The 8th-grade team at Sunnyvale Middle School hosted a Hunger Banquet on April 10, 2018, to raise student awareness about global poverty. The Hunger Banquet involved all 375 of the students in the eighth grade at SMS as well as 20 parent and community volunteers, and 25 faculty and staff.
A Hunger Banquet is a hands-on way for both students and teachers to experience how food is inequitably distributed around the world. Each student randomly selected a ticket, which designated whether he or she ate with the low, medium, or high-income group. Students were then ushered to sit with their assigned income group during the banquet. Their ticket also provided information about a person who lives in that income level group so that students were able to learn more about daily lives of people across the world.
Low-income meals consisted of simply rice. Middle-income meals consisted of rice and beans served on a tortilla. Those fortunate few who receive a ticket to represent people living in high-income communities received a pasta meal with salad and bread.
This event came to the 8th-grade team because staff wanted to do an event focusing on social justice. Math teacher Brittany Leknes had attended a Hunger Banquet when she was helping out at a different middle school on the other side of the country and was blown away by what a powerful experience it was for both students and adults. This made her want to bring it to SMS, and the 8th-grade team agreed.
“The 8th-grade team at SMS believes that an important part of education is teaching kids how to interact with the world around them,” Leknes said. “We believe that teaching empathy to our students will help make a world that is more inclusive and kind. The Hunger Banquet provided them with an opportunity to think about the global social issues of poverty and hunger, as well as the concept of fairness.”
Staff also wanted to make sure that students reflected on the experience and followed up on their questions, comments, and wonderings. Students discussed the banquet in their Social Studies classes over the next few days and then filled out a survey on their experiences: what part was the most impactful, and did they think it is fair that the world is divided this way.
Here are a few student quotes:
“Eating the food made me feel how unfair it was that some people got as much food as they wanted just because they were born into a powerful family.”
“The most impactful part was every time the bell was rung to say that 85 more lives have died of hunger every 5 minutes.”
“I do not think that it is fair that the world is divided this way because for some people, they are born into poverty or hunger, and others are born into prosperous families. Not to mention, world hunger is an issue that can be resolved, and yet it isn’t.”
The community came together for the event as well. Students heard from Carolyn Alexander, Director of Operations for Sunnyvale Community Services, who spoke about what the nonprofit does and how it is okay to ask for help when you need it. Students were asked to bring in an optional $3 donation, which will go directly to the food pantry at Sunnyvale Community Services to help address the needs of those who are less fortunate. Food for the Hunger Banquet was donated by Roberto’s Cantina and Gumba’s of downtown Sunnyvale. Any leftover food was donated to the local cold weather shelter.