Students across the country are calling attention to the millions of Americans who lack adequate food and shelter by participating in National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week activities organized by campus Hillels.
Co-sponsored by the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness (NSCAHH) and the National Coalition for the Homeless, the annual weeklong campaign has been held nationally since 1988. According to the NSCAHH, more than 35 million Americans suffer from hunger or food insecurities and more than 3.5 million experiencing homelessness each year, spurring thousands of students to raise awareness and take action in their communities.
Many Hillels are hosting hunger "banquets," where guests are served different portions of food depending on the economic status they are assigned. At the University of Maryland, College Park, 15 percent of the 60 attendees represented people living in high-income countries, and they were seated at tables and served spaghetti and meatballs and juice. For the 30 percent representing the middle class, they ate rice and beans served cafeteria-style and were provided chairs but no tables. For the majority of students designated as low-income, they sat on the floor and were given a tin of rice.
"It was an interesting way to see the distribution of the world's food supply physically," said Liz Rutzick, the director of engagement at University of Maryland Hillel.
The banquet was part of a longer initiative on hunger awareness at University of Maryland Hillel. During the past two weeks, students have also organized poker and ping-pong tournaments with the proceeds going to hunger-relief organizations, volunteered at a local soup kitchen, held canned food and penny drives and distributed more than 600 bracelets with facts about hunger.
University of Arizona Hillel's Project STAR, a community-service student group, is sponsoring Hunger Benefit Jam 2004, along with the Lutheran Campus Ministry and Alpha Phi Omega. The concert will feature two local bands and raise money for the Tucson Community Food Bank and Mazon. Students also gathered to make latkes and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to donate to the food bank, and they created Thanksgiving cards for residents of the local Jewish nursing home.
"It doesn't really take much, but really every student on this campus has the potential to make a huge impact," said Miriam Gurevich, the co-chair of Project STAR, which stands for Students Taking an Active Role.
Brown University Hillel sponsored a "Faces of Homelessness" panel earlier this week, one of many activities throughout Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week. Sixty students heard from people who have both currently and formerly struggled with homelessness. Interim Director Megan Nesbitt said the program, which has been held for the past several years, makes a strong impression on the attendees, especially when they hear from the children who have been affected.
"Each of these people has a strong story and a reality they face every day," she said.
Brown University Hillel is also organizing a program about the link between sustainable community practices and sustainable food practices in Rhode Island. Students will examine how the local farms can help serve the increasing number of state residents suffering from hunger, and a Brown student will talk about her efforts in changing the food services at the university.
For more information about National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week, visit the NSCAHH Web site.