Effort may be first here to use Twitter to help people in need

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To provide needy families with a meal during the holidays, St. Clair Hospital in Mt. Lebanon has launched a campaign to raise money for a local nonprofit's suburban poverty program via the popular social media program, Twitter.

Through its #Tweet2Help drive, which began Tuesday, St. Clair Hospital will donate 50 cents to the South Hills Interfaith Ministry for every retweet of the original message from its @StClairHospital Twitter account. The goal is to raise $1,000 for Interfaith and put food on the table for 50 local families this season.

The campaign is likely the first fundraiser of this kind in the greater Pittsburgh area, planners said. They hope a 2,000-retweet goal also will help Twitter users learn about Interfaith and its mission, said Marianne Olschesky, hospital community outreach and marketing coordinator.

As of about 10 a.m. Wednesday, the effort was at 500 retweets, a fourth of the way to its goal.

Ms. Olschesky said if they can keep that momentum going and reach 2,000 by the end of today, the hospital will pledge an additional $500,

Andrea Kalina, vice president of human resources, said spreading a message by word of mouth is successful -- but via Twitter, it's infectious.

"Social media is just word of mouth on fire," Ms. Kalina said.

The Bethel Park-based South Hills Interfaith Ministry hosts programs including a food pantry, which distributes monthly more than 31,000 pounds of food; a community clothing closet; and financial literacy classes for suburban poor and refugee families.

The families reaching out to Interfaith has more than doubled over a four-year period. About 119 families were served in 2007. Last year, that number jumped to 300.

At one point, @StClairHospital tweeted that the topic was trending in this area, meaning a significant number of Pittsburgh Twitter users were disseminating tweets with the keyword #Tweet2Help.

St. Clair reached out via tweet Wednesday to Gillian Jacobs, Mt. Lebanon High School alumnae and star of the NBC comedy "Community," who has more than 111,000 followers.

Local blogger and social media consultant for nonprofits, Melissa Carey--or @mcb1219--tweeted about the drive Tuesday afternoon: "Is there a limit to how many times I can #Tweet2Help @SHIMpgh today?"

For more information: https://twitter .com/#!/StClairHospital.

Molly Born: mborn@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1944.


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