Making the new University president sit on the floor and eat with his hands does not seem like much of a welcome, but at the fifth annual Oxfam Hunger Banquet, that is exactly how Steven Knapp was received.
Knapp joined fellow GW faculty, staff, students and community members Nov. 13 at the banquet as part of his weeklong inaugural events. The week happened to coincide with Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week in what Knapp called, “a nice coincidence.”
“The (inaugural) committee saw this as an ideal opportunity to showcase an annual student event for our new president that clearly demonstrates GW’s commitment to local issues,” said Kerry Kidwell-Slak, program coordinator for the Neighbors project.
Participants of the banquet signed in outside of Marvin Center’s Grand Ballroom and were told to draw a card. A red card meant high income, an orange card meant middle income and a yellow card meant low income. Then guests were directed into the ballroom where the high-income participants sat at tables with tablecloths, chairs and silverware; middle income sat across the room from them at long, cramped tables; and right between the two groups sat the low-income people, on the floor surrounded by scraps of paper and debris.
“It’s a dramatization about food access – who has access to food and who doesn’t,” said Timothy Kane, director of the Office of Community Service. He said participants were being given the opportunity to “walk in the shoes of folks who don’t have access to food.”
Those in the high-income zone were served a three-course meal, while those in middle income helped themselves to limited portions of rice and beans, while those in low income were only offered a small portion of rice, without utensils.
“Hunger’s about power,” said Howard Straker, an assistant professor of health care sciences, who led a discussion about hunger at the banquet. He called the banquet, “a metaphor for how food and resources are inequitably distributed throughout the world.”
Straker spoke about the 3.7 million Americans who live in poverty.
“Over one billion people live in poverty. If those people were to stand shoulder to shoulder, they would wrap around the equator over three times,” he said.
Knapp, who was part of the low-income group, said he hoped the event would, “heighten awareness,” about global poverty issues. “It’s good to be reminded of the disparity across the world,” he said.
The banquet’s keynote speaker was Kim Perry, from D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty’s Commission on Food and Nutrition.
“Right here in D.C., more than a third of our children are living in poverty.” Perry said to participants. “The wealth is here. It’s about connecting resources to kids and families.”
In addition to GW community members, about 14 men from the Emery Shelter, a transitional facility for the homeless, were invited to participate in the event, student service coordinator Abby Dunner said. The men were not given any special recognition because the event organizers wanted them to feel like they were part of the community, not separate.
Dunner said she felt the event, “turned out really well.”
“My main purpose of this event was to raise awareness,” Dunner said. “Is this really what happens? Do people really live like this?”