On Thursday, Nov. 6, hundreds of St. Olaf students participated in a community tradition that occurs once per semester: the Caf Fast. The Caf Fast requires that on one designated day, some students pledge not to swipe in to Stav Hall with their Ole Cards for lunch. The money that would have otherwise gone to this meal instead goes to a campus charity or nonprofit group.
Each Caf Fast begins with a detailed selection process in the Student Organizations Committee SOC. If a student organization wishes to receive funds from a Caf Fast, the organization must apply to SOC with its idea for the money and the group’s mission. This year, there were between eight and 12 groups. Once all the organizations that want to participate have applied, SOC holds a meeting in which each student organization presents its cause and justification for receiving the money. Groups discuss how they will use the money to help others and often emphasize their engagement with the St. Olaf community.
“SOC brings them all in, and we all listen to the presentations. We look for a wide criteria of information; we wanted to see what they will take the money to. We looked at some of their past things, to see if they were a new club, were they a starting club,” William Seabrook ’16 said. Seabrook is the Executive Assistant of SOC and a St. Olaf Senator.
He went on to emphasize that SOC does not judge which organization is best, but rather which is best prepared to effectively use the funds for a good cause.
“One isn’t better than the other; it’s just to see where they’re at and where they want to go. Are they going to give money to help Oles do something, which we’ve done in the past, or is it going to the organization to give it to someone else off campus? Because that’s good that we as Oles get to help people, but then it doesn’t just feel like we’re spending money away without actually feeling the good,” Seabrook said.
This year, SOC narrowed it down to three organizations that moved on to the vote before Senate: Global Brigades, St. Olaf Leaders Abolishing Slavery SOLAS and St. Olaf Students for Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Stateless People.
Senate then examines the plans each organization details for the funds.
“We have a lot of discussion on ‘is this organization going to help the people that they’re serving, is it going to go for travel, is it going to speakers to come here, what’s it going to go for?'” Seabrook said.
“Those are some of the longest discussions: how do you compare them at all? There are no bad organizations. It’s comparing great against great. It’s the best versus the best,” Seabrook said. The Senate minutes detailing these discussions can be found on Oleville.
To help in the selection process, Senate sets out criteria by which it will examine each chosen organization.
“We want it to have a good balance, something that will always help the world, but that doesn’t necessarily mean only in St. Olaf, doesn’t mean only in the global sense. It just means some betterment of society,” Seabrook said. “We just want to make sure a lot of Oles are involved in it and that they will be involved in the action, be it the actual physical things done by the organization or by things done in general.” This year, SOLAS was selected to run the fall Caf Fast.
“[SOLAS] works towards raising awareness about human and sex trafficking around the world and working towards making St Olaf a fair trade community- trying to integrate action goals as well as helping people,” said Kailee Oram ’16, a SOLAS member.
For the Caf Fast, SOLAS continued its three-year partnership with a Twin Cities nonprofit organization called Breaking Free.
According to its Web site, “Breaking Free is a nonprofit organization based out of St. Paul, whose mission is to educate and provide services to women and girls who have been victims of sex trafficking. In addition to providing support groups, led by survivors of sex trafficking, Breaking Free provides legal advocacy, educational and career opportunities, safe housing and therapy to hundreds of women and girls.”
St. Olaf Senate chose SOLAS for several reasons.
“There was two parts that they were giving it to,” Seabrook said. “One part that is going to the organization itself, and the other part is going to go for buying Christmas presents for those who can’t afford it because they were involved in sex trafficking.”
Seabrook emphasized that the senators were looking for an organization that contributed money to a good cause but also allowed St. Olaf students to have a hand in the process.
“And the club is growing and has a lot of cool ideas and interesting advertising,” Seabrook said.
The portion of the money going to Breaking Free will be put to good use.
“[It will] fund support groups and classes, for those who are 16 and older; they also do some de-criminalization, they work with law enforcement officers and the judicial system to decrease charges when it’s understandable that they don’t apply,” Oram said.
In the words of the founder of Breaking Free, “Prostitution is not the world’s oldest profession; it is the world’s oldest oppression.”