UVU hunger banquet raises money, awareness

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Feeding a family is hard these days, but try hosting a dinner for 400 for less than $5 a head.

The UVU Volunteer and Service Learning Center hosted the annual Hunger Banquet on Feb. 21 to raise awareness and contribute proceeds to Utahns Against Hunger. UVU anticipated a larger turnout than ever as it opened its annual hunger banquet spending $1 less per person than it has in previous years.

Left to right: Miranda Whittington and Jennifer Bennett eat rice and beans on a tortilla as they take the role of those living in poverty.
Left to right: Miranda Whittington and Jennifer Bennett eat rice and beans on a tortilla as they take the role of those living in poverty.

Elizabeth Jarema, student coordinator for the banquet, brought firsthand experience to this year’s event. She came to the U.S. from Fiji; the province where she grew up is the poorest province in the country.

“I know how it feels not to have food. I know how it feels to be a young girl and have to take care of siblings at the same time, and go down to the river and fetch water from there, and when there’s no food you wait for mom to come home after work so that you can have something to eat.”

Jarema’s family faced uncertainty and hardship after her father died when she was 9 years old. Jarema’s mother could barely provide enough food for Elizabeth and her siblings. “Fortunate, to me, is somebody who has shoes,” she said.

At the UVU event, participants stepped into the shoes of those who suffer from lack of food by lining up for a meal of rice and beans, which they ate sitting on a newspaper-covered floor. Rumors spread around at the back of the line as some wondered if there would be enough of the scanty meal to feed everyone. Luckily, UVU Catering provided enough for everyone to get fed. Ten lucky participants were selected to enjoy a four-course feast at the head table elevated a few feet off the floor. Organizers kept this hunger banquet tradition and cut costs this year by removing the middle-class meal — pizza.

Emma Walker came from Draper to attend the event with a friend who attends UVU. As she stood at the back of the line, Walker spoke of her summer trip to Peru in which she experienced hunger.

“I had no food with me,” Walker said, “and then I ran out of money on the last day. So I couldn’t eat while we were in the airport for a long time. I was so starving, it was horrible.” Walker witnessed poverty and hunger during her trip, but experiencing this starvation where food was available changed her perspective.

Jarema hoped the hunger banquet would change perspectives about local hunger issues. According to Utahns Against Hunger, only 55 percent of eligible families access the food stamp program in Utah, yet the number of households accessing the program has more than doubled since 2008.

“If everyone understood the magnitude of this issue, then we could bring about real change right here in our own community,” Jarema said. “This is an opportunity for students to serve others locally. That’s why our proceeds go to Utahns Against Hunger.”

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