By: Byron Hoskinson – Staff Writer
Beginning Nov. 16, the University of Dayton Center for Social Concern prepared more than 600 Thanksgiving food baskets for local families, packaged 32,000 meals to be sent abroad, and saw five students spend the night as a homeless person would, as part of the national Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.
Claudia Guzman, a graduate assistant for the CSC, said UD first began participating in Hunger and Homelessness
Awareness Week 20 years ago with the annual preparation of Thanksgiving food baskets for needy families. She said the CSC donated 603 food baskets to local families, each of which included mashed potatoes, green beans, fruit, a dessert, and a $15 gift card for the turkey.
This year’s events were organized by Guzman, who said preparation for the week began almost two months beforehand.
To kick off the week, Guzman said 80 volunteers working four hour-long shifts were able to package 32,000 meals and pack them into containers that ultimately would be sent to Haitian children.
Guzman said, for the packaging, UD partnered with Kids Against Hunger for the first time. Kids Against Hunger is an international humanitarian organization that ships food to starving children and families in more than 60 countries, according to the nonprofit’s website.
A group of students went to Target Dayton Ministries, a church dedicated to helping the indigent and homeless in Dayton’s inner city, to serve hot meals to the needy and participated in a prayer service Nov. 17, according to the webpage.
Guzman said Keith McHenry, co-founder of Food Not Bombs, came to speak on the history of the organization at the Sears Recital Hall Nov. 18. Food Not Bombs, according to the organization’s website, is an anti-war, anti-corporate activist group dedicated to free distribution of food to the hungry and homeless.
Guzman said, despite the peaceful goals of Food Not Bombs, the organization is controversial and its protests have been criticized as radical, resulting with the group added to the FBI’s counterterrorism watch list.
The CSC sponsored a discussion on homelessness and mental health Nov. 19, according to the CSC website. An estimated 20 to 25 percent of homeless persons have a major mental health disorder, according to a 2013 publication entitled “Health and Homelessness” released by the American Psychological Association. The same publication stated an estimated 47 percent of homeless women suffer from a major depressive disorder, which is more than twice the rate of the general American population.
Guzman said on Nov. 20 CSC screened “Minimum Wage,” an episode of “30 Days,” an FX reality show in which filmmaker Morgan Spurlock and his fiancée attempt to live on minimum wage for a month with no outside assistance.
“The film and discussion were meant to encourage students’ awareness and compassion for the people who go through these situations,” she said.
CSC hosted the “Homelessness Plunge” Nov. 21 held with Homefull, a Dayton-based nonprofit working to end local homelessness through the provision of housing, advocacy and education, according to the organization’s website.
Homefull keeps a running estimation of Dayton’s homeless. As of Nov. 22, the website stated “965 people in Montgomery
County will spend tonight homeless.”
During the Plunge, five UD students spent the night on the streets, experiencing first-hand the condition of homelessness.
Julie Fitz, a senior biochemistry major, said she was unable to participate in the Plunge but commended those who took part.
“It is one thing to sympathize with the homeless. It is another to experience the reality of a night on the streets,” she said. “It’s not easy to enter into the homeless perspective and see the world through a wholly different set of eyes.”
The week concluded with a prayer service held in the Immaculate Conception Chapel.
Guzman said the week’s activities are representative of the Marianist dedication to service to the poor.
“This events are designed to inspire students to want to do something to bring an end to hunger and homelessness,” she said. “The homeless, though we may not always see them as such, are our brothers and sisters. It is our responsibility to create a better home for all of us.”