats and overall quality of the food).

At Coastal Carolina University, located just outside of Myrtle Beach, SC (only minutes from where I lived from four to fifteen years of age), one particularly thoughtful woman told me that working for the Stouffer’s division of NestlĂ© in Gaffney, SC changed her life. Her job required that she frequently visit the slaughterhouse. Although she purposely avoided the killing floor, the horrid smell and knowing what went on there was enough to make her do research on her own and move toward a cruelty-free lifestyle. She will undoubtedly change many people with her story. In addition, an astounding number of students at both the East and West campuses of Valencia College, Southeastern University, Winthrop University (Rock Hill, SC), Central Piedmont Community College (Charlotte, NC), Winston Salem State University (NC), University of North Carolina Charlotte, North Carolina A and T University (Greensboro, NC), University of South Florida (Tampa), and Polk State College (Winter Haven, FL) were particularly affected by the booklets and vowed to make meaningful changes.

However, the most memorable conversation of the last four months was with a University of North Florida undergraduate. She was given two pet lambs when she was a kid and for two years, she spent hours upon hours with them every week. One day, they were nowhere to be found, and her parents informed her that her beloved friends were on her plate. She didn't eat meat after that; to this day, her parents criticize her for being a vegetarian. Despite this, she had been contemplating going vegan, and after leafing through the booklet and talking with me for a bit, she told me that she was committed to making the change. I had tears in my eyes as I listened to her and we both cried a bit together. And while I can’t help but tear up a bit again as I write this, I take solace in knowing that we - the donors, volunteer leafleters, and paid staff members - are making a tangible difference.

The impact we've made as a group is changing the way that people view animals and I thank you for supporting such a results-driven nonprofit.

-Dawn Ratcliffe