According to the 2010 Census, 11.4 percent of Utah’s population lives below the poverty line. Utah County was at 12.8 percent, putting it in the top 10 most impoverished counties in the state. The continued flailing economy has only increased the percentage over the last three years to a calculated 13.5 percent in Utah County alone.
“A lot of us don’t realize what is happening here in Utah County,” said Elizabeth Jarema of the Service Council. “Poverty and hunger is always portrayed with dark skin, emaciated bodies in far away places. We don’t see hunger as an issue in our community, but it is.”
Utah has one of the highest percentages of children living in high-poverty areas in the United States. Since 2000 it has grown 80 percent in comparison to the 25 percent increase in the country. The Hunger Banquet will provide insight not only into the problem of poverty, but to the solutions available.
“The Hunger Banquet provides participants with an excellent opportunity to become better educated about poverty issues in our area so that they can become part of the solution,” said Laura Christopherson, program coordinator for UVU’s Volunteer and Service-Learning Center.
The event is designed to give participants the opportunity to see, experience and learn from the ever-growing divide between the wealthy and the impoverished.
“Our vision for the event is that people will come, listen, experience and be moved to think about what changes they can make to help,” Jarema said.
In the past the banquet has drawn around 200 participants, who were randomly assigned an economic status upon arrival. That status would then determine their meal experience.
The upper class would be served a four-course meal on fine linen with silverware to match the dining experience of the financial elite. The participants assigned to the middle class were served pizza and soda to mimic the diet of an average middle-income family. Those assigned the lowest class were asked to eat rice and beans on the floor. The percentage of high, middle and lower class tickets reflect the percentages of those socioeconomic classes in the United States.
“We are planning to continue with the tradition of the three classes of meals,” Jarema said. “It really shows people the seriousness of the problem when they can see the differences.”
The Hunger Banquet will be held Feb. 21 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom. Tickets will be available in early February.