- Associated Press - Thursday, October 27, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - The fundraising box that UNICEF distributes to children to collect pennies in on Halloween has gone as high fashion as it can: Lauren Bush Lauren, the model, philanthropist and entrepreneur designed a version of her Feed bag with a jack-o’-lantern face for the cause.

The burlap tote _ big enough for candy and coins _ has glow-in-the-dark orange trim. The proceeds from each $18 purchase will pay for nutrient powder packets for a child for a year, according to Feed.

Bush Lauren remembers carrying the paper box when she was a kid in Houston. “I feel nostalgic for it. I trick-or-treated for candy and UNICEF,” she says.

Nowadays, Bush Lauren _ the 27-year-old granddaughter of President George H.W. Bush, niece of President George W. Bush and new daughter-in-law to Ralph Lauren _ is rarely seen without one of the no-frills bags produced by her charitable for-profit company Feed Projects, which she co-founded in 2007. It was her way to respond to the question, “What can I do?”

“I modeled throughout high school and college but I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life,” she says during a telephone interview. So she became a student ambassador during her Princeton University days for the United Nations World Food Program.

She visited Africa and then traveled to U.S. college campuses to tell her peers about the poverty and hunger she saw. It seemed as if everyone she met wanted to help, she recalls, but they weren’t sure what they could do from their dorm rooms. “It was through that experience that I came up with the idea of the Feed bag, about attaching a tangible donation to a consumer product. It’s a bite-size way to give back.”

Most of the Feed products _ now boasting more than 60 eco-friendly products, including a teddy bear, clutch handbag and Clarins cosmetics case _ benefit the U.N.’s school-meals program, which gives free lunches in 62 countries. The UNICEF bags, however, specifically raise money to distribute micronutrient supplements to more than 46,000 kids. The company is also experimenting with local designers in the countries helped by the U.N. programs to give artisans much-needed work and to keep their crafts alive, Bush Lauren explains.

She also has a line of silk pareos (a sarong-like coverup) sold through Calypso St. Barth boutiques that are hand-dyed by women in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

She says she considers herself more an entrepreneur than a model or a designer, even though she’s appeared on the cover of W and Glamour magazines, among others, and does oversee Feed’s creative side.

So far, Feed has donated more than $6 million and the ticker at the top of the FeedProjects.com website says more than 65 million meals have been provided from the 560,000-plus bags sold.

There’s a companion non-profit, full-fundraising organization called The Feed Foundation also started by Bush Lauren and her business partner Ellen Gustafson. The focus here is about raising awareness about the global food system.

In a tough economic climate, however, Bush Lauren says it sometimes seems easier to collect charitable donations as people are shopping for themselves. “As a donor, you’re also a consumer so you don’t `feel’ the donation. And, hopefully, the bag is something you are proud to carry around.”

Bush Lauren carries one almost every day, even on the red carpets and big galas she frequents with husband David Lauren. “I carry it everywhere, whether it’s a fancy event or a trip to Africa. It’s part of my everyday wardrobe.”

So what’s inside?

“Always a few pens, paper for to-do lists, lip balm and iPhone _ and it’s usually a mess.”

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