Hunger banquet - Learning what it’s like to go without

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Danielle Whittle, right, takes a slip of paper from a basket held by Joleen Jansen at a poverty simulation event last week at St. Joseph’s Church, Elkader.

By Pam Reinig

Register Editor


More than 100 people showed up for dinner last week at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Elkader; most of them went home hungry.

The event was a “hunger banquet” offered by the church to underscore the problem of worldwide food scarcity. As they arrived at the church, participants drew lots that determined their “development status.” The few (15 out of 100) who were lucky enough to draw a green slip got a full dinner—salad, spaghetti, garlic bread and beverages. Those who drew a red slip (35 participants) were served one-half cup each beans and rice. The “red” group, the largest by numbers, got only a half-cup of rice. According to Jamie Wingert, who was one of the organizers, the number of tickets for each group corresponds with wealth distribute worldwide. In other words, there’s only a small percent of people who can afford a full meal; the overwhelming majority subsists on very little.

The younger members of St. Joseph’s decided to undertake the banquet after seeing a video produced by the Mary’s Meals organization, which is a charitable school-based food project. It was launched in 2002 to feed 200 children in the southeastern African province of Malawi, It has grown to a worldwide campaign that feeds more than 1 million children daily.

The local effort had a fund-raising goal of $1,000. They raised $1,500, all of which will go to the Mary’s Meals project.

“The response was very positive and that makes me hopeful that we are all really wanting to make a difference and are seeking out ways to do so,” said Wingert.

Joleen Jansen, who also helped with the event, emphasized the two-fold goal of the project, which was to create awareness of the inequitable distribution of resources and motivate people to do something about it.

“We don’t want people to feel guilty (about what they have) but instead to live with an attitude of gratitude and fulfill God’s call to hear the cry of the poor,” she explained. She is hopeful the hunger banquet will serve as the impetus for ongoing conversations on what individuals and families can do to share their resources, reduce their carbon footprint, support charities, and so on.

The details of the meal were kept secret from participants; nobody knew what to expect. Angel Keppler, Elkader, was one of the few lucky people who drew a ticket that put her with the “upper development group.”

“I was seated at a round table that was set for a nice meal,” she said. “I turned around to see the remaining three members of my family were all being seated with the lowest class. This was just the beginning of the lump in my throat that was starting to form.”

Keppler’s meal was served to her. Members of the other groups had to stand in line and hope there was enough food for all.

“Even though I knew this was all just a simulation, it was difficult to sit and eat the meal that was placed before me (knowing that the others could see and smell the food),” she continued, adding that the event started a wonderful conversation with her family as they drove home.

NiCole Dennler, Elkader, had an equally visceral reaction: “It was amazing how we could feel the emotion behind the information that was being shared,” she said.

The event also made an strong impression on Roger Koster, Elkader, who was seated with the high income group.

Related Wingert, “After the meal, he said to his group, ‘we are so spoiled that after I ate I was wondering what was for dessert. It really made me stop and think.’”

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