Pet Pageant project provides meals to children

Students in professor Susan Daria’s class are coming up with creative ways to combat food insecurity in Alabama.

More stories from Heather Gann

In early November, UA professor Susan Daria’s public relations, concepting and implementation class partnered with Alabama Credit Union’s Secret Meals for Hungry Children program to host Paw-Parazzi, a virtual pageant on Facebook to help combat food insecurity in children by delivering food packs. 

For a fee of $12, pet owners were able to register their pets into the competition and the Secret Meals program was able to cover one child’s food for three weekends. 

Along with the fee, contestants were required to submit photos of their pets. Those photos were then posted on a Paw-Parazzi Facebook page where they were then voted on by members of the greater Tuscaloosa/Birmingham area. The pets were given four competition categories: Rescue Pets, Holiday Spirit, Dynamic Duo and #1 Fan. 

The pageant saw 39 entries in total, with all types of animals ranging from pitbulls to guinea pigs. Dogs were certainly the most popular choice, with canines sweeping the wins in every category when they were announced on Nov. 11. 

Australian Shepherd and Golden Retriever siblings Chewy and Wampa took the dynamic duo category while a chagrined bulldog, Sparky, won Holiday Spirit, and Millie, the Yorkie, declared the #1 Fan.

Allysa Rapadas, a sophomore majoring in public health, was the winner in the rescue category with her yellow lab, Winston. 

From being a part of the Center for Service and Leadership and especially being a part of Beat Auburn Beat Hunger, I have heard about the importance of Secret Meals in the Tuscaloosa community, so this was a fun, easy way to support such a great organization,” Rapadas said. “I entered a photo of my dog who my family got from the Humane Society of Greater Birmingham which conveniently fit the category. Overall it was a fun little competition that I am glad I got to partake in.” 

Through the registration fees, donations and sponsorships from local businesses such as Tuscaloosa Family Dental and Mathnasium Tuscaloosa, the event raised over $2,000, which will provide meal packs to 14 children for an entire school year.

Daria and her students have raised over $220,000 since they began working with the Secret Meal program in 2011. The entirety of the project is student led, from contacting sponsors to the press releases before and after. Daria believes this learning experience is one of the most important things she does while at the university.

I strongly believe that when my students see how they can use their chosen profession to make a real difference and help others, it is a lesson that has the potential to stick with them throughout their lives,” Daria said. “I certainly hope that, while training young PR professionals, I am helping to develop them into good community stewards.”

Emma O’Brien, a junior majoring in public relations, spoke highly of the experience with her fellow team of nine students. 

This course gave us valuable firsthand experience into what it takes to plan and execute a successful nonprofit event,” O’Brien said. “The process wasn’t always a walk in the park, but I am grateful for the hands-on opportunity that this course provided and for the difference that this project will make in our community.” 

Food security is a huge concern for many families living in America, especially around this time of the year. However, if the students running programs such as Paw-Parazzi take these lessons into the world with them as Daria hopes, a solution to this issue could be just on the horizon.