As a part of Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, the Student Government Association hosted its annual Hunger Banquet to raise awareness and educate students on living conditions for those in poverty.
“I’m hoping to educate people in regards to world and local poverty,” said Jeremiah Bradshaw, director of student affairs for SGA. “So, I wanted to open people’s eyes to this, and then show them how they can help the community and globally.”
The banquet runs in correlation with the Oxfam America Hunger Banquet. Oxfam is an international organization that works to create awareness of the living conditions different income levels face, according to oxfamamerica.org
This year, the event took place in the Parkway Ballroom of the Plemmons Student Union on Nov. 17 and served about 50 participants, Bradshaw said.
“We wanted to find a way that could impact the community by bringing people in and showing them different ways people with high, middle and low income live,” Bradshaw said. “So, we created a banquet where people get to come in and experience these percentages of people living in the community and in the world.”
The event was free to all students, but it was recommended that participants bring in two cans, which will be donated to Hospitality House later this week.
At the door, each participant was given a colored slip of paper and asked to sit down according to their color, which was either green for high income, orange for middle income, or blue and red for low income.
People seated in high income were fed a full course meal consisting of spaghetti, salad and dessert, while the middle income was fed rice, beans and water and the low income students with red slips were fed rice and water. People with blue slips weren’t fed anything at all to represent the people living in low income households that cannot afford to buy any food.
The different income levels are divided unevenly, with 20 percent of the population living in high income, 30 percent living in middle income and 50 percent living in low income, according to oxfamamerica.org.
“Twenty-nine percent of our area is in poverty and that’s people that are making below $29,000 a year,” said Shady Kimzey, a senior public relations major and guest speaker from the ACT office.
One of Watauga County’s biggest issues is the lack of affordable housing, which is a factor contributing to its ranking as third-highest poverty rate in the state and third-highest child homelessness rate, Kimzey said.
“I think it’s a really big deal, especially in Watauga County, but we’re actually going down in poverty level for the state,” said Bekah Ballard, junior English and secondary education major and secretary of SGA. “I know that in many classes, we’ll talk about poverty rates because there is a lot of obvious poverty among kids, especially in Watauga County.”
In addition, homelessness and poverty is on the rise for people with mental and physical disabilities, veterans and more than 40 percent of people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, Kimzey said.
“Our veteran help services were like 75 percent three years ago and now it’s in the low 20s, which is really awesome, but still too high,” Kimzey said. “Our campus does a lot of great things in regards to poverty, but we definitely need to be doing more, and I encourage you all to think critically about these issues.”
The event closed by dividing up into groups of about three to play a game on placement.org.
“[The game] puts you into the hard decisions of life as a low-income person, so you may have to decide whether to pay rent this month or get your child a vaccine,” Bradshaw said. “It puts you in those shoes to see if you could live the life of people that 60 percent of the population are having to deal with right now in severe or extreme poverty.”
The hardest part of the game was deciding whether or not to meet the desires of their children in the game, which could potentially lead to a shortage of money to pay bills at the end of the month, said Grace Williams, freshman marketing major.
“I think that it’s hard to put yourself in situations like this, because the reality is that most of us are not struggling like this,” Ballard said. “And so when people living in low income are faced with things like a speeding ticket you realize that things aren’t fair, but they are things that happen.”
Story: Chamian Cruz, Intern News Reporter