The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

Injustices of food insecurity faced at DePaul’s first Hunger Banquet

Students Gabrielle Berry (L) and Murray Campbell (R) were silent as homeless speakers shared their struggles of living in poverty at DePaul’s first Hunger Banquet last week. (Megan Deppen / The DePaulia)
Students Gabrielle Berry (L) and Murray Campbell (R) were silent as homeless speakers shared their struggles of living in poverty at DePaul’s first Hunger Banquet last week. (Megan Deppen / The DePaulia)

Students were randomly seated at either a neatly set table, in chairs in the center of the room, or on the floor in the back. Where they sat determined what food they could eat, but also how they felt during DePaul’s first Hunger Banquet.

The March 5 event, coordinated by three service organizations at DePaul, meant to simulate the feeling of poverty and food insecurity.

Of the 319 million U.S. residents, 46.9 million live below the poverty line. Minus other living costs, a family living on $24,000 per year has $3,600 to spend on food, which is just over a year’s minimum meal plan at DePaul.

Food insecurity, when all members of a family cannot adequately maintain a sustainable diet or access food, affects 16 percent of Americans and almost half a million, or 18.3 percent, of Chicagoans.

Senior JP Matz (L) and junior Jasmine Preciado engage in dialogue about social justice and poverty. (Megan Deppen / The DePaulia)
Senior JP Matz (L) and junior Jasmine Preciado engage in dialogue about social justice and poverty. (Megan Deppen / The DePaulia)

DePaul sophomore Murray Campbell was one of the majority who sat at the back of the room and was served only a scoop of rice and a small cup of water.

“We were on the ground, but not just that, we were in the way back,” Campbell said. “We couldn’t really see anything. The people in the front didn’t even know that we had less food than them.”

Freshman Sean Esterquest pulled a card that classified him as an upper-class citizen, eligible to dine at a table that was served pasta, salad and drinks.

“I feel kind of guilty,” Esterquest said. “I mean, I have pasta and everyone else has rice and beans. I don’t even know what the guys in the back have. I can’t even see over there.”

Students slowly stopped eating  and a solemn silence settled over the room when Sam Newman, who dug through dumpsters for food as a child, began to tell his story.

“When the grocery store closed every night, I went and got in their garbage cans to find food. That’s how I ate and fed my (10) sisters and brothers,” Newman said. “If there was a moldy peach, we shared that peach. If there was some moldy bread, we shared that moldy bread.”

Director of Catholic Campus Ministry Sr. Katie Norris ate a modest plate of rice and beans as speakers from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless told stories of homelessness and food insecurity. (Megan Deppen / The DePaulia)
Director of Catholic Campus Ministry Sr. Katie Norris ate a modest plate of rice and beans as speakers from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless told stories of homelessness and food insecurity. (Megan Deppen / The DePaulia)

Gloria Davis was a speaker from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and said she struggled with homelessness and drug abuse most of her life. 

“If your name isn’t on the lease and you don’t have your own set of keys you are considered homeless. I was homeless for a long time and didn’t even know it,” Davis said. 

The room applauded after a moment’s hesitation when Newman talked about homeless people.

“Anybody in this room, if he met a homeless person, if he asked you for something, and you gave it to him or not, did he or did he not say ‘God bless you’?” Newman said.

“I think all of us felt very uncomfortable,” DePaul junior Marita McGinn said from her table at the front of the room. “It was nice to be reminded that I do take these privileges for granted frequently. My pantry is always stocked.”

Freshman Danny Loomans said, “We know that food security is an issue, but the action part of it is what we tend to struggle with. How are we going to take action? We talked about what we can do as individuals as well as what we can do as a group.”

Freshman Gabrielle Berry ate as if below the national poverty line. (Megan Deppen / The DePaulia)
Freshman Gabrielle Berry ate as if below the national poverty line. (Megan Deppen / The DePaulia)

“I’m even surprised, now that I stood up and look (towards the back of the room), at how many people are behind me,” Loomans said. “Just to see these proportions and to see how these different situations between people interact. It’s really something we have to look for.”

In the midst of group discussion, sophomore Jireh Drake stood, wearing a green military shirt over a long black skirt and boots. She said so far the event had made her uncomfortable.

“I appreciate the visual and the stories, but I feel uncomfortable with the joking matter in the room,” Drake said, referring to the earlier mock-serious announcements from the MCs that the back of room had lost all access to water due to unpaid bills.

“Something like that actually happened to me when I was younger and how that was jokingly said bothered me,” Drake said.

DePaul senior Edward Ward also stood and agreed.

“For those who go through it, it isn’t an experience, it’s a lifestyle,” Ward said. “You talk about losing your benefits, losing your house, being placed on welfare, losing your government benefits or whatever. You hear the laughter (at the event) and everything, but is it really funny? And you have to re-examine that. Because after we leave this room, guess where we go? Back to our homes. And we forget about this experience.”

Freshman Sean Esterquest was on of the few served dinner at the upper-class table. (Megan Deppen / The DePaulia)
Freshman Sean Esterquest was on of the few served dinner at the upper-class table. (Megan Deppen / The DePaulia)

“It’s a humbling experience. It’s very real and a lot of people go through this,” freshman Gabrielle Berry said over her small plate of rice with no utensils.

“(The event) is another way to see what (impoverished people) go through,” Berry said. “I’m just learning and taking it in as I go.” 

The event was hosted by  Education and Development Grant for Employability (EDGE) students, the St. Vincent and Louise House social outreach team and DePaul’s recently established student Coalition for the Homeless.

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