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"Lunch With A Purpose" celebrates one-year anniversary

By Gretchen Millich, WKAR News

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wkar/local-wkar-952673.mp3

LANSING, MI – Ever thought about volunteering at a charity or non-profit, but just couldn't decide which one or find the time to do it? There's a group in the Lansing area that may help you get started. It's called "Lunch With A Purpose". They've set up a system for volunteering that fits into almost any busy schedule. WKAR's Gretchen Millich looks at how "Lunch with a Purpose" got started and the secret to its success.

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It's lunch time at Panera at Frandor. A group of people are sitting around a long table, laughing, eating and making valentine cards.

"For kids at Sparrow and Ingham, so it's one of our lunch projects," says Emily Mugerian. "We're 'Lunch With A Purpose,' and we volunteer at a different community organization each week. So this week, we're making valentines."

Mugerian organizes a lot of the projects. She's one of the original members of Lunch With A Purpose.

"People were kind of debating what they were giving up for Lent last year, and someone made the suggestion doing something for the community rather than giving up pop or chocolate or something," she says.

For their first project, they cooked lunch for families staying at the Ronald McDonald House near Sparrow Hospital. Mugerian says the following week, a few more people joined in to collect and deliver donated clothing to the Lansing City Mission.

"And the next week, we did something and there was a couple more people, so it really just took off, utilizing Facebook as our main means of communication as well as our website," says Mugerian. "It's just skyrocketed."

Now, Lunch With A Purpose has more than 1,000 Facebook fans. The commitment is flexible. Most of the events are Thursdays at noon, but no one is required to be there every week.

"I am making a valentine card and it says, 'To one tough cookie,' and then I got a little cookie in there," says Justin Caine.

Caine is also one of the founding members. He says he wanted to show people that it doesn't take a lot of time or money to make a big difference.

"By just spending one hour a week, it really gets everyone involved and engaged in their community," he says. "Then they start looking at their community as not just a place where they live, but a place where they want to be and a place that they want to see grow. When that happens, we all benefit."

The group has managed to organize a project every week during the past year. Volunteers cleaned up the garden at the Village Summit Community Center in South Lansing, painted a shed at St. Vincent Catholic Charities and wrapped Christmas gifts for homebound seniors. Last week, a handful of volunteers helped decorate for a dance for gay teenagers. It was sponsored by Gateway Community Services, an organization that runs a shelter for homeless and at-risk youth.

Ashleigh MacLachlan is with Gateway. She says Lunch With A Purpose started working at the shelter last summer, cleaning up the attic.

"They had a huge group come out on one of the hottest days of July," she says. "They cleaned out the attic and sorted through the clothes and it was really helpful for us to see what we had and what we needed more of."

The group came back a couple of months later to help Gateway get ready for an open house.

"This was in the fall, so they raked and helped us do some small repairs around the house and make things look nice," says Maclachlan. "They actually inspired me to get involved in the group, so I've actually joined Lunch With A Purpose and come out and helped at some of their events with their group."

Another co-founder, T. J. Duckett, is helping decorate for the dance. Duckett played football at Michigan State University and in the NFL. After his football career ended, Duckett came back to the Lansing area. He says he likes helping others.

"It doesn't have to be a task or a chore to go and help someone," says Duckett. "It can be a fun time. It can be a chance to get to know someone you never would have known. Whether it's for business opportunities, whether it's to better yourself, or find more friends, there's a platform there for you."

Lunch With A Purpose is celebrating its one-year anniversary by returning to the Ronald McDonald House to cook lunch. This coming year, its members would like to help set up more Lunch With A Purpose groups in other cities.

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