Hunger Banquet provides Concordians food for thought
Thursday evening, on World Food Day, about 40 Concordians huddled together on the floor for a supper of white rice and water. About a dozen others in the same room were served a nutritious and complete supper of lasagna, salad, bread and juice. At the same time, the remaining 15 or so made their way through a food line where they were given one scoop each of rice and beans.
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It was the Hunger Banquet, sponsored by the Concordia Year of Peace Committee, and everything from the meals served to the randomness of which group participants ended up in was designed to illustrate the worldwide issues of hunger and poverty, explained emcee Toby Nosker.
“You may think hunger is about too many people and too little food,” Nosker 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. Its roots lie in inequalities in access to resources.”
As the 70 or so participants arrived at the Valley Rental center in Concordia for Thursday’s Hunger Banquet, they drew a ticket that assigned them to an income group. The idea was to have those groups represent the breakdown worldwide of income levels: The 20 percent in the high-income tier were served the full meal, the 30 percent in the middle-income section had rice and beans and the 50 percent in the low-income tier helped themselves to small portions of rice and water.
But before food could be served, Nosker led something of a role-playing exercise, designed to illustrate that there’s little economic stability for people in either the middle- or low-income groups. He explained scenarios that would leave farmers without crops to sell or low-wage workers without jobs.
After the meal, two speakers discussed issues of hunger and poverty in the Cloud County area.
Tina Walsh, director of the Cloud County Resource Center, explained that the “food insecurity rate” in Cloud County is 13 percent, meaning that roughly 1,300 local people worry about having enough food to eat or where they will get the money to feed themselves and their families.
“We have the same issues that big cities have,” Walsh said, “The people (sitting) on the floor represent the reality in our world today.”
She said that from January through September 2014, the Resource Center has served nearly 1,150 individuals — a number that includes 281 families being served for the first time ever.
But it takes money to provide the increasing need for their assistance, Walsh said. While some of the Resource Center’s funding comes from the city of Concordia and Cloud County, “We exist on donations,” she added. “We always need your help.”
The Resource Center works in collaboration with other local agencies and organizations, Walsh said — including the Helping Hands food pantry and emergency assistance program that is part of Manna House Prayer.
Susan LeDuc, who runs that program, said Helping Hands served almost 1,000 individuals last year. In addition to the food pantry, Helping Hands can provide emergency assistance to provide clothes or basic household items or small grants to help with utilities or fuel.
“There’s a big misconception about these people who need our help,” LeDuc added. “Some 60 percent are working, but half of those are part-time jobs, with no benefits and many at minimum wage.
“These are your friends and neighbors, maybe your family, people in your church… and in a time of crisis, it could be you.”
Thursday’s event was patterned on the Oxfam Hunger Banquets held across the country, and was organized by Amanda Wahlmeier with assistance from other Year of Peace Committee members. The food was donated by Rod’s Food Store and Walmart.
World Food Day — Oct. 16 — dates from 1945 when the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations was founded. And this year — designated the UN’s International Year of Family Farming — it’s particularly significant in a community like Concordia, Wahlmeier said.