Needham Darfur Initiative

A unique, newsworthy, town-based initiative to raise public awareness of the first genocide of the 21st century.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Cover of Globe West, Sunday, June 11

A banner effort to aid Darfur

Needham man calling for help

By Lauren K. Meade, Globe Correspondent
June 11, 2006

You may have seen them in the storefronts of the mom-and-pop
boutiques in the center of town, pegged up on poles in front of a
church or temple, or draped from the high school. Emblazoned
on the green 3-by-8-foot banners:
``A call to your conscience . . ."

And one Needham resident hopes to spread this message from
his front yard on Savoy Road to the White House, one banner at
a time.

Alan Greenfield's plan is this: He will pay for the banners and
yard signs -- all you have to do is put them up. His offer is open
to Needham residents, though he hopes folks in other towns buy
the banners as well. His goal is to blanket the area in green and
capture the attention of the national media, maybe even
President Bush.

He's already written to Oprah Winfrey, but has yet to hear back.

So far, six worship centers in Needham and several businesses
and residents have agreed to post the banners, which Greenfield
purchased from the Save Darfur Coalition website.

The idea was sparked at an otherwise ordinary Passover Seder
this spring, he said.

Some 20 friends and family, Jewish and non-Jewish, had gathered
at the Greenfield home. Greenfield led the Seder, retelling the story
of the Jews' exodus from Egypt, while guests drank wine,
ceremonially dipped vegetables in salt water, and ate charoset, a
sweet paste of apples, nuts, and wine symbolizing the mortar used
by Jewish slaves to cement bricks.

Talk turned from events in biblical Egypt to the genocide taking
place in Africa today.

``Every year Jews sit around a table. It's the same conversation
and the same food. Alan tries to move it forward and make it
relevant to today," said Greenfield's wife, Claudia, during a recent

Determined to do more this year than merely talk about the crisis
in Sudan, Greenfield posed a question to his guests: Could one
person affect a situation as vast and complicated as that in Darfur?

``The sentiment was `no,' " said Greenfield.

He set out to prove them wrong.

In an impulse buy of sorts, Greenfield purchased four banners at
$50 each from the Save Darfur Coalition website. The coalition
describes itself as an alliance of more than 100 faith-based,
humanitarian, and human rights organizations.

Greenfield went to local houses of worship with the banners.
``I thought, ifthey didn't go for it, it probably wouldn't fly," he said.

His synagogue, Temple Aliyah, was the first to put one on display.

Five other worship centers followed suit.

Greenfield spent much of his career in high-tech sales, eventually
becoming a vice president at Brooktrout Inc. Five years ago, he
left the corporate world and purchased a dog-walking business,
Creature Comforts . He runs the company, with a staff of 14, out
of the basement of his home.

As the operation's owner, he devotes about 8 to 12 hours a week
to the job, leaving the rest of the week open for charitable efforts.
Greenfield has volunteered as a companion to the elderly, a Big
Brother, and a career adviser for the Jewish Vocational Service.

Claudia Greenfield owns the Grey Goose boutique in downtown

Besides a few Vietnam protests during college, Alan and Claudia
said, they haven't been active in political or humanitarian
campaigns. A black and white photo on a bookcase in their living
room shows the couple in their younger years. They are sitting
back to back, he in a plaid shirt with shaggy hair, and she in a
white blouse and layered hair.

Greenfield last week spoke before members of the
Massachusetts Coalition to Save Darfur about his initiative,
hoping it would spread to other towns.

The Rev. John Buehrens, minister of the First Parish in
Needham, said his Unitarian Universalist church put up a banner
because it fits perfectly with its eighth-grade youth group's
campaign to raise money for peacekeeping efforts in Darfur.
The class has raised $1,000 this year by selling green wrist
bands, he said.

Buehrens applauded Greenfield's vision, though he said,
``I don't think it can catch on until people put up yard signs.
That's when you get neighbor to neighbor conversations."

John Moran , owner of the UPS franchise in the center of town,
put up a banner in its window about two weeks ago.
``I've only had one person make a wisecrack about me getting
into politics," said Moran. ``This isn't politics."

Moran said he told the customer about the systematic
destruction of villages in Darfur by Arab militias. ``He didn't
know what was going on."

Recently, Greenfield drummed up support from students
in the high school's World Peace Club.

Despite its lofty name, the club did not start out with humanitarian
ambitions much beyond providing its members with a good time,
according to its president. Jeff Escalante said he and some friends joked
about starting a club with the purpose of holding weekly parties. But
they knew the idea wouldn't fly
with the principal unless the club
had a credible name (hence, World
Peace Club). The partying didn't
take off (no one brought the food,
Escalante said), but the
humanitarian work did.

Escalante, 16, said he researched
several causes and was moved by
the mass killings, rapes, and
looting in theDarfur region of Sudan.

This year, the World Peace Club
raised $400 selling bracelets like
those worn by Tour de France
winner Lance Armstrong. But the
club hit a fund-raising roadblock.
It ran out of buyers.

Greenfield showed up at a club meeting and enlisted the students
in his cause. With the OK of school principal Paul Richards, the
club put up a green banner outside the school.

The club plans to continue collaborating with Greenfield after the
summer break, said Escalante, as well as conduct its own fund-raising

Greenfield said he has been pleased with how the initiative has grown
over the past five weeks. He has been reporting its progress on an
Internet site (

Africa has not been a focal point for many Americans, with the
Iraq War and the aftermath of the Gulf hurricanes and the tsunami
competing for their attention, he said, and he finds the situation
disturbing: ``For a genocide to be going on in 2006, there should
be more awareness."


At 8:19 PM, Anonymous Lindsey Kiser said...

I am so impressed with your activism! My daughter was in the UU 8th grade youth group mentioned by Rev. Beuhrens in the Globe article and while I've given money to Oxfam for Darfur, I'd like to also raise awareness with a lawn sign. What you're doing is wonderful!

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