Tuesday, November 18, 2008

UIS learns about "spreading the peanut butter thin" at Hunger Banquet

By Courtney Westlake

Students, staff and community members got a small taste of what it is like to "spread the peanut butter thin" on Tuesday evening, November 18.

UIS hosted its third annual Oxfam Hunger Banquet in the Great Room of Lincoln Residence Hall on Tuesday. The event is held in observance of National Hunger and Homelessness Week.

The theme of the Hunger Banquet this year was "Spreading the Peanut Butter Thin," based on the book Spread the Peanut Butter Thin by Central Illinois author Leah Riley, who spoke at the banquet. Riley shared her family's story from a time just a few years ago when their annual household income was around $13,000, and she and her husband could barely afford to feed their children.

The family managed to keep their house, keep their lights on and keep their phone, in order to look for a better job. But they were denied food stamps originally and spent between $25-$50 each month on food for the family of four.

After Riley's husband became eligible to receive social security disability income, the family is now "OK," Riley said.

"Our three basic things that we lacked were water, food and heat," Riley said. "Water was a desperate necessity; you can't cook anything without water, so you might have food, but you can't cook it without water. And we couldn't buy food; we had no money."

"Four years later, we've never slid back, but we found we don't need what we thought we needed to live," she added.

During a Hunger Banquet, guests are randomly assigned high-, middle-, or low-income rankings and are served meals that range from gourmet fare to small portions of rice and water, depending on the guest’s designation. Instead of rice this year, however, guests were served peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, to keep with the theme of the event.

Donations of non-perishable food and canned goods were accepted for the 2008 Holidays Stars Project, a campus-wide holiday service initiative benefiting the Central Illinois Foodbank.

Oxfam America, an affiliate of Oxfam International, is a relief and development organization that works to create lasting solutions to poverty, hunger and injustice. "Oxfam" was the original postal abbreviation for the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, which was started in England during World War II to provide relief to war victims in Europe.

The purpose is of the Oxfam Hunger Banquet is to heighten participants’ awareness of hunger in the U.S. and internationally.

"We are here today because more than one billion Americans and other people around the world suffer from hunger every day," said Lenore Cole, who helped to organize the event. "Almost 37 million Americans live in poverty. Equality and balance do not exist; stark inequalities prevail everywhere."

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