Come hungry, leave hungry. That was the message the S&S Elementary Gifted and Talented students offered their guests at the Hunger Banquet students hosted on Tuesday night.
The event was the capstone to a project that began for the 13 students earlier in the school year. The goal was to make members of the community aware of the things the students learned about world hunger. The children did all of the work from giving speeches, presenting slideshows they created to serving the food and hosting the “open mic” session later in the evening.
The participants were divided into three hypothetical classes, low-, middle- and high-income. They were separated into groups based on world statistics. Twenty percent of the people were put into the high-income bracket, 30 percent in the middle and 50 percent in the low-income bracket. Each group was served a different meal, as well as had fitting seating arrangements to illustrate the disparities.
S&S Superintendent Roger Reed attended with his wife and children. They were seated among the low-income families.
“The students learned a lot, put a lot of effort into putting this program together,” Reed said. “To give an illustration of what is going on. It was good to have our eyes opened up to the reality some people live in — a reality where people don’t have enough food.”
The middle-income families sat at cafeteria tables and were fed a meal of beans and rice. The low-income families sat on the floor and were fed a half cup of rice and a bottle of water. Only those sitting at the high income tables were fed a full meal that consisted of catered food provided by local restaurants.
The GT program is something Patsy Breedlove feels passionate about. She especially wanted to have her students take on world hunger following her daughter, Brittany Doulaye’s, stint working for a humanitarian relief organization in the Western Africa county of Niger.
“It is under the guise of OxFam Hunger Banquet,” Breedlove said. “They are an international humanitarian organization. They are based in London, but they have a location in Boston. I learned about it through my daughter, Brittany. She worked for them when she came back from Africa. She did a hunger banquet there. When I was developing a project for the GT students she recommended I do a hunger banquet.”
Reed said the banquet was a big project for the students to undertake.
“It was a leadership experience for the students. They got to take what they learned and share it with the community.” Breedlove said.
Breedlove’s daughter worked with starving children in Africa. While there she married her now-husband, Moustapha Doulaye, an interpreter she met in Niger. The couple acted as masters of ceremonies for the event with each taking turns providing facts the students had gathered on world hunger.
There was audience participation in which several members of the audience were given cards with backstory on it. Some cards told real stories of people facing hardship across the world — stories of tenant farmers who lost everything due to an unusually dry rainy season.
Reed was among the middle income families at the start of the night. Like several families who drew cards, his lot changed when the card he read told of a farmer impacted by drought. He was then moved, along with his family, to the low income group on the floor.
“It makes it very real, if you were attending expecting to eat, you would have needed to draw the card in the top 20 percent, but we all left with a better understanding of what people around the world face. It was great for the kids to be able to share that experience and to show what they learned,” Reed said.
He said it was obvious from the presentation, as well as the information the students provided, that families around the world are facing difficult times. He also said it was easy for a family to move down a bracket, but rare to move up.
“The kids took hold of it and learned a lot,” Reed said. “They wanted to share it with anyone who will listen. Not that the problems we have in this country are as severe as other countries, we do have people here who do not get enough food. We need to come together to find solutions.”
Maddie Clater gave a speech on the difference between hunger in the U.S. and developing countries.
“When we see hunger in the United States and in third-world countries it takes on a different meaning. In developing countries hunger means the percentage of children who are starved (and) underweight. … In the U.S. hunger usually means lack of constant food supply, or food insecurity,” Clater said.
Reed said it was more than an educational experience for the children — it was a topic from which everyone needed to learn.
“The kids took a hold of it and learned a lot, they wanted to share it with anyone who will listen. We do have people here who do not get enough food. We need to come together to find solutions,” Reed said.