Syracuse University Magazine


Patrick J. Alvarez

An Appetite for Greatness

Patrick J. Alvarez ’12 doesn’t get a lot of sleep. He’s too busy making the world a better place. The Bronx native, a communication and rhetorical studies major in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, not only carries a heavy course load, but also serves as president—and sparkplug—of the nonprofit agency Project Feed Me. The organization, which Alvarez founded in his freshman year at SU, provides food for those in need. In its first year, Project Feed Me—which counts many SU students among its volunteers—fed more than 500 people at the Frederick Douglass Center in Harlem. In 2009, the expanded program hosted Thanksgiving Day meals for more than 1,000 people, with events at the Southwest Community Center in Syracuse and the Frederick Douglass Center. This year, two Syracuse churches and the Douglass Center were the sites of Project Feed Me holiday dinners. 

Alvarez knows from personal experience what it means to not have enough to eat, or a place to call home. “I grew up in poverty and violence,” he says. As a 5-year-old, he ran for help as his father physically assaulted his mother. To escape the domestic violence, he and his mother sought refuge in homeless shelters. “There were times we didn’t have food, didn’t even have access to food,” he says. “My mother and I struggled.” Frequent moves meant that Alvarez changed schools often. “Education was hard for me because I had to start over at so many new schools,” he says. “I was at a huge disadvantage.” It would have been easy enough for him to be among the 70 percent of students in his neighborhood who don’t finish high school, many of them taking to life on the street. 

Instead, Alvarez, a talented athlete, learned discipline and teamwork on the basketball court. A born entrepreneur, he earned spending money by selling iced drinks and honey buns literally under the study hall and lunchroom tables in high school. In a moment of introspection, he looked in the mirror and asked himself how the world would have been improved by his life if he were to die the next day. His answer was to start Project Feed Me, which has garnered media coverage by such outlets as The New York Times, The New York Daily News, and Fox News. The New York Knicks, a corporate sponsor, presented him with a donation check during half-time of a game at Madison Square Garden—an incredible thrill for the self-described basketball fanatic.  

Early on, Alvarez took his mother’s advice to introduce himself to anyone who visited his school wearing a suit. The strategy has paid dividends. Instrumental to his success are the people Alvarez has lined up as mentors and sponsors—among them prominent legal theorist and Harvard law professor Charles J. Ogletree and philanthropist Kenneth Merin, chief executive officer of the Charles Hayden Foundation. Chancellor Nancy Cantor has also been a strong supporter of Project Feed Me, says Alvarez, who came to SU sight unseen. “I was captured by the University’s web site and the beautiful architecture of the buildings,” he says. “I love it here—the open space, so different from the projects I live in at home, where everyone is so crowded. I want to be a change agent. I figured if I could stand out here at SU among thousands, then I could stand out in the world.” 

Future plans for Alvarez—an intense young man who believes in dressing for success, with a taste for mirror-shined penny loafers and Brooks Brothers shirts—include a law degree, followed by a run for political office. His ultimate goal is to be elected governor of New York. “We aren’t defined by the amount of resources we have,” he says with a smile, “but by how resourceful we are.” —Paula Meseroll


Photo by John Dowling