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Sacrifice serves the hungry

Aaron Steiner | Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Students might have noticed the short lines during Wednesdays’ dining hall lunchtime rush – and Notre Dame’s World Hunger Coalition group couldn’t be happier.

The organization is in the sixth year of the Wednesday Lunch Fast program, an initiative designed to raise awareness on global hunger issues, Coalition president Grace Shen said.

Student participants skip lunch every Wednesday, and in turn a donation is made to the Coalition, which send the funds to hunger relief charities.

“It’s a way for people to get involved,” Shen said – especially if students do not have the time to work with hunger relief initiatives directly. “The average Notre Dame student eats about 10 meals a week [in the dining halls].”

The program offers many students the opportunity to put funds from those unused meals towards charitable causes. Last year, the group raised over $12,000 for hunger relief initiative charities including Oxfam, Catholic Charities and the Indian Council of Nations.

Notre Dame Food Services determines the dollar amount donated per meal, which has gone up 10 cents since last year.

“Last year, the amount was $1.75 [per meal], and this year the amount will be $1.85,” Director of Food Services Dave Prentkowski said.

Prentkowski said the actual cost of a meal is $8.50, however the amount Food Services chooses to donate is “based on what [Food Services] actually saves on food, not what the meal price is.”

The $1.85 is for the actual cost of food, excluding the labor, utilities and other costs, he explained.

“If 100 kids donated their meal, we would save nothing,” he said. “It takes a significant amount of students who skip lunch to actually affect our costs.”

Shen said some students are concerned that only $1.85 of the $8.50 they pay for a meal goes to charity. Shen said the Coalition is “always working with Food Services to improve” the actual amount donated per meal.

Shen said the Coalition wants to provide participants with increased flexibility to choose which day or meal during which they will fast.

“Wednesday lunch is the only mean we currently offer the program,” Shen said. “It’s not always possible [for students to skip] that meal.”

Prentkowski said he is hesitant to increase flexibility because of the way the technicalities of the program.

“When the program was started, we didn’t have Flex Points,” he said. “Now, students can use Flex Points in LaFortune [instead of eating in the dining hall] for that meal. I’m not sure how many students are actually giving up that meal anymore.”

Prentkowski said LaFortune and other campus restaurants normally have an increase in traffic on Wednesday during lunch hours.

But before he changes the current program, Prentkowski wants the group to come up with a “more creative way than just donating money from our budget” and get students to again fast for a cause.

The group still maintains that the fast raises awareness about hunger issues, regardless of how students choose to participate. This year, the group has roughly 400 student participants, Shen said.

When the program began in 1999, Shen said the group was “overwhelmed with support and participation,” but since then participation has “leveled off.”

Students sign up for the program at the beginning of the year and also at the start of spring semester. This allows for students whose schedules change or who return from abroad for second semester to participate.

Students can “opt-out” at any time, Shen said. However, the majority of students who sign up at the beginning of the year have participated in years past.

In addition to its Wednesday Lunch Fast, the World Hunger Coalition also organizes projects focusing on hunger issues locally, nationally and internationally.

While the Wednesday Lunch Fast is their largest project, the group also organizes and distributes Thanksgiving and Easter baskets for needy residents in the South Bend area.