The above photos are courtesy of John Strickler and the Mercury.
The Hill School held a “Hunger Banquet” in association with Oxfam America on January 28, 2009 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. This banquet was one of many events related to The Hill’s 2008-09 academic theme of citizenship, and, in particular, the winter term’s focus on fostering understanding of the responsibilities of a citizen of the world. The Banquet is, in the words of Oxfam educational materials, "a metaphor for how food and other resources" are distributed throughout the world in a manner that negatively affects "millions of people through no choice of their own."
Alex Washington, Hill instructor of the arts, acted as the master of ceremonies for the event, which about 500 students, faculty, and their family members attended in the School’s dining room. Participants drew tickets at random, assigning them to a high, middle, or low-income tier. Fifteen percent of participants were placed in the high-income tier and received a sumptuous meal of chicken. The 35 percent of diners in the middle-income tier ate a simple meal of pasta and salad, and 50 percent of participants who were in the low-income tier were allocated only small portions of rice and water. After the banquet, students had meetings in their respective dormitories to discuss and reflect on their reactions to the event.
In conjunction with the Hunger Banquet, The Hill School has set a goal to raise $1,500, which covers the cost of irrigating 12 farmers’ land for one full year. The cost savings of Wednesday's meal in comparison to a "regular" dinner was more than $900, which will be donated toward the overall goal. Campus-wide fundraising efforts to benefit Oxfam America are ongoing.
Below is an exceprt of an article that appeared in the January 30, 2009 edition of the Pottstown Mercury (Reporter: Mike Hays; Photographer: John Strickler):
POTTSTOWN — Dinnertime at The Hill School recently broke into class warfare.
Students with a meal consisting of rice and water booed several tables of classmates preparing to feast on opulent platters of chicken romano, spaghetti and chocolate cheesecake.
The reason behind this unusual scene was not drastic budget cuts, but rather a "hunger banquet" intended to teach Hill Schoolers about inequalities in the world's food distribution system.
"You may think hunger is about too many people and too little food," arts instructor Alex Washington said. "That is not the case. Our rich and bountiful planet produces enough food to feed every woman, man, and child on earth. Hunger is about power."
Washington, who was the master of ceremonies for this event, listed several statistics from international relief organization Oxfam America: One billion people in the world live in poverty. Every 2.9 seconds, a child dies from hunger or a preventable disease. Approximately 854 million people suffer from chronic starvation.
In much the same way that people don't get to decide their socioeconomic status when they are born, about 500 students and faculty received a random meal ticket. They were assigned to one of three income groups: high, middle and low. Dinner tables in the wealthy end were decorated with candles and tablecloths.
Brian Barasha ended up with rice and water in the low income group. If this were the real world, he would be among the nearly 3 billion people who live on less than $875 each year, according to Oxfam.
Asked if he felt jealous about others' situation, Barasha replied, "Very much so."
He had a generous classmate looking out for him though. Fellow senior Korey Jacobs gave him a piece of chicken after Barasha came over with an empty bowl. "Compassion," Jacobs said to explain his good deed. He would later have just a bit of spaghetti left after sharing some more.
High income students -- or their middle income counterparts eating plain pasta and salad — were permitted to spread the calories to their neighbors. But there was one rigid rule.
"You may not refill your dish," Washington said.
The Hill School's hunger banquet was one of thousands of similar events taking place across the nation as part of Oxfam's "Fast for a World Harvest."
Sam Lagor, a sixth former, organized this event with the help of arts instructor Margie Neiswender and Ryck Walbridge, the assistant headmaster for academics.
Lagor participated in a similar event at his former school, Vermont Academy. He thought a hunger banquet would be an ideal event for his student group — Green Initiative — to support.
Washington closed his remarks by quoting Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa. The message for this evening was one of citizenship, which is also the school theme for 2008-09.
"If it's stirred something in you, take action now," the arts instructor advised.
Walbridge said The Hill School is making a serious attempt to focus on responsible citizenship. The overall program was a success, he said, especially considering that it hadn't been done at this private school before.
After dinner, students gathered in smaller groups to reflect on their experience. They received an emergency shipment of fruit from the "United Nations," a godsend for those who dined on brown rice.
"There was some begging," Walbridge said, speaking of the dining hall atmosphere.
Heather Olney, a Spanish teacher and girls' dormitory parent, reported on the sentiments of some students in her group.
"A lot of the girls in our dorm were certain that it's the responsibility of high income people to help the lower income people. They were happy that people were sharing their food," she said.