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Students participate in lunch fast program

Karen Langley | Wednesday, September 28, 2005

North and South Dining Halls are serving a few less people at lunch today than they did Tuesday, thanks to the Wednesday Lunch Fast.

Each week, participants in the program forgo Wednesday’s dining hall lunch meal and a portion of their meal cost will be donated to hunger relief charities. The Fast, which is the main activity organized by Notre Dame’s World Hunger Coalition (WHC), has raised thousands of dollars for charity over the years.

Still, the $1.75 donated by Food Services for each sacrificed meal has become a point of contention among members of the group and students who wish to join.

“Students get upset because they pay $8.50 per meal and only get $1.75 back [for charity,] said C. Lincoln Johnson, faculty advisor to the WHC. Johnson said he estimated the cost for one meal based on the fee for a guest pass to a dining hall.

While students may note a substantial difference between their fees charged per meal to their plans and the money donated per meal by Food Services, they must remember to account for other costs incurred by Food Services with the preparation of each meal, Johnson said.

Dave Prentkowski, Director of Food Services, explained that cost of food is only a small part of the funding needed to run the dining halls.

“The amount donated is the value of the cost saved by the dining halls as a result of the meal not being consumed,” Prentkowski said. “This is primarily food. Many significant costs remain no matter if meals or missed or not. These costs include costs of labor, cleaning supplies, utilities, etc.”

The amount of money donated rises each year with the cost of food, Prentkowski said. Last year, Food Services donated $1.65 per meal.

The sum of money donated for each meal may not be the only hitch in the Fast’s current format, Prentkowski said.

“While the program has a good cause, and student ‘fasting’ to support that cause is noble, the program was more of a sacrifice in the days prior to the Flex program,” he said.

Prior to the advent of Flex Points, a student had to forfeit a meal in order to donate to the cause. Now, Prentkowski said, Food Services has found a large increase in traffic at the Huddle and Reckers during Wednesday lunch, indicating that students participating in the Fast are likely still eating lunch.

“Perhaps it’s time to [reexamine] this program to see if there is a better way of sacrificing and contributing to this cause,” he said.

While one goal of the Fast is to provide monetary contributions to groups focused on relieving hunger, it is also designed to have an experiential dimension, Johnson said.

“There is a sense in which you want people to say they’re thinking about people who need food and not to just give away $1.75 and then go spend $5.00 for lunch somewhere else,” he said.

Pete Lavorini, president of Notre Dame’s World Hunger Coalition, defended the Fast’s value, saying that a student’s decision to dine outside the dining halls does not diminish his or her contribution to the hungry.

“Although we would love for it to be a socially conscious sacrifice that you would fast with those in hunger, that’s not going to be the case all the time,” said Lavorini. “But regardless of whether students take their Flex Points and go to Burger King, there is still the same amount of money that goes to charity. There is that same consciousness when you can’t eat at the dining hall of those without food.”

The weekly contributions from Wednesday lunch fast participants combine to form a large sum, Lavorini said.

Donations from Spring 2004 and the 2004-05 academic year totaled $39,000, said Mary Ann Doughton, donations chair for the Coalition. At the end of the spring 2005 semester, 832 students were participating in the Fast.

“It’s been the most successful of student organizations as far as money raised,” she said. “I wish we could promote it more so there would be more education and so it would be more effective in its collaboration with Food Services.”

The majority of funds raised by the Coalition go to organizations that provide direct hunger relief, such as Oxfam and Catholic Charities, Doughton said. Money is also given to the Council of Indian Nations, local Indiana food banks and Bread for the World, a lobbying group for food issues. Contributions also support World Food Day, an event sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Doughton said.

In 2003, the Coalition donated $2,500 so that educational materials entitled “Feeding Minds, Fighting Hunger” could be translated into Bangla, the official language of Bangladesh.

“We thought that since Notre Dame contributes to the missions in Bangladesh through Bengal Bouts, our contribution could symbolize Notre Dame’s ties,” Johnson said.

During Lent last year, the Coalition held prayer services in Dillon Hall to stand in place of lunch, Lavorini said.

About four years ago, students could participate in the Fast without being required to use Wednesday lunch as their sacrificed meal, Johnson said.

“Thousands of students signed up and everyone missed one meal,” he said. “We busted Food Services’ bank. They were upset, so the next year they went back and reinstituted the Wednesday Lunch Fast.”

Many students say they would sign up for the Fast if it more money were given for each meal and if any meal during the week could be sacrificed, Doughton said.

“Food Services said that this is a fast, so it must be done intentionally and as something that students are meditating about,” she said.

Sophomore Jen Vogel is not a member of the Coalition, but said that the Fast would hold a far greater appeal if its meal sacrifice were not restricted to Wednesday lunch.

“Limiting participation to a single meal time each week dissuades many students from signing up for the Lunch Fast,” she said. “I’ve talked to numerous people who would love to donate a meal, but aren’t willing to give up Wednesday lunch.”

The program is designed to yield a donation from the sacrifice of a specific meal, Prentkowski said.

“It was not supposed to be a donation of meals that just happened to be uneaten at the end of the week,” he said.

Though students ask for larger donations from Food Services, interest in food-related issues is relatively high at Notre Dame, Johnson said.

“There’s quite a but of sensitivity to these issues on campus,” he said.