Students had the chance to stare hunger in the face as they put themselves in other people’s shoes through an interactive simulation.
In an effort to further spread their knowledge about hunger and poverty, Oxfam Penn State, Food for Thought and Global Brigades teamed up to host the Hunger Banquet.
Students were invited by Facebook, friends and organization leaders to the dinner held last night in the atrium of the Smeal Business Building. Upon arrival, students received a card that placed them into “upper class,” “middle class,” or “lower class” groups.
The “upper class” represented the 15 percent of the population who make $12,000 or more a year. The middle class represented the 35 percent who made between $987-11,999 a year and the lower class made up the 50 percent who make $986 or less.
To “put a name” to the issue of poverty, the speakers had some students from each group stand and learn their “fate.” Some of the students discovered that they had not harvested enough food to support their family and were bumped from the “middle class” to the “lower class.”
Others from the lower class were lucky to find out that they had succeeded in their harvest and were able to raise enough money to consider themselves “middle class.” President of Food for Thought, Eric Stoltz, said Americans might be surprised to learn what defines the different levels of society.
“A lot of people might consider themselves “middle class,” when in reality they may be upper class,” Stoltz (sophomore-actuarial science) said.
Another shock came when the women in the lower and middle class were told that they would have to wait until the men got their food before they could get theirs.
“This event really highlighted how unfair hunger is in the sense that there are so many going without food and some cultures force their women to wait until the men are fed,” Chen Zhuang (freshman-biology) said.
Zhuang said she heard about the banquet through her friends on Facebook. After reading up on the event she thought it sounded “really interesting.” As a member of the “upper class group,” she was able to enjoy the delicious meal while watching her fellow peers sitting on the floor eating their rice. It was really eye opening and saddening to watch her peers eat rice off napkins while she sat and had a full meal, she said.
Emily Newman, a member of Global Brigades and one of the “unfortunate” ones who ended up in the “lower class group,” said that it was “crazy” to see how many people fell into the “lower class group.” Watching the students at the tables enjoying their pasta, salad and bread sticks from Olive Garden while she sat on the floor eating plain rice off a napkin was difficult, she said.
“Events like this are important at Penn State because we live in such a great area and have access to food and healthcare so this helps to raise the awareness,” Newman (freshman-environmental resource) said.
Sarah Martinez, President of Oxfam, said that she got involved with the effort because she wants to give back as much as she can. She was lucky enough to be born into a fortunate background and being able to help others is something she is very passionate about, she said.
The three organizations have been meeting since October to plan and reach out to businesses for donation, Martinez (sophomore-international politics and economy) said. They were lucky to get food provided from Olive Garden and other restaurants as well as gift cards to help buy supplies, she said.
“In the end we were really excited about the turn out and we hope that some students were able to walk away with a new cause to become passionate about,” Stoltz said.