By Steve Erlsten, VO Northern California Outreach Coordinator
It was the morning on the third week of my seven-week leafleting road trip. My day in San Bernardino, CA started when the alarm went off at 6:45 am. I quickly brushed my teeth and hustled to my car, which was packed with boxes.
I’d left my apartment in Berkeley, CA at the beginning of my tour with 25 thirty-eight pound boxes, each containing a thousand animal-saving booklets.
After I jumped in my car, I ate a Trader Joe’s vegan cinnamon roll while zipping through the beginnings of rush hour traffic. By 7:30 am, I was in action—trying to catch the initial arrival of students at Cal State in San Bernardino!
I like to start leafleting early in the day because the initial rush of students usually has a great take rate—it’s often effective to catch them coming in from the parking lot or their dorms.
I’d checked AdoptACollege.org—a website maintained by VO that contains a wealth of information about each school that volunteers and VO staff have done outreach at—and I’d also spoken with VO’s Director of Outreach, Vic Sjodin, the night before. Vic had previously leafleted Cal State San Bernardino, and I wasn’t familiar with the layout or the best leafleting spots.
I was disappointed by the flow of foot traffic at the first location I tried. I checked out a couple of other suggested spots, but they didn’t seem promising either. I decided to skip ahead to the prime mid-day spot near the library. It worked out great!
There was a steady stream of students with huge rushes at every class change. Most importantly, there were new students passing me at each class change. I wasn’t repeatedly meeting the same students or having to rotate leafleting locations.
I started the day with 2,000 booklets—I handed out booklets continuously for 6 and a half hours. By 2:00 pm, there were still plenty of new students arriving for afternoon and evening classes, so I decided to stay on campus and continue leafleting.
As I trekked back to the car to get a few hundred more booklets, I realized I could set a new record for the number of booklets passed out at this school if I leafleted for just a few more hours! I re-energized with a Clif Bar and refilled my water bottle.
Throughout the day, I had dozens of great conversations! Too many to recount in detail!
Some of my favorite conversations included a chat with a woman named Glenda, whose daughter had been asking to go vegan. I spoke with her for 15 minutes or so, answered her questions, and gave her two of VO’s Guides to Cruelty-Free Eating (GCFE).
The most rewarding moment, however, was meeting James—pictured below. He’d been vegetarian since receiving a booklet from VO last year. He and I spoke for a few minutes, and he told me he was excited to try to go vegan with the help from the GCFE booklet I gave him.
I took an hour break from 2:00 to 3:00 pm and from 4:00 to 5:00 pm when foot traffic was slower. By 6:00 pm, I’d set a record for this university for the most number of booklets handed out in one day.
When the campus started to empty out, I left to get dinner—I was hungry! I ate a cheeseless pizza at a nearby Papa John’s. At 9:00 pm, after watching a few episodes of Better Call Saul in my car and returning a few emails, I drove to my host’s house in a nearby city.
I’d contacted this host on CouchSurfing.com—we’d never met before. We spoke for an hour or so after I arrived. He wasn’t familiar with VO, but was enthusiastic about the work we do. Interestingly enough, he told me that he’d been vegan for four years and applies his experiences of being vegan to his work with respiratory patients.
Sometime shortly after midnight I fell asleep. My alarm rang again at 6:00 am that next morning and I was up and ready to drive to another school to do it all again!
I love my job, and I love that VO has such amazing donors and volunteers to keep our work going! And I want to give a huge shout-out to our other VO Outreach Coordinators who are doing this work in different parts of the world!
Your donations make Steve’s work possible. If you want to see even more people go veg next year, donate now to our Half Million Dollar Challenge and your donation will be matched! Thank you!
4 thoughts on “Day in the Life of an Outreach Coordinator – Steve Erlsten”
Hi I have a question. Many years ago when Gunter Pfaff and I lived in Michigan, we hosted a person who was doing something very similar. I think the main office was in Pittsburgh PA. Unfortunately I forget his name. Just wonder if anyone in this group remembers this group from about 20 years ago.
That was me! I remember visiting you and seeing your tempeh-making set-up. I think the year was 1996. I hope you and Gunter are doing well! It looks like you’re still making tempeh.
That’s bananas! What a reunion of generous people. So cool.
You are remarkable Steve!
Thank you for your work, your hours, and your thoughtfulness.
Can’t wait to meet you and learn from the master 🙂
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