A historic claim of American capitalism is that economic inequality is acceptable as long as mobility is possible.  Rose Wallace ’16 is interested in why the current economy lacks mobility and what kind of social programs can benefit low-income populations to bolster mobility. She brings this interest to her work in Waltham Group, where she is a program coordinator for Hunger and Homelessness, and the head coordinator for the special annual event put on by that group, Halloween for the Hungry.

In its 28th annual Halloween for the Hungry, Hunger and Homelessness collected 3,013 total cans from going door-to-door, capitalizing on the notion that on Halloween, potential donors will be at home, answering their doors and in a festive mood. Cans were donated to the Greater Boston Food Bank. 

The planning process for Halloween for the Hungry began at the beginning of the 2014 school year. Hunger and Homelessness, the organization that puts on Halloween for the Hungry, has four program coordinators: Max Shpilman ’16, Petra Nelson ’15, Lauryn Garner ’15 and Wallace ’16. 

Nelson was the coordinator in charge of Halloween for the Hungry last year, and this year she handed over her leadership to Wallace. “Mid-September, Nelson and I sat down with notes and timelines from last year and made a timeline for when to accomplish things for this year… we were able to meet and decide what had went well last year, and she had some really great ideas about what she wanted to make better and what she wanted to make more organized,” Wallace said. 

“One thing I’m really grateful for is mentorship, and the ability to talk to people who had run the drive before me. I could not have done the drive without having Petra there,” Wallace said.

As part of the planning process, Wallace met with the Waltham Police, who had been concerned in previous years about college students roaming local neighborhoods at night—as well as the Greater Boston Food Bank, the organization that ultimately collects the cans raised by students on Halloween. Once these measures had been taken, Wallace hired six drive coordinators after conducting a series of interviews for applicants.

October, the most consequential planning month, was busy for all Hunger and Homelessness coordinators. “The two biggest components of the planning process were first, the on-campus recruitment of volunteers and second, the off-campus organizational component,” Wallace said. 

To organize off-campus, the drive coordinators put flyers in the mailboxes of every house they planned to go to, notifying the house’s residents of goals of the program, and hopefully encouraging them to purchase canned goods to donate on Halloween to student trick-or-treaters. They also poured over maps of Waltham, deciding how to distribute the available volunteers to collect the maximum number of cans.

Responsibilities were divided among the six drive coordinators. Some coordinators were working on the publicity and recruitment aspect, while some coordinatiors were working on the aspect of off-campus logistics. 

“The most challenging part was organization,” Wallace said. “As the lead point person, I had many different things I had to make sure got done. If one of those things slipped up, the drive would be compromised. It was a question of being persistent.”

 Wallace, who previously worked in case management at a low-income clinic, appreciated the opportunity for increased leadership in a facet of public service that she is passionate about. In her newfound leadership role, she discovered the difficulties of organizing a group of people to perform efficiently.  “Delegation is hard. Next year, I would want to give each coordinator more stake in the project, so we can delegate more effectively,” Wallace said. 

“It’s hard to be patient, take a step back, and give people things to do,” Wallace said. “Throughout the planning process, you want to give people strict deadlines. You don’t want to be mean, but sometimes you have to be.”

Another challenging aspect of Halloween for the Hungry was determining how to involve local residents and make them aware of the larger impact of the program beyond just a knock in their door on Halloween. “In the past, we haven’t really involved donors in any way, beside knocking on their doors on Halloween and asking for donations,” Wallace said. 

This year, in order to increase the level of interest in the program from local Waltham residents, the group included thank you slips, which were handed out to anyone that contributed cans. The slips had links to the website, which includes information about the program and how many cans were collected ultimately. “From that, we will gauge how many hits we will get on the website and how interested Waltham residents are in our program,” Wallace said. 

Wallace knew she wanted to be involved in Waltham Group from the beginning of her sophomore year, after she transferred to Brandeis from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Upon exploring the options offered by Waltham Group, she came to the conclusion that Hunger and Homelessness most closely aligned with her interests. “I know that domestic poverty is an issue I’m really passionate about, and I’ve volunteered at homeless shelters and worked as an educator on the topic of food insecurity,” said Wallace. 

Upon assuming the leadership role within Hunger and Homelessness, Wallace has appreciated her increased autonomy and ability to affect the volunteer experience at Brandeis. “Coming to Brandeis, I knew I wanted to do community service. I knew if I didn’t do it I would be very sad,” said Wallace. “It’s been awesome being able to have an increased leadership role, and being able to steer the club into a direction where I believe the volunteer position is becoming more beneficial.”

Upon graduation, Wallace plans to pursue her interest in American politics and different welfare policies that benefit low-income individuals. “Ideally, I would pursue a career in public service focusing on those populations. Economic mobility is very difficult in the United States, and I’m interested in looking at policy solutions and economic causes of this lack of mobility,” Wallace said. 

This past summer, Wallace interned for Senator Patty Murray of Washington State, citing this experience as one that bolstered her interest in public service for low-income populations. 

Wallace witnessed firsthand constant attacks on the food stamp program that expanded greatly during the great recession and exists as the primary safety net for low-income individuals. “The idealist academic setting differs greatly from the practical government setting. There’s no time to say ‘This program isn’t good enough’ because you’re just fighting to make sure it doesn’t get cut,” Wallace said.