Hunger, Homelessness Take Center Stage at Neumann University

Homelessness at Neumann University

In an effort to generate awareness of hunger and homelessness in America, the office of Campus Ministry at Neumann University organized a Hunger Banquet on Nov. 16 and a Sleep-Out for the Homeless on Nov. 17.

The events were spearheaded by Kelsey Sullivan and Olivia Gilbertson, student co-chairs of Campus Ministry’s Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Committee.

The Hunger Banquet was held in the Bayada Atrium, and drew about 35 student participants. Guests at Hunger Banquets are assigned at random to a high-, middle-, or low-income group, based on the latest statistics about global poverty. Each group then eats a corresponding meal, from nutritious to sparse.

“Our upper class were waited on at a linen-covered, candle-lit table and enjoyed a three-course meal: mixed green salad, baked chicken, broccoli and rice, and either apple pie or lemon cream cake as a dessert,” said Patrick McKenzie, Director of Campus Ministry. “The middle class enjoyed a buffet style meal: just one course of the chicken, broccoli, and rice. Our lower class sat on the floor with a pot of rice and beans and water.”

“Throughout our lives, we have seen how hunger has affected those around us,” said Gilbertson. “At the hunger banquet, we tried to bring awareness to the Neumann community that there is a much bigger percentage of people in the world than we think that suffer from chronic hunger. The banquet shows this difference in a smaller scale.”

At the Sleep-Out for Homelessness, approximately 20 students braved the cold, spending the night in cardboard boxes just outside the Mirenda Center for Sport, Spirituality, and Character Development. Of course, the experience does not come close to replicating the desperation felt by those who are actually homeless, but it does provide students with a fleeting sense of the cold and discomfort with which the homeless live 24 hours a day.

“When we sleep out for homelessness,” Sullivan said, “we show solidarity with those who actually do this every night. There are people in the winter who do not have a home and are forced to sleep in freezing weather. When we experience even just one night outside, it makes us more aware of these people who do this for months at a time.”

The students at the Sleep-Out also heard from speakers, including Leo Vaccaro, a history teacher at St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia who runs the Hurtado Food Pantry out of the Prep. Before his teaching job, Vaccaro volunteered at St. Francis Inn in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, and worked for the Saint Michael Indian School in Arizona.

Kharisma Goldston also spoke to the students. She is a social worker with the Bethesda Project, a Philadelphia-based organization whose mission is “to find and care for the abandoned poor and to be family with those who have none.”

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, more than 564,000 Americans were homeless in January 2015. In addition, 43.1 million Americans live in poverty, a financial situation that categorizes their households as “food insecure.”

Philabundance, a Philadelphia-based food bank, estimates that hunger affects 750,000 in the Delaware Valley.

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