Kate Ochoa knows about hunger games. Not the young adult book flying off bookstore shelves, but the 925 million people around the world who fight to have enough to eat on a daily basis.
“Americans and Europeans step in and just start giving handouts,” Ochoa said. “It doesn’t prompt the people in those countries to make a change. It doesn’t show them how to work. They just learn how to beg even harder.”
Ochoa, a freshman in psychology and a volunteer at this year’s Hunger Banquet, has firsthand experience in dealing with the effects of malnutrition and global poverty. After spending more than four months in Ethiopia last year helping at-risk children, she said her views of poverty have taken drastic turn.
Working through the Village of Hope, a Utah-based organization, she said she helped run a feeding center that provided nourishment to more than 40 impoverished village children daily. This, she said, is what helped her to feel inspired to become involved with the banquet.
Organized by STEP (Students To End Poverty) and Oxfam, an international human rights group, the Hunger Banquet has been a become tradition at USU. Ochoa said it’s one of the easiest ways to get involved and raise awareness about global poverty.
“It’s very simple to take two hours of time,” she said. “This is a way for them (students) to be able to make a donation, and to come out and do something really neat put on by their university.”
Lisa Vaughn, community service coordinator, said as people walk through the door they’re given a small card labeled either high, middle or low class. The distribution of the cards is based entirely on hunger statistics in Africa.
Those who get a high class card are served a three-course meal on a fully furnished table. Those who are part of the middle sit in folding chairs and get generous servings of rice and beans. The lowest class, and the biggest group, she said, sit on the floor and get whatever is leftover – most likely a small serving of rice and some water.
Vaughn said that often people hear statistics or stories about poverty without seeing the whole picture.
“What the hunger banquet does is make that a little more tangible,” she said. “The idea is that I can work full day’s work here, and somebody can do a full days work in another country but it gets us very different outcomes. It’s really hard to think about it when we just see it as numbers.”
In charge of this year’s banquet is Sadie Crabb, a sophomore in international studies and economics. Crabb took on the project midway through the year, and she said the goal of the banquet has stayed the same, though she has implemented a few changes.
Crabb said she has teamed up with the African Student Association, and instead of focusing on the world as a whole, those in charge of the banquet collectively decided to narrow the theme to Africa. Two ASA students who are African natives, Joyce Mumha and Makda Gebre, will speak on growing up in poverty.
“This year we wanted to work closely with our African Student Association to really learn more about issues that face students,” Vaughn said. “That’s probably something we’ll look at doing in the future so we can really feel the connection to our student body here and work with students here that come from impoverished countries.”
Crabb said the event is an interactive experience that will give students motivation to help eliminate global poverty by acting locally. She said even when students don’t have much time to give, they can sign petitions and send letters to politicians, which may seem small, but can have a wide impact.
“You are forcing yourself into this real life situation rather than reading from a page,” Ochoa said. “I think the more people that are able to do that, the more we can make steps to making changes in the future.”
After the event, Ochoa said she wants students to realize what they take for granted and give back to the community.
“My hope is that people will start to realize that it’s a pretty low percentage of people in the world that are actually able to go to bed at night with a full stomach,” she said. “It’s just changing the morale of the people there by doing as much as we can here.”
The event will be held Wednesday, Feb. 16 at 6 p.m. in the Evan N. Stevenson Ballroom. The cost is $5 and all proceeds go directly to OxFam.