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A banner effort to aid Darfur

Campaign to raise awareness of genocide takes off in Needham

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 interview.

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, if they 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 in town 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 Needham.

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 congregation 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, 16, 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 said he researched several causes and was moved by the descriptions of mass killings, rapes, and looting taking place in the Darfur 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 for Darfur.

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."

Lauren K. Meade can be reached at

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