Event inspires awareness of worldwide poverty

Ellen Kirtner

Alexandria Mericola sat at a table with a crisp white tablecloth, while others sat in chairs around the perimeter of the room, and the rest of the individuals in the nearly full Moulton Hall Ballroom sat on the floor.

Mericola, a freshman early childhood education major, and the rest of the attendees were a part of a model of the socioeconomic strata of the world as part of an Oxfam-America Hunger Banquet Friday afternoon.

As attendees walked through the doorway, they were handed small sheets of paper that would dictate their economic situation for the afternoon, as well as where they would sit.

“I felt bad,” Mericola said. “Everybody watched me walk up here.”

Speaker Robert Egger, founder and president of D.C. Central Kitchen, explained that those sitting on the floor represented a large portion of the world’s population: individuals making less than $1,000 a year, struggling for basic needs.

Poverty statistics

From Alfreda Brown’s speech:

2.5 billion people live in poverty worldwide

900 million suffer from chronic hunger

A child dies from hunger or preventable disease every 3.4 seconds

25,000 children die from hunger or preventable diseases each day

From Tina Kandakais’ speech:

17.4 million U.S. households have difficulty providing food

2.1 million Ohioans struggle to meet basic needs

Ohio’s poverty rate is 13.7 percent and is the highest since 1994

Cleveland is the second poorest city in the U.S. Census report

Ohio has 3 out of 10 cities on that list

12 percent of Portage County is below the poverty line, up 2 percent since 2007

In the 2009-2010 school year, 32 percent of students were on free or reduced lunch

The chairs around the room were the middle, making $1,000 to $12,000, and the table represented the top, those making more than $12,000, who have things like clean water and healthcare.

During his talk, Egger walked through the crowd and threw some surprises the attendees’ way. Elizabeth Flarida, who was in the middle, was told a hurricane hit her village, and she was sent to the floor.

Flarida, a junior human development and family studies major, said she comes from a middle class background, so the event gave her a chance to experience something entirely new. When she moved to the floor, that meant her meal was a bowl of rice with no utensils.

The middle group had access to rice and beans, as well as forks, and the most affluent group was served an actual meal. One woman at the table asked for permission to share her salad with someone on the floor, and later another woman stepped away from the table to bring a plate of rolls to the floor.

Egger said the event was meant to bring awareness to the world issue of hunger, and encourage individuals to find their own solutions.

Egger said he worked in the nightclub industry, but after volunteering feeding the homeless in Washington, D.C., he was inspired to become more active.

Also speaking at the event were: Tina Kandakai, coordinator of the Office of Experiential Education and Civic Engagement; Alfreda Brown, vice president for the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; Mary Anne Saunders, executive director for the Office of International Affairs; and Reverend Ronald Fowler, community liaison for the Office of Experiential Education and Civic Engagement.

Kandakai said the event was “a metaphor for how food and other resources are inevitably distributed in the world.”

“We cannot recreate the many complex ways that poverty manifests itself,” she said.

Egger’s organization, D.C. Central Kitchen, trains individuals without jobs in how to work in food service, while simultaneously providing food to those who need it.

Christin Farmer, a recent Kent State graduate, said Friday’s event was a “reality check,” and the most important thing she will take away is how serious poverty is in the world.

“I had some idea, but this has shown me it’s more serious than I could imagine,” Farmer said. “There are people who are way worse off than I am.”

Contact Ellen Kirtner at [email protected].