As with traditional hunger banquets, attendees were randomly given cards upon entry, assigning them to either upper-, middle- or low-income living situations, determining where they would sit and what they would eat.
The Grande Ballroom was divided into three sections once more this year, as it has been for the past eight years for the annual Hunger Banquet, as more than 200 people were divided into social classes.
Sponsored by the Volunteer and Service Learning Center, this year’s banquet raised money for Utahns Against Hunger, a non-profit organization working to eliminate hunger in Utah since 1981.
While the first speaker talked to the crowd, clinking of silverware competed with the rustle of newspapers. At the fully dressed tables, complete with bouquets of flowers, folded napkins and an arsenal of forks and spoons, the upper-income folk ate three-course meals, while the lower-income attendees ate rice and beans while sitting on the newspaper-covered floor in the center of the room.
The way Gina Cornia, Director of Utahns Against Hunger, spouted off frightening statistics about the abundance of poverty and family food shortage in Utah, it was easy to see that she was used to dealing with this common problem. Her hopes were, admittedly, to change the audience’s view of the world.
“I know that sounds overly dramatic,” Cornia said, “but it was going to a hunger banquet 20 years ago at the University of Utah that made me think differently about my world view.”
Changes take time, Cornia said, and the best way for average people to help is to vote for representatives who support programs that fight poverty and hunger. Cornia said it was “our obligation to care,” to try to do something, anything, because this problem, she argued, “crosses gender, racial and ethnic lines.”
Cornia’s passion for her work showed when her voice shook with emotion as she talked about a young woman waiting for help in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) office, feeding her daughter a bottle with ketchup-laced water to avoid malnutrition. And that wasn’t the only time emotion filled the hall during Thursday’s event.
Keira Scholz was the second and final speaker of the evening, conveying a message of gratitude for the assistance she has received throughout her life from government assistance programs.
Scholz read from her letter, “Dear American Taxpayers,” and when she had to pause to avoid being overcome with emotion, the audience fell silent, riveted on the speaker waiting for her to continue. The audience erupted into applause after Scholz spoke of how government assistance has affected her life.
“I’m here today as living proof that your efforts do matter and that your aid works the way that it should,” Sholz said, “and I’m very grateful that it did and I’m here today.”
After the moving speeches, the intensity and emotion that held the crowd was quickly broken by the upbeat Samoan music, accompanied by the high-pitched yelps of the Cultural Envoy’s dancers. The message, after all, was meant to be of motivation instead of melancholy, as co-host Krystal Rasmussen, President of the Service Council commented.
“This year we want [the audience] to leave feeling motivated like they can make a difference instead of just being depressed,” Rasmussen said. “We want them to feel inspired. We all can make a difference.”
By Jeff Jacobsen
Online Content Manager