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Orem teen spearheads Utah’s Live Below the Line Challenge

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(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sydney Pedersen, 15, a Canyon View Junior High student in Orem cooks up a package of ramen noodles to eat later for dinner as she participates with friends in the "Live Below the Line" campaign that is part of the Global Poverty Project. It raises awareness about how challenging it is for people in poverty to eat and drink on just $1.50 per day. Pedersen, who has raised $36,000 in the past two weeks, hopes to raise a total of $100,000 as she and her family and friends live on the limited food budget for five days.

So just how hard is it to eat and drink on only $1.50 per day? Orem teen Sydney Pedersen and friends are about to find out.

Monday afternoon, the 15-year-old Pedersen stirred ramen noodles in the kitchen of her family’s upscale home, while Mallory Madsen, 14, and Kristen Woolley, 15, chatted and looked on, all three Canyon View Junior High students feeling the gnaw of hunger as their bodies began to withdraw from the well-rounded meals and snacks to which they’re usually accustomed. Each had signed up for the challenge of eating on $7.50 for five days, which ends Friday.

“At 10:30 this morning we were already hungry,” Pedersen said, noting that cravings for hummus, strawberries and fruit began to wash over her. But strawberries alone could consume one day’s food allowance on the Living Below the Line diet. Madsen and Woolley said that they were missing the after-school grazing they usually enjoy.

Dishes featuring mostly beige and brown foods adorned Pedersen’s kitchen island — crackers, carrots, a plain baked potato, eggs, pasta, plain toast — representing nutrients that $1.50 per day can and cannot buy.

Pedersen, Madsen and Woolley are among many thousands across Utah, the United States, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and New Zealand participating in the Live Below the Line campaign, which is an initiative of the nonprofit Global Poverty Project that aims to reshape how people think about the 1.4 billion people worldwide who live in extreme poverty.

The self-assured and determined Pedersen is Utah’s Live Below the Line Ambassador for 2013. She leads the campaign in terms of fundraising, having brought in about $36,000 during the past two weeks. Her goal is to raise $100,000 by week’s end, a sum that will be donated to the Happy Hearts Fund, a nonprofit foundation that works to rebuild schools, hope and opportunity for children who have survived natural disasters.

“One Friday I just sat down and called people for five hours — all the contacts in my mom’s cellphone,” Pedersen said of how her pleas for cash got off to such a robust start. The teen attended a Global Poverty Project benefit concert last year in New York, where she loaded up on motivation to join those who are eating differently this week to gain perspective on poverty.

Pedersen’s parents and her four younger siblings are also participating, but 3-year-old Dean might receive some extra snacks, she said.

So far, 47 Utah schools and seven universities have enrolled in the five-day challenge, along with several businesses and restaurants which are serving as sponsors, including Costa Vida Fresh Mexican Grill.

“This is the first time we have tried a specific regional push, and the first time an ambassador has made such a concentrated effort to work within her community to promote Live Below the Line,” Lindsay Hadley, Global Poverty Project’s chief development officer, said in a recent statement, adding that she hopes to replicate Pedersen’s efforts in other communities.

cmckitrick@sltrib.com

Twitter: @catmck

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