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In Newton, Lasell community rallies to fight hunger

(From left) Peter Eyong, Mairead Van Heest, Margaret Haggerty, and Armin Omanovic working together at the Pine Street Inn.
(From left) Peter Eyong, Mairead Van Heest, Margaret Haggerty, and Armin Omanovic working together at the Pine Street Inn. (Lasell College)

Some events in life can stop you in your tracks. The death of a child is one of them.

Yet Peter Eyong, 36, a native of Cameroon who is pursuing his master’s degree in management at Lasell College in Newton, persists.

His 3-year-old daughter, Ashley, died from a ruptured appendix Oct. 13 while in Cameroon with family.

Despite the grief, and the need to study in time to graduate in May, Eyong spearheaded an initiative to help others. One cause is very close to his heart: a hunger relief awareness campaign.

“I have seen hunger firsthand. I know what it’s like not to have three square meals a day,” he said.

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Eyong also works as a cashier, dining attendant, and intern with Sodexo, Lasell’s food service provider. Backed by his internship, plus knowledge of the widespread hunger in Cameroon, Eyong launched an awareness effort that included a food drive.

The project was part of Sodexo’s The Better Tomorrow Plan, a program to improve the quality of lives of its employees and members of communities where it operates.

“Most students don’t really come in contact with hunger,” Eyong said. “I used to think it was [only] Africa, but when I lived in Newton, I learned 700 people visit the Newton Food Pantry per month.”

The quiet-spoken man credits the heartfelt help of more than 600 Lasell students who wanted to comfort their classmate and friend. Students donated 350 cans of food to the Newton Food Pantry, and collected $310 that was contributed to the Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation.

Once a month, Eyong also brings a couple of Lasell students to the Pine Street Inn in Boston to prepare meals as part of Sodexo’s community outreach.

On Oct. 25, his wife, Lucy, gave birth to a second daughter, Mairead, named after his Sodexo manager, Mairead Van Heest. He keeps in touch with his wife and daughter via Skype and phone calls.

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Eyong believes Lasell students can carry this work forward in their home communities.

“I believe I’m making an impact, but much still has to be done. I don’t want it to stop here.”


Kathy Shiels Tully can be reached at kathy@kathyshielstully.com.