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By SARA GIBONEY
KEARNEY – Sitting at a table lined with white linen, an uneaten plate of Italian food and an untouched piece of tiramisu sat in front of her, a University of Nebraska at Kearney student looked around the room uncomfortably as others sat on the floor eating rice and beans.
The Hunger Banquet, which took place Thursday, aimed to raise awareness about hunger and food insecurity in the United States and Kearney community.
“Hunger is an issue that is of utmost importance. It is not an issue specific to Africa or Asia. Hunger impacts friends, relatives and neighbors right here in Kearney. If people are unaware that hunger impacts residents of our own community and believe it to be a problem in other countries, then little will be done to address it,” said Ben Malczyk, assistant professor of social work.
When the 225 guests arrived at the banquet, they were given a card. Each card assigned them to ta high-income group, middle-income group or low-income group.
The high-income group, 7 percent of the guests, sat at tables with tablecloths, had glasses filled with iced tea and iced water and were served a meal of lasagna, grilled Italian vegetables, salad, garlic bread and tiramisu or cake.
The middle-income group, 22 percent of the guests, sat in chairs with no tables, and served themselves pizza and lemonade.
The low-income group, 71 percent of the guests, sat on the floor, and served themselves water, and rice and beans. Women were instructed to serve water to the men to illustrate gender inequalities that exist in some cultures.
“I had two students sitting next to me, and neither of them ate their food at all. One didn’t even drink her water,” said Trevor Stryker, a senior social work major from Grand Island. “Just to see that they felt guilty for eating, and seeing how it impacted them gave me hope that this will have an impact on people.”
The banquet served as a metaphor for how food and other resources are unequally distributed in the world, Malczyk said.
The event was organized by the class, Social Work Practice with Groups and Communities, taught by Malczyk. He had attended a Hunger Banquet, which is a concept developed by Oxfam, as a student at Brigham Young University, and suggested the idea to the social work department as a replacement for the annual social work conference.
Students in the class worked with Academic and Career Services to create resumes and cover letters. They applied for positions, went through interviews and were hired for positions related to the coordination of the event. The students then organized the event.
“It serves as a learning experience for the student leaders to plan, coordinate, host and execute the event,” Malczyk said.
Malczyk said 1.3 billion people live in poverty, with 795 of those people suffering from chronic hunger. Approximately 12.2 percent of Buffalo County residents experience food insecurity.
“When you think about hunger, you think about third world countries and the pictures that you see of hungry children. You don’t think about the fact that in Buffalo County we have people that are hungry. People struggle to get food, and I learned a lot about that as well as working together to organize the event,” said Tara Huber, a senior social work major from Omaha.
Malczyk encouraged people to get to know people who live in poverty on a personal level, and to donate time, talent and money to organizations that help those in need.
“When hunger is just a statistic it doesn’t touch your heart, it doesn’t touch the way you think,” he said. “But when you’re sitting on the floor for 90 minutes, and you see someone sitting in a chair eating their dessert, you think about poverty a little more deeply.”
Guests were given a survey before the event asking about their views about poverty. They were given a survey after the event to see if their views about poverty changed.
Those who attended were asked to make a donation or bring canned items to donate to the Jubilee Center, which provides food and other assistance for those in need.
The event was hosted by the Social Work Phi Alpha Honor Society and the Social Work Practice with Groups and Communities class.
Writer: Sara Giboney, 308.865.8529, firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Ben Malczyk, 308.865.8477, email@example.com