“I think that LA can kind of be like a bubble sometimes. We don’t really realize how the world is,” said Caroline Raquel, a Filipina-American junior at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Luckily, LA is really diverse and I’m very lucky to have grown up in LA, but I think keeping an awareness is something that my parents have always tried to impress on me and my sisters,” she continued.
Caroline is one of the people behind Feed2Succeed, a nonprofit she co-founded in high school with her sister Carmina Raquel, and their friend Tiffany Sato.
Carmina is currently a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, and Sato, a junior at Vanderbilt University.
While making a positive and lasting impact on a stranger’s life is something all should strive to do, the three girls found a way to impact the lives and trajectory of many young Filipino students by starting the nonprofit with a mission to give young children in the Philippines a chance to be educated by implementing and funding feeding programs.
Feed2Succeed sprouted from a trip to the Philippines in the spring of 2014 when the sisters went on a family trip to the country as a reward by their parents for their good scholastic achievements. The trip was designed to not only be a fun vacation exploring the white beaches of Palawan, but a way to bring civic awareness, which in this trip happened in Vigan, Philippines.
The girls had an aunt who was very involved with community service there and allowed them to shadow her. One of the events that ended up inspiring Feed2Succeed was a feeding program at an elementary school where the girls met kids that were around their age, living lives very different to theirs.
“You always hear about it, but seeing it up close is definitely a very eye-opening experience,” said Caroline.
What really struck them was the fact that you only need $4 to feed a child for an entire month.
Upon coming back to Los Angeles, the Raquel sisters who were then students at the Marlborough School, shared their experiences with Sato. From there, the girls began the brainstorming process of not only figuring out a name for their project, but a solid mission to stand by.
That mission was to give the children “a chance to be educated by implementing and funding feeding programs in elementary schools,” said Sato.
From small scale high school fundraisers, Feed2Succeed has grown into a full-fledged nonprofit organization with club chapters run in different U.S. schools helping eleven sponsored elementary schools in the Philippines.
They’ve also taken on the sponsorship of a number of high schoolers that were once a part of Feed2Succeed’s original elementary school feeding programs.
“It’s been really great to go back to the schools and see familiar faces and see the kids progress,” said Carmina, adding that they try to go back as often as they can which is typically once a year.
“Being able to watch them go through elementary school, middle school, and high school is a great experience and it’s made the experience so much more enjoyable — to be able to know and have an actual connection to the kids,” added Carmina.
Being that Vigan is where the girls’ parents grew up, the whole experience also gave the girls a deeper sense of connection to the country. One of the schools Feed2Succeed adopted was one that their mother and all her siblings attended, and where their grandmother was a principal at.
“To be able to really help people so close to home is something that really allowed us to have that connection back to the Philippines,” said Caroline.
On challenges and new opportunities
Starting Feed2Succeed as young high schoolers naturally came with challenges, but nothing the three girls couldn’t turn into positive experiences such as growing the high school club to official nonprofit status.
“It was a lot of paperwork and we had to hire a lawyer, and as high schoolers, we were very unclear on the process. Luckily we got a great lawyer, Atty. Nabeel Zuberi, who instead of just doing the work for us and handing it off to us, walked us through a lot of the paperwork and actually walked through the process so we were actually to learn about how it really happened,” said Caroline.
“Growing it from a club all the way to an actual business was definitely something that we weren’t thinking about initially, but of course as we spoke to more donors and volunteers, everyone was suggesting to us we get tax exempt status and we realized we could a lot more support if were an official nonprofit,” she added.
Another challenge, Carmina added, was dealing with the transition to running Feed2Succeed separately as the three girls went on to pursue university life.
It’s different, Carmina said, “not being together in LA, always being ten minutes away from each other, and being able to plan and really engage our community.”
Both Raquel sisters play on the University of Pennsylvania varsity volleyball team in addition to pursuing their degrees, and Sato is pursuing majors in Human and Organizational Development and Medicine, Health, and Society in addition to her minors.
But the challenges of branching out have of course opened doors to newer opportunities.
Sato, for example, has been able to merge her new community with Feed2Succeed by bringing its presence across the country to Vanderbilt this year.
“I think the mission and values of our organization is something that is easy to become passionate about once hearing about the children we help and how healthy they have become over the years,” shared Sato.
At Vanderbilt, Feed2Succeed has leadership positions specifically for its university students such as Head or Risk Management, Head of Marketing, and Head of Public Relations among others. Its current Vice President is Sarah Gordon whom Sato said has gone above and beyond in putting in work for the organization.
Sato said there are now about 23 students passionate about Feed2Succeed and are excited to grow its presence in the Nashville, Tennessee area.
Most recently, the club raised close to $1,500 from a CycleBar fundraiser. They’ve also raised about $1,000 for typhoon relief. For the next school year, the group is planning a Fall Festival Concert with various talents around Nashville and on campus.
“I am so grateful to have found a group of people who are passionate about these children and our cause,” said Sato.
Kids helping other kids
On what their favorite experiences have been throughout their Feed2Succeed journey to date, the girls said it has all have been about the close connections built with the kids being helped.
“Meeting the kids is [the] best part of it all. At the end of the day, they’re the reason we’re all doing this,” said Caroline.
Through the program, the girls have developed a personal relationship with not only the kids, but the kids’ immediate community.
During her last trip to the Philippines during which she brought some of her high school friends, Carmina was not only able to meet the Feed2Succeed high school scholars, but their parents and siblings as well — all of them wrote to them thank you notes and read them out loud.
“It was very touching for me,” said Carmina. “Being able to hang out with them, and not even through computer or letters, but just being able to talk to them face to face and thank them was just a humbling and powerful experience for me.”
Caroline shared of a special moment during her senior year in high school when all of the students in the Philippines sent handmade Christmas cards to their Marlborough School club — a moment Feed2Succeed turned into a pen pal opportunity.
“Carmina and I have the privilege of going back to the Philippines, but for our club members and LA supporters, they don’t necessarily get to have that connection like we do, so it was really cool to see the Marlborough club members read these letters and see what the kids are actually saying and then writing back a response,” said Caroline. “I like seeing that connection.”
Small acts, big impacts
Having started Feed2Succeed in their teenage years, the girls cited much of their success to the fact that people saw the passion they had at such a young age. The girls said that in addition to expanding their network and service, they’ve been looking for younger girls who share their mission and want to get involved.
“I didn’t even realize what a difference we could make and how such a small act of giving kindness could turn into this,” said Caroline.
She added, “I think inspiring kids to involve themselves early on in community service is a value I hold very close to my heart and I think that’s something I always try to help other people my age realize.”
Going back to the initial realization of what four dollars could do for a kid in the Philippines, she said, “that amount is just something that every person my age has.”
She equated the amount to giving up one Starbucks drink in order to help one kid’s life.
On Saturday, December 15, Feed2Succeed will be having their Holiday Donor Appreciation Concert as a way to give thanks to all who have been donating and supporting the cause.
Stephanie Reese, a Filipina-American singer who will be featured at the concert, has been very passionate about the cause and was even able to visit the kids in Vigan during a recent trip last year.
The Feed2Succeed co-founders — who will all be together at the concert — are hoping that the event will be a way to celebrate the helping community and show their gratitude for all the donations and work that have put in.
Looking back at the first trip to Vigan and the beginnings of Feed2Succeed as a small club headed by young high schoolers, the girls said they hope that their organization can further encourage people to open up their awareness about their communities and feel compelled to give back.
“My parents always taught me the importance of giving back and this club turned nonprofit is something that I am incredibly passionate about even today,” said Sato.
“One of the really impressive things that realized was that, had something even just changed slightly, I could have been one of these kids in the elementary schools back in Vigan,” said Caroline.
“I hope that people can understand that passion behind our mission and how I think we just want to help as many kids as possible, and I think kids helping kids is a very powerful effect that we can have,” she added. “There are so many ways to help, and creating a community and surrounding yourself with people that also just want to help I think is something that we are trying to push forward with Feed2Succeed.”