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Valentines for Haiti

Written by Mike Thee
March 22, 2010

Rather quietly and without much fanfare, a group of Fine Arts students raised $1,400 for the Haitian relief effort last month. They printed 500 Valentine’s Day cards and sold nearly all of them at various locations on and off campus. All the arts supplies, which cost $200, were paid for with additional donations. The proceeds went to Jesuit Relief Service (JRS).

The idea for the project, called “Love for Haiti,” actually originated a few years back when Fr. Josef Venker, S.J., chair of Fine Arts, asked each student in his printmaking classes to create an image depicting the “state of their heart,” he says. “Some of the images were like Valentines and others were like anti-Valentines, which was cool, too. So we started printing them up as cards. Then we realized we could sell these cards.”

The first year, the students made a couple hundred dollars, which they donated to a women’s shelter—“That’s the idea of love gone bad,” says Father Venker. The second year, they printed more cards and raised $700.

This year, the earthquake in Haiti occurred right as the students started printing. “I wanted the money to go somehow to Haiti,” Fr. Venker says, “and I knew we could rely on the Jesuit Refugee Service because they were already in Haiti before the earthquake and they’d be there after the earthquake.”

To sell the cards, students took batches to campus locations like the Bookstore, the Lee Center and SUpercopy where they were sold for $4 each or $10 for a set of three. Invoking a little marketing mojo, Fr. Venker counseled the students to sheath the cards in plastic, because then “you can charge another $2,” he says with a smile.

 The students set out to raise $1,400 by the 14th (of February, of course). In less than two weeks, they hit the target.  “Our leading location was SUpercopy,” Fr. Venker says, “Manager Susan Oistad was very supportive and her student workers were quite competitive salespeople. And It helped that customers already had their wallets in their hand.” 

Another successful venue for fundraising, he says, was the School of Theology and Ministry’s Feb. 13 Search for Meaning book fair. A number of staff members also pitched in by selling the Valentines from their desks, and an alumnus even got into the act. Christian Wong, a 1998 business management graduate and owner of Chocolati, sold cards at his various locations, joining other off-campus retailers like Portage Bay Café and Volunteer Park Café in the effort.

Thinking ahead to next year Fr. Venker is planning to again raise funds for Haiti. “Their needs will be longterm. It will take a generation to pull them through this.” 

He estimates that each Valentine, when sold for $4, can keep a Haitian family of four alive for a day. As a student typically print one card every five minutes, one hour of work equates to nearly two weeks of sustenance for that family.

While the project has an unmistakable service component to it, Fr. Venker also sees it as an opportunity for students to learn about the business of art. They must keep accurate records, raise money and devise effective marketing strategies. “It’s like a whole business class built in miniature,” he says.