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Going hungry for a change

A group of 219 students entered the Phyllis P. Marshall Center Ballroom Monday night expecting a banquet dinner, but only 15 percent of them left satisfied.

This was the fifth year Volunteer USF has put on the Hunger Banquet, which has been known to leave students half full. The purpose of the banquet is to expand awareness of international hunger problems, not to expand stomachs.

“The banquet is a powerful tool to know who you are personally with the experience of seeing how other people live,” said Claire Street, Volunteer USF’s student coordinator for the banquet.

Participants were assigned to one of three groups, each group representing a particular social status and income category, to imitate the unequal distribution of food in the world. Sixty percent ate rice while sitting on an uncomfortable wood floor, 25 percent ate a simple sandwich and the remaining 15 percent indulged in every course, from salads to chocolate cream pie.

“I feel pretty guilty,” USF student Melissa Rubin said, as she twirled her fork in her spaghetti.

As a part of Hunger Awareness Week, the event was a fund-raiser for Heifer International, an agency that emphasizes long-term relief to eliminate poverty.

Street said Heifer gives livestock, such as a share of honeybees or cattle, to lower-class people to either sell or use for sustenance.

Charmant Theodore, a world language professor, said agencies such as Heifer provide efficient ways for foreign economies to prosper by providing people with the tools they can use to improve their quality of life.

Karen Huneke, an accounting major and volunteer, agreed.

“By teaching them to help themselves – to me, that is the best kind of help you can give,” she said.

Huneke, who lived at a Metropolitan Ministries shelter, is no stranger to poverty conditions. Metropolitan Ministries helps the poverty-stricken become self-sufficient through programs that develop leadership skills and connects them with resources in their community.

Magalie Frederic said she’s also been exposed to poverty during her elementary education internship.

She said the kids in her class were so poor that the school’s breakfast and lunch programs were often their primary sources of food.

Frederic said she came to the banquet to learn more about poverty and how to get involved.

The week’s events aren’t focused only on international efforts. Volunteer USF wants to create activism in the student body to combat local poverty.

According to local food bank Second Harvest’s Web site, more than 10 percent of Hillsborough homes were determined by the USDA to be food insecure, which means about 940,000 families in Tampa and surrounding areas do not have enough food to eat on a daily basis.

Jason Castles, the graduate assistant for Volunteer USF, said the group offers opportunities for students to relieve local hunger every week by sorting food at Metropolitan Ministries and Trinity Cafe.

On Thursday, students can volunteer at the Empty Bowls Thanksgiving Luncheon at 11:30 a.m. at Lykes Gaslight Park on North Franklin Street in downtown Tampa. Volunteer opportunities continue on Friday at Trinity Cafe, a “homeless restaurant,” where students can wait tables and serve lunch. A campus sleep-out on Castor/Kosove lawn will conclude the week on Friday, allowing participants to imitate the lives of homeless people by spending the night in cardboard boxes.