Students Dine at 'Hunger Banquet' to Experience World Poverty Issues

News Story:

On Tuesday, April 29, 50 Sacred Heart University students gathered for a “Hunger Banquet” that demonstrated the effects of poverty and the inequity of global food distribution.

The students were divided proportionally, according to world income averages, into three groups: upper class, middle class and lower income. The upper class minority dined on a meal of baked chicken, rice pilaf, broccoli, dessert, soda and bottled water, all served by a waiter at a private table supplied with plates, napkins, forks and knives. The middle class was offered a self-serve buffet of rice and beans, along with bottled water, and were allowed to dine at a café table with a fork and napkin. The lower income majority was given rice in a cup, tap water, no napkin or utensils, and was forced to eat on the floor.

Before eating, the students listened to a presentation on world poverty, its causes and possible solutions. Afterward they viewed a film about global efforts toward defeating poverty. The banquet was modeled by Oxfam International, which also provided the program materials.

“I was impressed with the turnout — I was only expecting 30 at the most, so to have 50 was great,” said Mandy Pittman, a SHU campus minister and chair of the Hunger Banquet Planning Committee. “About 20 of the students were freshmen fulfilling a requirement to be here, which is actually good because that means they probably hadn’t really considered this issue before. I’ve been at events where it’s all students who are already socially active, so it’s not news to them. Here we had a group that wasn’t experienced with issues of hunger and poverty, so they got to learn a lot.”

The Hunger Banquet Planning Committee was a cooperative effort of representatives from several campus departments and organizations, including Residential Life, the president’s office, Campus Ministry, the Peace by Justice club and the SHU chapter of the ONE campaign. Flik Corporation, which provides the university’s dining services, donated the food.

“The banquet absolutely made an impression on me,” said Jillian Crisci, a senior mathematics major from Wallkill, N.Y, and vice president of Peace by Justice. “I’d think that someone as involved in justice issues as I would be more used to these realities, but for some reason every time I see those videos — and I’ve seen them four or five times — I’m still moved by them. Because I’m reminded of all the little things that I personally don’t do and I look around and see all the other little things that other people aren’t doing, and it’s just a constant reminder. So it was definitely good for me to get another reality check.”

To gain admission to the banquet, students had to donate at least one non-perishable food item. Three carts of food were collected and taken to St. Charles Food Pantry in Bridgeport, which serves thousands of disadvantaged people each month. 

“I thought the program was really interesting,” said Kaitlin Mulqueen, a junior psychology major from York, Maine, who has worked as a volunteer at Bridgeport soup kitchens. “I came to another banquet freshman year, and this was a little different. I feel like I got more out of this one, hearing everybody talk at the beginning about hunger and then actually getting to see the different groups sitting here and seeing how many people are affected around the world.”

The Hunger Banquet was the third that SHU has held since 2001.

“This program completely fits in with the mission of Sacred Heart because Catholicism is universal and the issue of hunger is universal,” Pittman said. “If you’re not aware of poverty you can’t do anything to help change the structures that are in place. A lot of our students come from affluent areas where they really wouldn’t have to think about these issues — they could kind of keep the blinders on and just ignore it forever. So I think it’s important that we give them exposure to this kind of information and provide them these kind of experiences.”

The Peace by Justice club is committed to act as a source of research and understanding for issues of peace and justice, both economic and environmental. Members educate themselves and the community on existing injustices, alternative methods to approaching those injustices, and relevant examples of change highlighting past and present justice leaders.

The ONE campaign is a service club with international ties, dedicated to making poverty history. The SHU chapter works in the campus community as well as in the greater Bridgeport area to educate others and to ask America’s leaders to increase efforts to fight global AIDS and extreme poverty. The ONE campaign seeks to raise awareness about the issues of global poverty, hunger, disease, and the efforts to fight such problems in developing countries.

According to its website, Oxfam International is “a confederation of 13 organizations working together with over 3,000 partners in more than 100 countries to find lasting solutions to poverty and injustice.”