2011 Hunger Banquet

November and December are months filled with excitement as we look forward to holiday celebrations that often include bountiful meals. This time is also marked by hunger awareness and charity. During December, the Teen Boys, Teen Girls and Family Connections programs came together to host an Oxfam Hunger Banquet—an event at which children, teens and their families could learn about hunger and poverty issues. “This event allows organizers and participants alike to experience firsthand how our decisions affect others in the world, and brings to life the inequalities in our world” –Oxfam. Each program prepared its group through activities and discussions about poverty during the week preceding the banquet.

Close to 40 participants attended the banquet. As they entered the room, participants drew a ticket from a basket. The tickets assigned them to high-, middle-, or low-income tiers based on the latest statistics on the number of people living in poverty. Each income level received a corresponding meal and seating. The 15% in the high-income tier were served pasta, salad and juice, and seated at tables with tablecloths, silverware and water. The 35% in the middle-income section were served rice and beans and a cup of water and seated in chairs around the room. The 50% in the low-income tier sat on the floor and were served small portions of rice and shared glasses of water. Each ticket had a unique story describing the situation of a specific person at that income level. First reactions included comments around the fairness of drawing tickets and the desire to sit at the table with the high-income diners. Some of the high-income participants celebrated their luck; others sat quietly observing everyone else.
Before the participants started to eat, we shared current facts regarding hunger and poverty around the world. We also dramatized how an opportunity or war or economic instability could affect a person’s economic well being. At random, we choose three people from the low-income tier, telling them that, with help of a program, they had the opportunity to attend school. This allowed them to move up to the middle-income tier. Then we choose participants from the middle-income tier and told them that their country was affected by economic instability or war and that they were now part of the low-income tier. Finally, all participants were invited to enjoy their meals.

After the meal, we had a discussion about the participants’ experiences. We asked the following questions: Do you think it’s fair that the world is divided into these tiers? Do you think that people who got the big meal need to share with others? Do you think people in the low-income group are there because they don’t work hard? Why do you think people in the low-income group are there?
Responses were varied and included “ things are not fair in the world” and “the world is divided this way.” Some participants said that people were born into unequal situations. Those on the low-income tier said those in the high-income tier needed to share their meal. Others said that low-income people did not have enough opportunities to get out of poverty. At the end of the event the participants were encouraged to learn more about hunger and to do something in their community to create change.