April 25, 2006

Hunger Banquet Raises Public Service Awareness

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The Ithaca Hunger Banquet attracted Cornell students and members of the Ithaca community to the Terrace Restaurant yesterday for a dinner discussion on hunger and awareness of poverty issues that address many in Tompkins County.
Hosted by the Cornell Public Service Center and HA 490: Exploring Social Responsibility: Hunger and Homelessness, the evening consisted of two guest speakers, a simulation dinner and discussion.
All of the proceeds from this banquet went to the Tompkins Country Women, Infants and Children Program.
Prof. Christine Olson, nutritional sciences, kicked off the evening by discussing the idea of “food security,” and what it means not to have steady access to food. Olson presented research she is conducting on hunger and food insecurity and gave examples of the studies done on poverty-stricken families around the United States and in New York State, specifically.
Olson’s study identified many of the factors that assisted families in leaving the food insecurity status, such as the severity of the food insecurity and the socioeconomic status of the family.
Olson told all Cornell students present to raise their hands. She then asked if those students with a concern about feeding themselves to keep their hands in the air; no hands remained held.
She contrasted this poll with that of reality.
“12 percent of U.S. households have food insecurity,” Olson said. “And of that, four percent have people that go without eating for days.”
Dinner and discussion followed the presentation, which were facilitated by table discussion leaders from HA 490. Topics such as the living wage and Cornell’s influence on Ithaca’s economy were also addressed. The organizers also invited members of the local food pantry, Loaves and Fishes, to join the banquet to provide a different perspective on the hunger issue.Dinner simulated various economic levels, with steak for the members with upper-class cards, and rice and beans for those who were depicting the lower-class. This distinction within tables served as a means of obvious division between the classes.
“Once you fall off the wagon, it’s hard to get back on. And if you’re struggling with depression or something, it’s even harder,” said one Ithaca resident.The stereotypes that are attached to hunger and homelessness are laziness and lack of motivation, but members of the table agreed that these stereotypes are often false; the cycle of poverty is passed on through generations and is often unavoidable.
Two Ithacans at a table discussed their experience with “Dumpster Diving” when their funds couldn’t provide for enough food. The barriers to getting food were addressed, and many people were surprised to learn that companies often make extra efforts to keep the hungry out of their dumpsters.
The argument of whether volunteering time verses donating money was more beneficial to the hungry sparked debate. One member of the table who had experienced food insecurity claimed, “Human interaction is undervalued. Money is easier to get out of people than volunteer work.”
Dessert was served while table discussions came to an end, and the second speaker, James Maklin, director outreach at The Bowery Mission, explained his struggle through hunger and homelessness.
After moving to New Jersey and making it in the business world, Maklin explained,
“In 1986, I thought, wow, my life is empty. I needed to find something … I got into drugs and lost control of my entire life.”
During his drug addiction, Maklin lost all his money and became homeless.
“In New York City, I saw some things that crippled my mind,” he said. “This is going to be my fate, I thought. I needed to get out. But I was stuck.”
Maklin started serving the poor, and slowly found his way to recovery. His story served as motivation and awareness for the people present at the banquet.
“I’ve been restored, my mind’s been renewed,” he said.
Those present at the banquet had different perspectives on the event.
Some, like Rebecca Liu ’06, called it a success.
“I thought it was a really successful event with very informative speakers,” she said. “It’s really nice to, every once in a while, step back from academic work and think about why we’re here in the first place.”
Others were more skeptical.
Marvin Warren, an Ithaca resident, said, “I wonder how many people are going to actually take this with them.”

Archived article by Noreen Rizvi
Sun Staff Writer