On Nov.12 Volunteer ETSU sponsored their annual hunger banquet in the Culp Center Ballroom to simulate the struggles that people living in poverty face.
Participants at the hunger banquet drew random cards that divided them into three economic classes to provide visuals on how unequally resources are allocated around the world and in our community.
“This event is a metaphor for how food and other resources are unequally distributed throughout the world. As such, we know that a hunger banquet can merely touch on these issues,” said Allie Copeland, Volunteer ETSU President. “We’ve had several people tell us that this is one or their favorite events. Personally, it’s my favorite event with Volunteer ETSU because it really gives you a visual of all the statistics you hear about with poverty.”
Once the participants were assigned to their respective economic classes, the stark inequality was painfully obvious with over 50 percent of people in the lowest economic class resting below the poverty line. The middle class comprised of 30 percent of participants and the upper class represented merely 20 percent of the world’s population.
“You may think hunger is about too many people and too little food, but that’s just not it. Our rich and bountiful planet produces enough to feed every man, woman and child on earth. Hunger is about power,” Copeland said. “Its root lies in inequality and access to resources.”
One of the goals of the Hunger Banquet is to simulate what meals are like for people living in these different economic classes. While the upper class received full course meals and the middle class was given sandwiches and other small items, the lower class only received a bowl of rice.
“Everyone on earth has the same basic needs. It is only our circumstances, where we live, and the culture in which we are born that differ,” she said. “Some of us are born into relative prosperity while millions, through no choice of their own, are born into poverty.”
Personal anecdotes from real people were read to give the participants a better understanding of the ways that poverty impacts someone’s life, which go far beyond not having access to food. For many people living in poverty school is seen as a luxury and adequate healthcare is out of the question.
“While the US is one of the richest countries on earth, 45.3 million Americans live in poverty,” she said. “The way we see it, poverty is solvable. Root in injustice, if you can eliminate inequality you can begin to eliminate poverty. We’re not saying it’s quick or easy, but it can be done.”
Once the participants were given their meals and presented with statistics and personal anecdotes, representatives from One Acre Café in Johnson City came to speak with the students about poverty in the community and ways One Acre Café has tried to assist those in need of food.
“We talk about hunger in third world countries, but we often forget to talk about hunger in our own area,” said Jan Orchard, One Acre Café executive director. “It’s easy to talk about food, but people really need other things like encouragement and support.”
One Acre Café was started in 2013 with the mission to nourish the body, replenish the spirit and grow the community. One Acre focuses on four basic concepts: providing nutritious meals, buying locally to support the community, portion control to prevent wasted food and a work exchange program.
There is a total of 52 cafes in the US that operate similarly to One Acre Café. Contrary to most homeless shelters that provide food, One Acre Café functions like a normal restaurant where all of the guests are served, regardless of their ability to pay.
“There’s this stigma of what a homeless person is, but it can honestly be anyone. Unexpected events can make all sorts of people homeless,” Orchard said. “Community is all about taking a genuine interest in the well-being of someone else.”
One Acre Café thrives on the assistance of various volunteers and anyone interested in helping out is encouraged to do so. Volunteer ETSU also offers multiple service opportunities for ETSU students. Online applications to volunteer can be found on Buc Hub or on the Volunteer ETSU webpage.