To kick off Colgate University’s Hunger and Homelessness Week, Colgate’s Oxfam chapter held its third annual “Hunger Banquet” in the Hall of Presidents in J.C. Colgate Hall (JCC) on Tuesday night. The event was co-sponsored by Colgate Hunger Outreach Program (CHOP) and Habitat for Humanity.
The atmosphere at the “Hunger Banquet” was overwhelming. The JCC was decorated with posters and signs on global and United States hunger and poverty statistics.One stated, “Every 3.6 seconds someone dies of a hunger-related illness.”
However, students did not have much time to take in the room décor. Co-leaders, senior Lindsay Miller and juniors Kait O’Shaughnessy and Amy North, quickly transformed the Colgate students into active participants.
The participants’ first act was to randomly draw cards indicating which income level under which they would be associated for the next hour. Green represented low, red middle and blue high. Each card featured a name, location and story, like that of Zabaar Gul, a green card, who feared his son had TB because he “coughs blood and doesn’t have the strength to leave the cave to find firewood.”
Though the selection process was random, the numbers of each color card were not. The percentages of each income level represented the actual percentage that each income level constitutes in the global population.
Fifteen percent, or about six chairs around a table represented the highest income level, who were served a somewhat elegant meal of potato, chicken, vegetables and bread on plates with glasses for water and silverware. Next, 35 percent were offered potatoes, bread and water and chairs. Finally, the last 50 percent of the participants were given paper trays and a pot of potatoes to share on the floor. Water was served in plastic cups, though the participants were told that more likely than not, a woman of their income level would have to walk five to ten miles to find a water source. Food for all the levels was provided by Circa, an organic food restaurant in Cazenovia.
Before and after dinner, the co-leaders launched students into discussions and exercises. North began the discussion by breaking down a social construction.
“Poverty is not about too many people and too little food,” North said. It is “about power.”
She followed up her claim by asserting that the Earth adequately produces enough food for everyone to have enough to eat. Yet, as the percentage of red and green cards indicated, 85 percent of people do not get this.
The co-leaders also wanted to address the importance of each of the organizations involved in the production of the “Hunger Banquet.”
Oxfam, an international organization, runs banquets, like the one held on Colgate’s campus, all around the world to demonstrate the issues of global poverty, justice and hunger. While Colgate Oxfam has also run tables on campus for petitions on global hunger, lobbied for global action and held movie screenings, the “Hunger Banquet” is the campus organization’s main focus. This year, as O’Shaughnessy described, the theme was aimed at bringing issues of hunger and poverty “closer to home.”
This is the second year that CHOP has co-sponsored the event. CHOP is Colgate’s hunger awareness and outreach group, through which students volunteer twice weekly for two hour shifts at Hamilton Food Cupboard. The cupboard, located on Mill Street, distributes food to Madison County families whose income is up to 200 percent of the poverty line. This year, Mary Ellen Shen, who runs the cupboard, spoke at the event.
While she applauds Colgate student’s support in helping to distribute “10,500 meals to 180 families last month,” Shen also stressed, “Anything helps.” Because of the vast need of so many families in Hamilton, she describes working at the cupboard as drawing a “fine line between saving your sanity and saving the world.”
The “Hunger Banquet” wrapped up with a small debriefing, in which students were able to offer possible solutions to the contradiction of inequality and local hunger and poverty. Students emphasized initiatives on campus such as the Hunger and Homelessness Week Can Drive happening at both the men and women’s hockey games this weekend.
Closing the banquet, Miller stated that in the face of hunger, poverty and inequality, there is “still a lot of work to be done, but there is hope.”