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Student fast aims to raise awareness

Lauren Lavelle | Friday, April 21, 2006

More than 50 Saint Mary’s students participated in a 12-hour fast on Thursday in effort to raise awareness about hunger in the local community.

Saint Mary’s juniors Chelsea Gulling, Etienne Melcher and Amanda Meyer organized the fast as part of the College’s first annual Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.

“Last fall, we attended the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness Conference in Seattle and really wanted to bring the issue back to our campus,” Meyer said. “We wanted to raise awareness about the hunger and homelessness problem here in South Bend.”

Fast participants wore white T-shirts with black lettering that read “Today I am Fasting For…” on the front and cited several statistics about hunger and homelessness on the back. The fast began at 6 a.m. and ended at 6 p.m. During that time, participants were encouraged to consume only water.

Melcher said participating in the fast was important for students because it allowed them to not only sympathize with the hungry, but to empathize with them as well.

“Most people know it is a problem but don’t think they can do anything about it,” Melcher said. “But we need to realize that we need to be socially conscious and try to understand the people who are affected by the problem.”

At 6 p.m., participants gathered in the West Wing of the Noble Family Dining Hall for dinner and an informal discussion about their experience with the fast. Meyer opened the discussion by emphasizing how important it was for students to take action against issues such as hunger and homelessness.

“It is important for people to realize how big the problem really is and that it isn’t only a problem in other countries, but that it’s right here in the local community” Meyer said. “I think by all of us wearing the shirts and fasting today, we helped make some people realize that.”

Jenny Robbins, a senior at Saint Mary’s, participated in the fast because she said she thinks it is an invaluable experience when trying to address the issue of hunger.

“I wanted to have the experience of wanting something to eat but not being able to have it because some people do this everyday, they don’t have a choice,” Robbins said.

“It was incredibly worthwhile to tell people ‘I’m hungry’ when they asked how I was doing. Saying that puts a face to hunger and that is what raises awareness and makes students take action.”

Junior Kate Deitle said she participated because the fast forces students to pay attention the issues like hunger and homelessness.

“We are in a bubble here on campus and it is easy to ignore the problem,” Deitle said. “Participating in the fast makes people realize they can make a difference.

Many students said the most difficult part of the fast was the effect their hunger had on their ability to focus and concentrate during the day.

“It makes you think about all the people who have to go to work or the kids who have to go to school hungry and are expected to do well and get good grades,” Robbins said.

During the discussion, Melcher addressed criticism that participants have faced regarding the effect of their efforts. Some students said that wearing a T-shirt and fasting for a day does not help solve the overall problem, Melcher said.

“Recognizing the problem is only the first step and it will set the stage for things to come,” Melcher said. “We will not fill every stomach today but we will empower students to make bigger changes that will hopefully encourage students to get involved in the local community.”

Many participants said that while they knew they were not ending hunger, they were making small changes for the cause.

“Even if we can’t prevent people from starving, we can stop how much we eat and how much food we waste,” freshman Francesca Johnson said.

Meyer said she was pleased with the amount of students participating in the fast and the awareness it brought to campus.

“I know a lot of students stopped us today to ask about the shirts and it gave us a chance to explain what we were doing,” Meyer said. “Our main goal was to act and to ignite the hope that we have the power to do something, and I think we did that today.”