Students had the chance to place themselves in the shoes of people living with food insecurity at the Mortar Board’s Mizzou Hunger Dinner this Wednesday in Memorial Union.
The event benefited Tiger Pantry, a student-run food pantry serving MU students, faculty and staff. It showed what some students and faculty go through when they have trouble affording basic necessities such as food.
“The goal for this year is really promoting campus-wide education about what we do and kind of eliminating the stigma that comes with asking for food assistance,” Tiger Pantry Director Paul Haluszczak said. “We want to show what food insecurity really is and how real it is on campuses nationwide.”
After purchasing a ticket, guests were invited to take a seat at one of the tables in the room. In front of them was a piece of paper, which they were instructed not to turn over. As the majority of guests reported that they had not attended the inaugural hunger dinner in 2012, most didn’t know what to expect from the night.
“I knew it has something to do with Tiger Pantry but not much besides that,” junior Clint Cannon said. “I knew there was food involved, so I was pretty down to come.”
When the dinner began, the guests turned their papers over. They found that they were separated into four groups: “poverty,” “unemployed,” “middle-class” and “upper-class.” Those in “poverty” were given a plate with a spoon of rice, “unemployed” got rice and beans, salad was added to the rice and beans for the “middle-class” and the “upper-class” received a complete chicken dinner. Looks on the diners’ faces ranged from disappointment to laughter and mocking to envious.
The simulation allowed students to view hunger from perspectives they most likely were not used to, MSA Secretary of Auxiliaries Mahir Khan said.
“You see a lot of diversity in terms of race and ethnicity and religion and sexual orientation, but socioeconomic status isn’t really something you wear,” Khan said. “It isn’t something you portray actively.”
The problem of food insecurity begins very close to home, Haluszczak said.
“Basically (Tiger Pantry’s) goal is to focus on students, faculty and staff that experience food insecurity,” he said. “We like to touch base on graduate students who only typically make about $10,000 a year, which is below the poverty level for one individual, but then if you are trying to support a family it just multiplies. Then there’s staff that make very low salaries and international students who can’t apply to federal programs, they can also get food through us.”
As participants began eating, Haluszczak was invited up to talk about Tiger Pantry and its role on campus. The event, he said, was important to show the need for an organization such as Tiger Pantry.
“You are here because you believe in what we do,” he said to the crowd.
Tiger Pantry, which opened its doors last October, began after MSA President Nick Droege visited Arkansas and saw a similar program they had on their campus, Haluszczak said.
“In the first nine weeks we were open we had 225 clients come in, which was a huge number for us,” he said. “We distributed over 6,000 pounds of food, which once again blew our minds. We’ve exceeded goals that we never even knew we could reach for.”