Slim Pickings for Most

By Myra Saturen, Photos by Brian Shaud '12
November 28, 2012

What is it like to sit on a floor before a skimpy bowl of rice and some water while other people sit at a table in front of a plateful of spaghetti, salad, garlic bread, and a glass of juice? group

Students at Northampton Community College's Main Campus got to experience this inequality firsthand at an Oxfam Hunger Banquet on November 27. Sponsored by the Honors Club, the event's purpose was to educate participants to see hunger in a new way.  Its ultimate goal was to inspire students to join the fight against hunger and poverty. 

Oxfam America is an international relief and development organization seeking solutions to hunger, poverty and injustice.  According to the organization's brochures, one in seven people (nearly 7 billion people worldwide) suffer chronic hunger, and malnutrition is the leading cause of child mortality, accounting for one-third of deaths of children under five.  Twenty percent of children in the United States lack sufficient food.  Fifteen percent are food insecure.  Of this group, 5% worry that their food won't last the month.  Most adults in this group reported skipping meals so their children could eat at least three months out of each year.  Here, in the Lehigh Valley, at least 50,000 adults and children rely on food pantries, soup kitchens and school meals to get through each month.    

As occurs life, hunger banquet participants' seats and meals were determined by the luck of the draw--just as some people are born into prosperity and others into poverty, through circumstances outside their control.  Participants chose an "identity" at random and found themselves in one of three groups--high income, middle income or low income. 

For example, one representational person's name was "Deng."  His bio: "I live in Vietnam on a very small farm.  During times of drought I must survive on loans from local money-lenders, who charge 30 to 40 percent interest per month."  Another participant, chosen as part of the higher income group, read aloud about graduating from college, working for an American firm, and being able to save money to pay off loans and feed her baby organic food. 

By far, the greatest number of participants sat on the floor.  Aeating smaller group sat on chairs and only two out of more than thirty people sat at tables.  The divisions mirrored real proportions of the way people live today.  Places changed depending on weather and related events.  Several students positioned with the middle income group slid to the floor when a drought destroyed a crop, livestock died from ingesting industrial chemicals in ground water, or when food prices multiplied.  Showing how hunger affects educational opportunity, some families had to withdraw children from school in order to help support starving siblings.    

Nordia Campbell, the president of the Honors Club, explained the dynamics of world hunger.  She pointed out that women often receive the last scraps of food, if any at all, after other family members eat.  Janet Ney, director of the Second Harvest Food Bank, described hunger in America and the Lehigh Valley.  Her organization receives federal funding to stock a food warehouse, which in turn supplies local food banks and schools with breakfast and lunch programs.  Zachary Borghi, told of his own progression from youthful client to program director of Northeast Ministries, where he supervises not only a food pantry serving 500 people a month, but also an after-school homework club and a summer camp.   

Students wanted to know how they could get involved in combating hunger, and speakers provided some suggestions.  These recommendations included volunteering at Second Harvest Food Bank or at a local food pantry or soup kitchen and advocating for hunger relief.  "Hunger is solvable," said Ney, who also said that the United States is doing far too little to alleviate hunger around the world.  She urged listeners who agree with her to let Congress people know they oppose cutting funds for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Program), formerly known as food stamps, a program that served 23.6 million people before the recession and now assists 46 million as the recession continues. 

The speakers answered audience questions, and counselors from NCC's Benefits Access for College Completion program drew listeners' attention to this program, which helps students locate benefits enabling them to finish college. 

Students bought 50/50 raffle tickets, half of the proceeds going to a local food bank.  Some brought donations or contributed monetarily to Second Harvest. 

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