Editor’s Note: On Oct. 1, Connecticut Food Bank’s Chief Development Officer Janet Kniffin held a Hunger 101 program at Pomfret School. Hunger 101 is an interactive, group learning experience for people age 12 and older. It gives people an opportunity to walk in someone else’s shoes and see firsthand what it’s like to struggle with poverty and hunger in Connecticut. Johara Tucker of Pomfret School wrote this post after she and her students experienced Hunger 101.Last week, more than 20 students went through the Hunger 101 program coordinated by Connecticut Food Bank. I had no idea what to expect but this program went above and beyond any kind of hunger awareness seminar I have ever been to.
It’s one thing to watch the news and be well informed about hunger and other social issues, but to actually, even for a minute “feel” what it may be like for someone who lives this every day is mindboggling.
As an educator I always look for the “aha” moments, when curiosity, emotion and advocacy spark in a child’s eyes. Friday night was one of those nights for many of the students who attended.
Every student was given an identity, a real story from a real person—and then told to calculate income, expenses and how much would be left for food for the month, divide that by 30 and it’s how much you can afford for food per day. For me, after expenses were calculated I only had $1 a day to spend on food for a household of six.
The students’ reactions were interesting to observe; for some this hit them personally and it made them realize how much their parents work in order to allow them to attend Pomfret. Others couldn’t understand that people actually have to make hard decisions regarding food. Others were just angry and wanted to take action immediately.
Some thoughts from my students:
“It was definitely an eye-opener to how much I take for granted, especially as something as great as food which I usually tend to minimize its importance. After tonight’s program I am inspired to help. I wasn’t aware of how privileged I am to attend a boarding school where thinking about where I will get my next meal from isn’t an issue. I had no idea that while I was taking things for granted people were struggling for those same things right in my own backyard.”
“I though it was an eye-opening and informative program. It was heart wrenching to be placed in someone else’s shoes, and to kind of go through a day in the life of someone struggling to feed their loved ones. Also it has spiked my interest in raising awareness in our school community about hunger and how fortunate we are to have well-balanced meals 3-4 times a day and to have choices, whereas some people don’t and we fail to realize just how privileged we are.”
“I thought the Hunger 101 was great and it really affected me in the sense that I understand how hard it is for families to pay for food when they have such a low income. I thought the program was very informational and touched a lot of people.”
One situation that made me hold back tears was one about a mother who woke her kids up late for school so that they could rush and forgo breakfast because she couldn’t feed them. No mother should have to go through that—how can the richest state in the U.S. force people to make these decisions?
Another interesting part of this program was the frustration when going to the different stations acted out by students—the food pantry that wasn’t always open and had no fresh produce, the welfare office that only had paperwork in Spanish, the SNAP office that had unrealistic standards in order to qualify (for example, out of 20 or so participants only one qualified and it was only for $1.50) and the grocery store that had inflated prices and a clerk who would ignore those who had food stamps.
So not only do people have to worry about where their next meal is coming from—they also have to deal with stigmas and financial numbers that do not go in their favor.
When the program was over I had students who admitted that they didn’t want to come but they are so glad that they came. One was so moved that she is currently starting up a food drive, another wants to make meals and give them to hungry families. I am so proud of my students; they dove head first into the simulation and came out more aware and ready to make change. My hope is that at some point every student can go through this simulation and be engaged to take action.
Posted by Johara P. Tucker, Esq., Director of Community Service and Associate Director of Online Communications of Pomfret School