Friday, October 26, 2007

UNM Hunger Awareness Event a Success!

(originally published in Bread blog, October 25, 2007)

By Kitty Hurst

University of New Mexico student

Hunger4 After months of research, planning, and organizing, my Research Service Learning class Communication for Peace finally received its reward. Our hunger awareness event at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque was a success, with 200 surveys collected and twice as many people stopping by to pick up information, share ideas, and grab a snack.

Our project was a joint effort with the Popular Culture, Media, and Community Action class, which is one of the courses offered this semester by the American Studies Department.

Most of our class was surprised at how many people came by the tables, but I wasn’t. I knew how hard we worked to make the day a success. I knew I wasn’t the only one who spent long hours doing research, making posters and baking goodies. We had a whole team of committed people who contributed to the success of the event. It always amazes me to see what ordinary people can achieve when they work together. See the Website we created for the class.

Hunger1_2 It was remarkable to see common myths about hunger unfold at our event. I heard many times that we shouldn’t be feeding the campus community, that students are a privileged class and don’t go hungry. People said we should go to the ghettos to find hunger and poverty.

I was happy to tell these disbelievers that hunger is pervasive in New Mexico, and that, contrary to popular opinion, there aren’t just pockets of poverty. People from all parts of town are hungry, not just those in poor neighborhoods. With the data from our surveys, we will soon have the numbers to map out hunger on campus.

One young woman told me the story of her problems with the Food Stamp Program. She is a working mother whose husband is a student at UNM. She explained how frustrating it was to stand in line six hours, waiting to turn in her food stamp application. Without any of her paperwork being filed, she was told there were too many other people in need, and that she should come back in two months. She still hasn’t received any aid.

Hers was a story I heard repeated again and again. It’s obvious there is a hunger issue in this city if so many people are willing to wait so long to apply for food stamps.

Hunger3_2 Instead of stories of frustration, others pressed us with tough questions, mostly about the gaps in hunger relief programs and our plans for a UNM community garden.

The community garden created a lot of excitement. I heard all sorts of ideas from installing compost centers on campus, to building greenhouses, to using the food grown on campus to make the Student Union Building more sustainable. Now we know the support and ideas are available to make this ambition a reality.

Networking with people from other campus and community organizations was a bonus I didn’t expect. Other activists were drawn to the event, talking eagerly of how we can work together to achieve amazing things. It was exciting to see so many people passionate about hunger issues. Many people signed our list serve, and the class is looking forward to collaborating with other groups on future projects. Students were especially enthusiastic when they heard that so many Service Learning Classes about hunger are being offered next semester.

Now when people say no one is hungry on campus, or that hunger isn’t an issue at UNM, I can reply with stories I heard first hand about six-hour food stamp lines, community members who can’t afford healthy meals, and impassioned students coming together to fight hunger.

(The author is also a staff writer for the campus newspaper The Daily Lobo)

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