Friday was the deadline to apply for Will Write for Food, a weird little program that’ll bring 18 college journalists to a South Florida homeless shelter over Labor Day weekend.

I’m not choosing the staff – WWFF alumni are doing that now – but I’ve already chosen my favorite cover letters. Some made me laugh…

To be honest, the idea of hanging out with homeless people scares the shit out of me. That’s why I want to do Will Write for Food.
– Veronica, Wichita State

Others made me wonder…

Why am I willing to sacrifice a Labor Day Weekend to work for Will Write for food? Let me put it like this: I’ve got a tattoo on my chest that says “Seek truth and report it.” I love journalism. I love it so much that it hurts.
– Andrew, University of Alaska

But all of the letters made me think. And they should give journalism professors pause…

As a journalist, I’m lucky enough to have the means to call attention to problems that plague society. Unfortunately, student journalists rarely get assignments that stray from charity events or Student Government Association meetings. Basically, I want to experience real journalism, and I know that’s what Will Write for Food is.
– Adrienne, University of Central Florida

J-schools teach skills, but do they fuel passion? From what I’ve read this weekend, some student journalists crave significance in their syllabi…

As I look at my clips, I realize I’ve never done anything “moving.” I have done wonderfully frivolous designs, ranging from an infograph on Disney princesses to a newspaper front page on bad roommates. They’re beautiful and conceptual and everything that can overwhelm a client with such glee, but they don’t really matter. So please take me on, I beg you!
– Barbara, Coastal Carolina University

Going into my senior year of college, I feel like I have learned a lot from my internships and courses within the journalism program. But of all of my stories, I honestly cannot say that there is one I will remember writing the rest of my life and feel moved from reporting it – but with this opportunity I feel like I will be able to tell my kids about it one day.
– Ashley, University of Central Florida

I was most surprised (and frankly, much moved) by the students who want to come to Will Write for Food precisely because it’ll rattle them…

Why do I think Will Write for Food will ignite my passion? Because it will put me in a situation that my spoiled butt has never seen the likes of before. I’ve never looked poverty in the eye or pushed my mental strength to its limits and that frustrates me.
– Sophie, University of Florida

I have always had a place to call home, things of my own and food on my plate, and I cannot imagine what it would be like to live otherwise. I would rather spend my holiday weekend living in a homeless shelter in the hopes of changing a life or two and having someone change mine than laying poolside with a beer in my hand. I have spent enough time with friends enjoying the sunshine and a beer, and it is something I’ll have the opportunity to do many times over, but the opportunity to write for the Homeless Voice will not cross my path again.
– Katie, University of Central Florida

I admire student journalists who come from upper-middle-class backgrounds but don’t want that to define their outlook on life…

I grew up in a family where we didn’t leave our bedroom community to visit downtown Chicago too often because my parents didn’t want to face the homeless who begged us for money. We were taught that poor people were poor just because they were lazy.

In my undergrad education, and now in my grad school life, I’ve taken the social responsibility model of journalism seriously. Journalists give us the information necessary to be self governing and show us more about what it means to be a member of the human race. Not everyone has the courage, the motivation or the opportunity to leave their warm homes to see what life is like for the homeless. It’s up to us to tell them and be the interpreters for those who do not have voices of their own.

Why do it? Why not?
– DePaul University


So far, I’ve only quoted from this year’s cover letters. Below is my favorite…

A good story can change a dog’s life.

That’s the most important lesson I’ve learned as a student journalist, and I learned it on one random day from one random article assignment I had to write for my campus newspaper. It was just another story in a string of dailies I had written that month – an assignment that could have easily been a boring eight-inch piece if I hadn’t looked deep enough to see its potential.

The assignment was to write about a local club that was looking for families interested in adopting greyhound dogs. They were racing dogs that had completed their racing careers and were without homes.

I interviewed the woman who started the club that morning and realized that for her the club was about providing homes for the homeless – in this case, homeless greyhounds.

When the story came out the next day, I had a voicemail by 9 a.m. from the club leader I had interviewed the previous morning. People were already calling in asking when they could come and meet the dogs available for adoption.

This isn’t a mind-blowing story about the power of journalism. But that was the first time I’ve ever written a story that I felt made a real impact. Because of that story, a few greyhounds found new homes and a few families found rambunctious, lovable additions to their clans.

I’m a journalist because I want to cause change. I want to help make a sliver of the world a tad bit better. I want to help people by getting their stories out in front of individuals who may be inspired to aid them in whatever way they can.

That’s what Will Write for Food represents. It’s a chance to force people to stop and wonder how the man holding a sign on that street corner ended up there in the first place. It’s a chance to make people see past the tattered clothes to the person beneath, and to realize they aren’t so different after all. It’s a chance to make a difference in someone’s life, however minor.

For me, that’s worth sacrificing a trip to the beach this Labor Day weekend.
– Morgan, University of Florida

If that doesn’t warm the cold, calloused hearts of veteran journalists – and the ragged, blackened souls of tenured j-school profs – nothing will.

I can’t wait to meet this year’s WWFF crew.

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