Feeding the Hungry—and Lovin’ It

Four Loyola students launch The McChicken Project to support people who are experiencing homelessness in Baltimore

By Stephanie Weaver  |  Photos courtesy of The McChicken Project

One Friday night in 2015, four friends were at the drive-thru window at McDonald’s on York Road waiting for their order when a man approached their car, asking if they could spare some change.

The friends—Loyola juniors Joshua Alexander, Grant Latran, Will Mann, and David McShane, Jr.—decided to buy the man two McChicken sandwiches in lieu of giving him money.

The man was grateful. The students felt a sense of pride and purpose in helping someone in need. And as they drove the few blocks back to Loyola’s Evergreen campus, they discussed ways they might help those experiencing homelessness in Baltimore on a larger scale.

One week after their drive-thru experience, the four Loyola students pooled their cash, ordered 20 McChicken sandwiches, and drove downtown with the goal of distributing the food to those in need.

With dozens of sandwiches in tow, there was no set plan. Latran, an engineering major from Newtown Square, Pa., who had served Baltimore’s homeless population through Loyola’s Center for Community Service and Justice (CCSJ), knew many people lacking food and shelter congregate near the Healthcare for the Homeless headquarters in East Baltimore. They decided to start there.

The friends spent two hours approaching strangers on the street, introducing themselves and engaging in conversation, and handing out sandwiches and bottled water. The act of kindness was well received, and they agreed that this had to become a Friday night ritual.

The McChicken Project was born.

Today The McChicken Project (which is not formally associated with the McDonald’s restaurant company) is an official student-run initiative to feed people experiencing homelessness and hunger in Baltimore. Every Friday evening, Alexander, Latran, Mann, and McShane deliver around 60 McChicken sandwiches and two cases of bottled water to citizens of Baltimore who gather near Healthcare for the Homeless and St. Vincent de Paul Church, near the city’s Jones Falls Expressway.

In addition to a hot meal, the students provide McChicken Project-branded T-shirts and hats to the people they encounter, and they hope to be able to provide branded blankets during the winter months. All food and clothing has been funded by the students’ own money or through donations received through their website. Last year, donations totaled more than $2,000.

The students said they knew their service met a need after their first few outings, because they were having to order more sandwiches with each passing week. Eventually, they had to convince the local McDonald’s that their now-weekly phone call to pre-order 60 McChicken sandwiches for pickup was not a prank..

The smiles as they handed out the sandwiches each week were contagious, they said.

“The best part is talking to people,” said Mann, a political science major from Naperville, Ill., about the weekly trips downtown. “We know them now.”

The project has also opened their eyes to the issues of homelessness and hunger in Baltimore and to how many people it impacts.

Alexander, an economics major from Canandaigua, N.Y., recalled seeing a father with two small children on one of their first nights handing out food. It made all four students realize how important their project was for so many who couldn’t afford a meal—especially children.

“This experience has taught me that homelessness is more prevalent than I thought, and no one is excluded from it,” said David McShane, Jr., a pre-dental biology and psychology major from Marshfield, Mass. Prior to founding this project, McShane admitted he thought of those experiencing homelessness primarily as male adults. He has come to realize that families, women, and children are also affected—and they too require services and resources.

As The McChicken Project expanded, the students looked for ways to involve their peers. In addition to serving alongside the founders of the project on Friday evenings, Loyola students can donate. An incentive program that awards donors who pledge $15 or more receive a McChicken Project T-shirt or hat, which in turn supports promotion and program awareness.

While they don’t have formal plans for the continuation of the project after they graduate from Loyola in May 2018, their hope for the future is to continue the program in Baltimore—and expand it to their home states (Pennsylvania, Illinois, New York, and Massachusetts) to alleviate homelessness and hunger on a national scale.

They also hope to introduce the project to other colleges and universities. The McChicken Project website offers other colleges the opportunity to franchise a chapter at another institution.

In the meantime, their focus remains in the city they call home, Baltimore, on growing their project here, and on connecting with and serving others.

“We’ve always had this idea and drive to do something bigger than ourselves, to try to help out the larger community,” Mann said. “This project coming to fruition has been awesome.”

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