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Hunger Banquet makes homelessness real

By ANTHONY IRIZARRY | Staff Wrter
A man awoke on a bitter cold morning, his bone-thin body aching as it lay against the hard, surface of the filthy pavement. His cement bed served as a cruel reminder that another day of unyielding tribulation awaited him.

He pried himself from the floor, mustering what strength his failing legs could provide him. His stomach was hit with a sharp wave of pain — the ache of a week long fast.

However, it wasn’t religious piety that drove this man to starvation, or an attempt to cement a statement in some hard-fought sociopolitical movement.

Instead, it was the mere circumstance of living in a time when the U.S. economy’s growth is stagnant.

Because of continuous fiscal corruption and a mismanagement of spending on flawed stimulus plans, this man, like several other Americans, will continue to struggle on a day-to-day basis to acquire a job, and consequently, food.

You may not know this man’s name, but you’ve seen him many times in your life as you’ve walked with your friends and family on your way to treating yourself to a Happy Meal. He is one of 750,000 estimated homeless people who live on the streets on any given night in America.

He is both everyone and no one. A human being like those 750,000 who are out there trying to find a safe place to sleep, but in the eyes of those who dine with silver spoons, he is merely an alcoholic or drug addict — society’s vice plague.

A recent study conducted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that 12 of the 23 cities surveyed had to turn people in need of shelter away because of scarce capacity. The survey also revealed, on an average night in those 23 cities, the percentages of those who lived on the streets: 94 percent single adults, 4 percent were part of families and 2 percent were unaccompanied minors.

On Tuesday, Nov. 16, during Hunger and Homelessness Week, APSU held a “Hunger Banquet” in MUC 211.

Intrigued by the paradoxically titled event, I headed over. Before entering the ballroom, every person had to pick out a piece of paper from a basket assigning the visitors to a specific social class.

I was assigned the lower class.

The ballroom had essentially been segregated into three parts by placement of furniture — or lack thereof. Where you sat depended on what social class you were assigned.

The lower class people had to sit in the middle of the room on the floor which was covered with nothing but plastic wrapping and a blanket too small to warm the many “socioeconomically disadvantaged” that sat with me on that night.

To my left were the “middle-class” people whose rumps enjoyed the plush — from my lower-class perspective — comfort of chairs. On my right sat the upper-class folk, who not only enjoyed chairs, but were also to dine on a linen cloth-covered table and sip heartily from glass cups.

Shaundra Bills, a graduate assistant in Student Life and Leadership, stepped behind the podium and spoke of the importance of awareness and the social responsibility we have to remedy the issue. “One in eight households in the U.S. struggle with hunger,” she said.

Papers with a list of questions were distributed among the different social classes, requiring subjective answers with the people from our class. One asked what the first thing that came to mind when seeing a homeless person was.

The answers, much like politics, were either far left or right. Some said that it was people’s vices and a lack of personal restraint that lead them to their current state, while others held that economic struggles planted the homeless in their situation, and that the drugs and alcohol followed suit as a means to numb the pain of their circumstances.

When we were done discussing the answers, the banquet began.

Each social class was given a different menu. The middle-class received an ample amount of rice and beans, while the upper-class had a full course dinner that included mashed potatoes, squash and chicken.

My fellow lower-classmen and I didn’t share the same fortune. A small aluminum tray was laid down in the middle, and we all had to ration it, as the amount of rice in the tray was scarce.

The last to speak was Pastor Kenny York. He spoke of Manna Café Ministries, a center founded by him and his wife.

“The word Manna is something biblical,” York explained and continued, “It is the food God provided the Israelites while they ventured through the deserts.”

The goal of Manna Café Ministries is to provide food and prayer wherever it is needed.

They hold three community meals a week which include Tuesday Cafe, Thursday Cafe and Saturday Breakfast Cafe.

When the banquet finally ended and the people trickled out of the ballroom, I found myself with a new sense of responsibility to become actively involved in a movement that is paramount to not only the survival of the millions of homeless and hungry in the U.S., but one that extends to that hundreds of millions of poor in the world.

As Bills said, “Something has to be done.” TAS

About Aaliyah Mitchell

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