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Men’s Lacrosse’s O’Hanlon Finds Fit with FarmLink

Men’s Lacrosse’s O’Hanlon Finds Fit with FarmLink

BABSON PARK, Mass.—Forced to return home in mid-March just six games into the start of a promising season, Babson College men's lacrosse rising senior Mason O'Hanlon (Manhattan Beach, Calif.) has played a major role in providing for the community through his work with FarmLink, a grassroots movement started by a group of high school friends in the Los Angeles area to help support farms and food banks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

O'Hanlon has spent the past few months serving as a media specialist and fundraiser for FarmLink, which has helped build a new supply chain that allows farmers with surplus produce to deliver food to understocked food banks throughout the country while also supporting essential jobs.

The project started small with the group calling local food banks to see how they could help, followed by farms to see if they'd be willing to donate unused food. Although they received some initial resistance, FarmLink got rolling when it delivered 10,800 eggs from a local farm to a Santa Monica food bank.

Proud of what his friends had started, O'Hanlon was excited to help them in any way he could.

"I thought initially they were kind of crazy renting a U-Haul and delivering thousands of eggs that could crack at any moment," he joked. "But once I saw they had an awesome article in the New York Times and understanding that solving the problem is a lot more realistic, I wanted to join their team."

O'Hanlon starts most days with back-to-back 30-minute meetings for both media and fundraising before working with his teams to generate ideas for content, leveraging connections and working on ways to raise money. The media team has helped FarmLink get featured on a number of major news channels (ABC, CNBC, Fox, Washington Post) and the Optimist channel on YouTube, as well as using his social media contacts to his advantage.

"Along with reaching out to media connections, we are starting to bring on (social media) influencers that want to assist with food deliveries and amplify their brand in bringing to light the problems going on," commented O'Hanlon. "We've also had a bunch of NBA and NFL players agree to repost content; it's just a matter of whether it's better used now in an outburst post or strategically placed in a campaign in the future."

After making its initial delivery in a rented U-Haul, one might find it hard to believe that FarmLink now features a team of over 180 college students. In addition to O'Hanlon's role, other team members spend their days calling both food banks and farms hoping to make new connections that can help the non-profit build on the over five million pounds of food and more than four million meals it has delivered over the last three months. FarmLink also has raised nearly $200,000 that helps feed families and pay wages to farmers and truckers making deliveries.

"We have donated to food banks in over 20 states, and one place we are trying to make an impact is the Navajo Nation in Arizona because Indian tribes are suffering from massive food insecurity and are more isolated than other parts of the country," commented O'Hanlon. "Most non-profits are sourcing food to wherever is convenient and not to places that need it most. We are now allocating a lot of our time and effort to go above and beyond to place food where it is necessary."

The teamwork necessary to make everything FarmLink is doing successfully is not lost on O'Hanlon, who has used both his classroom and lacrosse experiences at Babson to his benefit. "In lacrosse, you learn the value of work ethic, motivation and working with others. With everything being remote, it's harder than ever to work with 100-150 people so understanding communication and when to push and pull on people is something I've learned through athletics.

"In sports, you do a lot of stuff that you don't see materialize initially," he continued. "You don't see extra sprints and lifts pay off right away, but you know in the long term it's going to happen. Working at a non-profit, a lot of the legwork we do at first you may not see a result but understanding that if you keep at it consistently it's going to pay off."

The payoff for O'Hanlon and everyone at FarmLink has been seeing the smiles on the faces of those at food banks when they make deliveries. "Everyone from volunteers to the people that need the food are so appreciative and honestly a little surprised that it's college kids doing this and not actual adults because you think this would be a problem solved by the top one percent of America instead of those who are still following the systematic college route," he stated.

With the start of his senior year just a little over a month away, O'Hanlon has no plans to give up his work with FarmLink when he returns to Babson or in the future. "Over the next five to 10 years I'm going to be involved, it just depends on the capacity. Maybe I'll pursue something that can help FarmLink more than if I was doing it day-to-day, so I'm not sure what it will be but I'll be involved in some way, shape or form."