“Water. I hate drinking water. I am truly addicted to caffeine,” Molly Gabaldo said, describing how challenging it was to give up her favorite coffee drink for a week during Lent.

Gabaldo, 20, of Bloomington, Ill., is one of the St. Ambrose University students who came up with the idea for a Fast Fest on the Davenport campus this Lenten season. The activity is a new one, a series of four weeks when the students give up something they value and then donate during two of those weeks the money they raise to a specific related cause.

Gabaldo, a junior, said she and others gave up social media, including Facebook, last week and will avoid violent movies, hurtful words and gossip next week. This week, it’s been flavored beverages that were sacrificed, and the money raised — including the sale of more than 100 special plastic tumblers at $5 apiece — will go to clean-water projects in underdeveloped parts of the world. When they give up meals over a two-day period later this month, the money that would have paid for the food will be donated.

This is a reimagining of the Lenten sacrifices and contributions to worthy causes that have gone on for years at St. Ambrose. In the past, for instance, students gave up eating a meal and donated the money they raised to a local food pantry.

But interest in that type of activity was falling off, Gabaldo said. So, she and Kelly Bush, a graduate student from Davenport, came up with the idea of four organized weeks of the special fasts. The students belong to Ambrosians for Peace and Justice. Bush is the club’s adviser and Gabaldo is the president.

“This is an impressive new initiative,” said the Rev. Chuck Adam, an SAU faculty member. He said the Fast Fest makes the Lenten season between Ash Wednesday and Easter fit together and “grow in our love for God, and also our love for each other.”

Adam hosts regular student discussion groups and serves coffee during the gatherings. There were no takers for coffee at the recent event. “So many were fasting from coffee and flavored waters,” he said.

Bradley Grothus drinks Pepsi and gave it up for a week without too much difficulty, the freshman said.

“I don’t think there’s been a major health change by any means, but I do feel good,” said the 18-year-old graduate of Davenport Assumption High School. He’s also a member of the club.

Grothus is having the most trouble giving up what he calls “habitual habits,” the ones that are more ingrained in his life. That includes Pepsi, but he’s also trying to drive more safely.

“The biggest challenge is to change long-held habits,” he added.

Adam finds the student-led initiatives encouraging and energizing.

“This is not a random act of kindness. This is well-thought-out and meant to encourage a more permanent change,” he said.

And it characterizes what fasting should be, he said.

“Fasting should not be only for you, like to lose weight, but also to help make the world a better place.”