April 18, 2008

Hunger Banquet Serves Community

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At last night’s Ithaca Hunger Banquet, each diner was served a meal based on assigned economic brackets. The proceeds from ticket sales for the dinner, which was held at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Collegetown, went to benefit the Food Bank of the Southern Tier.
While past banquets were organized by HADM 4490: Exploring Social Responsibility — Hunger and Homelessness, Cornell Against Hunger decided to take on the challenge of organizing the 2008 banquet. Nichole Peer ’10, the treasurer of CAH, said, “[The event] dovetailed with our club’s interests,” adding that they also “thought it would be neat to get it out of the Statler.” [img_assist|nid=29995|title=Friends in need|desc=Students, faculty and community members enjoy a meal at the Ithaca Hunger Banquet held at the St. Luke Lutheran Church last night.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Peer’s goals for the event were simple: “I want to see people interested in helping,” she said. “I want to see people take advantage of the opportunities we’re going to tell them about.”
Cornell groups Help Us Stop Hunger and the Hotelies Service Society (HS2) also helped run the event. The manual from HADM 4490’s banquet was used to help plan the event, and Karen Paek ’09 acted as the HS2 representative. “Cornell is such an isolated place that I thought it’d be good for students to know what goes on outside of Cornell, since we’re so focused on school,” she said.
T Food Bank of the Southern Tier is an organization that works with food pantries, soup kitchens and other service organizations in six counties in upstate New York. Specifically, donations from the banquet were slated to assist with the Food Bank’s Backpack Program. The Backpack Program works with guidance counselors and teachers to identify schoolchildren in need, providing them with nutritional, kid-friendly foods each weekend as a complement to weekday free and reduced-lunch programs.
A desire for further awareness about local hunger issues as well as information about agencies like the Food Bank were behind many students’ decisions to attend the event. Referencing the “Cornell Bubble” — the isolation experienced by many students — banquet attendee Alex Kovalevich ’08 said, “you wouldn’t about people who live around here,” noting that “it’s surprising — there are a lot of very poor people in the county.” Kovalevich has attended two previous banquets.
After opening remarks by the event’s organizers, Prof. Chris Barrett, International Professor of Agriculture, gave a brief talk. Calling hunger an “incredibly widespread phenomenon,” he said that it would take a combination of global and local (“glocal”) solutions to help eradicate it.
According to Barrett’s statistics, 800 million people go to sleep hungry every night. The hunger epidemic is growing or stagnating in the developing world, while in the U.S., 10.4 percent of adults and 17.2 percent of children are regularly hungry. In New York State, 10.4 percent of households are “food insecure,” 3.1 percent of them severely so.
Barrett described the hunger problem as a “vicious cycle: poverty begets hunger, and hunger begets poverty. The real challenge is dealing with young children — we need to address [the problem] well and early.” Fortunately, he added, “there’s a lot we can do.”
His proposed solutions included better technology for small farmers, creating good jobs with living wages and promoting individual activism. “Hunger remains a major challenge locally and globally,” he said. Encouraging students to participate, he concluded by saying that “the range of things you can do to help hunger is limited only by your imagination.”
Following Barrett’s presentation, dinner was served. Each attendee was instructed to look under their plate for a ticket designating their status: low-, middle-, or high-income. The number of guests in each income bracket was calculated to match the proportion of Tompkins County residents in each income group.
The high-income group was served their meal, bread, a salad and ribs, while the middle- and low-income groups had a buffet-style serving arrangement. The salad and pasta middle-income meal and the low-income meal, rice and beans, served as a stark visual indicator of the disparity between income brackets and the real effects of hunger.
During dinner, each table participated in a discussion on hunger-related topics, from the feelings elicited by the meal disparities to what could be done to help fight hunger.
“Day-to-day people getting in touch with their government representatives [is] a step in the right direction,” said Lisa Casey law. “A lack of awareness is the problem.”
Following the dinner discussion, Food Bank of the Southern Tier Agency Services Coordinator Christine Welch gave a presentation on the Food Bank and its affiliated organizations.
The Food Bank of the Southern Tier works with 33 agencies in Tompkins County, ranging from pantries and soup kitchens to after-school programs and senior feeding programs. In 2007, the Food Bank distributed 5.1 million pounds of food, with over 1 million meals served in Tompkins County. Much of the “food insecurity” of food bank clients came from the high price of utilities and food. “35 percent of client households had to choose between getting food and paying for utilities,” said Welch.
She encouraged attendees to participate in efforts to fight hunger, explaining that every $2 donation to the Food Bank allowed them to purchase $30 worth of food.
Reactions to the event were positive, with presenters and organizers hoping more students would feel compelled to get involved.
Cornell Against Hunger president Dawn Moses ’10 was pleased with the event’s success, citing that despite some “chaos” and the short period of time in which the organization planned the event, “ideally, I’d like to do it again.” Said Peer, “we hope to expand the event in the future.”
Attendee Amy Bleisch ’10 said, “I thought it was an interesting concept” and that the dinner gave her new perspective on hunger. “Being able to visualize how many people have what was pretty powerful.”
“The biggest way to contribute is to get the awareness out,” said Welch. “Hunger is around the corner, not just overseas.”