Feeding the hungry takes on special meaning during the holidays, when celebrations often center on families sharing meals. Feeding the hungry year round became personal to six Miami students who worked on a project for a "Hunger in America 2006" report.
Students Alison Downs, Laura Happ, Sarah Doll, Sami Schalk, Jeff Conroy and Brian Ludwin, working through the Shared Harvest Foodbank in Fairfield, traveled in teams to 22 soup kitchens, shelters and pantries throughout southwestern Ohio, completing nearly 200 one-on-one interviews with clients. Students also helped mail out a separate survey to 97 agencies in a five-county area. Their data is incorporated in the national report.
Happ, a junior majoring in Spanish with a management minor, describes the interview experience as intensely personal. "We were required to ask potentially uncomfortable questions about these peoples' lives," she says. "We asked them about their families, their jobs, their education, their incomes and their use of food stamps and other types of assistance. ... The surveys taught me a lot about myself and the people in the surrounding communities."
The student involvement was part of a nine-week Empower course offered by Miami's office of community engagement and service. Students conducted interviews in the spring 2005 class. Data from all 50 states were included in the report released last February by America's Second Harvest (A2H), the nation's food bank network. A2H is the largest charitable domestic hunger-relief organization in the United States.
The report said more than 25 million people were served in 2005 by the A2H network, with 36.4 percent of those children under 18 years of age, 68 percent with incomes below the federal poverty level and 12 percent homeless.
Lauren Spero, community outreach coordinator in community engagement and service at Miami, says many of the students who were involved in the surveys have continued to volunteer and have taken on leadership roles.
As Happ sums it up, "For me the overall impression is that there are so many people out there who can use help. ... Some people I talked to had a college education and had recently lost their jobs and everything. It's hard to think that any one of us could be in their situation in the future, but it's true."
For more information on the Shared Harvest Foodbank, visit: www.sharedharvest.org.
For more information on Miami's office of community engagement and service, including a searchable database of service opportunities, visit: www.units.muohio.edu/saf/service.