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Initiative works to end hunger

Megan Doyle | Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Student government’s “eND Hunger” campaign will target food scarcity in South Bend and hunger in the local community as the initiative kicks off tonight with an opening forum, senior Beth Simpson, chair of the campaign, said.

“Rather than crossing the ocean to look for need, we are crossing the street to recognize the hunger that exists in our backyard,” Simpson said. “Rather than operating on a donations model which is more traditional and often easier, we are striving for increased community engagement.”

Simpson is directing the “eND Hunger” campaign along with members of student government and the Center for Social Concerns (CSC).

“This issue highlights the University’s mission to put knowledge at the service of truth and charity,” Simpson said. “We are recognizing that campus exists within community with the residents of South Bend.”

Student body president Catherine Soler and vice president Andrew Bell included fighting hunger in their platform for election last spring. Soler and Bell were inspired by the Global Water Initiative, which the preceding student government administration developed during the 2009-2010 school year.

“We wanted an issue a little more relevant to the South Bend area,” Soler said. “It is great to see Notre Dame students out in the community and really trying to make a difference in an innovative way.”

The hunger campaign will target the west side of South Bend in particular.

“We identified the west side of South Bend as a food desert based on research done by Notre Dame students and the United States Department of Agriculture,” Simpson said. “This means people living there have a decreased or at times no access to healthy and affordable foods.”

Simpson said food scarcity results from lack of access in terms of distance, cost and availability of fresh and healthy foods. These factors are accompanied by greater access to fast food and other unhealthy options.

Seventy-eight percent of northern Indiana households with children are food insecure, Simpson said.

“Feeding the hungry is a direct corporal work of mercy that can also be achieved through a holistic awareness of the way we live,” Simpson said.

The initiative is broken into two main parts — community and campus.

“The first part is community engagement,” Simpson said. “We have organized and brought together a coalition of community leaders who work in South Bend with food scarcity or who work on South Bend’s west side to discuss the present need.”

The community coalition met for the first time Oct. 15 to discuss the needs on the west side of South Bend.

“We are capitalizing on the community leaders and asking them to articulate the vision they have for the area,” Simpson said. “Notre Dame student government is one member at the table to contribute to this larger community effort.”

The coalition will decide a specific direction for its efforts during the next meeting. Options include forming a food cooperative, bringing another grocery store to the area, working to bring fresh produce to corner markets and advocating for transportation changes, Simpson said.

The second branch of the campaign is campus engagement to inform Notre Dame students and faculty about food scarcity in the local community.

Tonight’s forum in Geddes Hall will feature the CEO of the Food Bank of Northern Indiana Lisa Jaworski and senior Laura Beverly, who will speak about local hunger. Later forums will also host leaders from the community to speak to Notre Dame students and faculty.

“We are hoping the forums can be a conversation between the community and the students,” Simpson said. “

Notre Dame students can be liaisons between the community, farmers and entrepreneurs, Simpson said.

“This part of the campaign can help us all to realize there are individuals living ten minutes from campus who do not know from where their next meal comes or how they might provide food for their children each evening,” Simpson said.

CSC community partnerships director Annie Cahill Kelly participated in the community meeting several weeks ago.

“My main hope is for sustainability for the project,” Cahill Kelly said. “I hope the good work they are doing will serve as a foundation for involvement on student’s behalf for many years to come.”

Ensuring a long-standing connection the community needs to be a focus in this project, Cahill Kelly said.

Simpson said the challenge for the “eND Hunger” vision is creating a connection to the community that will last beyond this year.

“I think hopefully that when our term comes to an end the efforts and commitments people have made to the local groups will continue,” Soler said.

Ongoing events include a food drive lasting until Nov. 19 and Domer Dollar collections in LaFortune Student Center in mid-November. Cahill Kelly said this collaboration between groups, along with the variety events, is key to making a difference in the South Bend community.

“Any time that groups on campus collaborate, we further the goal of creating the kingdom of God together,” Cahill Kelly said. “It is tough work to do solely.”