Philanthropic Pasta-bilities Raising Millions

New Years Resolutioners might find that too much pasta is a motivator to get in the gym. For school kids, pasta can be a motivator to learn about fundraising. For others, you just can’t get enough pasta.

Students in more than 7,200 schools around the U.S. collected $10.1 million for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS). Classrooms had a jar in which students would drop spare change over a three-week period. The classroom in each participating school that raised the most money received a pasta party from a local Olive Garden restaurant. Start times are at the discretion of each LLS chapter that will benefit.

This past Annual Pasta for Pennies event, which wrapped up toward the close of the 2014 school year, was the 20th year LLS and Olive Garden have partnered. The program has raised more than $90 million since its inception. “It’s inspiring to see young people volunteer and really care about helping others,” said Louis DeGennaro, president and CEO of the White Plains, N.Y.-based Leukemia and Lymphoma Society via a statement.

The top fundraising school for three years running has been William Mason High School in Mason, Ohio, which raised more than $31,000. Other top fundraisers include Charles DeWolf Middle School in Old Tappan, N.J., raising $20,531.03; Merriman Park Elementary in Dallas, raising $16,035; and Christbridge Academy in Azusa, Calif., which raised $16,000. The South Central Texas chapter of LLS received the most money, with 708 schools raising $1.1 million.

This isn’t the first time the power of pasta has been harnessed for good. Ogden, Utah resident Matt Tribe paid $100 to snag one of 1,000 Never Ending Pasta Passes from Olive Garden this past September. Instead of using the pass to expand his own waistline, he committed “Random Acts of Pasta” and brought platters of fettuccine alfredo, breadsticks and salad to strangers, including the homeless.

“From the beginning, I thought it would be cool to take it to homeless people,” said Tribe, 28, a beauty product salesman by day. Tribe’s problem wasn’t getting people to take the free pasta. The challenge was finding people who needed the free pasta. “I would drive around for hours at night (looking for the homeless),” he said. “It’s really hard to find them at night.”

Tribe said were he ever to do something similar again, be it getting the Pasta Pass again this year or just grilling up some burgers for the homeless some weekend, he’d try to coordinate with homeless shelters or the local housing authority. “I’ve never done anything like this before,” he said.

Despite a few detractors saying Random Acts of Pasta was a PR stunt, the response was overwhelmingly positive, said Tribe. The video he created chronicling his experience has been seen on YouTube more than 847,000 times. He got positive feedback from Olive Garden, and when he handed out the platters, confusion would quickly give way to delight.

“At first, everyone was like, ‘Why did you buy me Olive Garden?’” said Tribe. “But once I explained what I was doing, everyone loved it. The goal is to keep doing things like this. It was such a cool experience. I feel like I don’t have a choice but to keep doing it.”