This week, the Civic and Community Engagement Center is hosting Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week (HHAW), where students will have the opportunity to learn about and experience poverty.
Ramapo students will be able to experience poverty firsthand at the third annual OxFam Hunger Banquet, learn about the fast food industry and poverty in the New Jersey and New York area through presentations and panels, and participate in service projects throughout the week.
While hunger and homelessness may seem hidden from view on a college campus, surrounding communities in Bergen County and across New Jersey are struggling with food insecurity and homeless men, women and children daily.
NorthJersey.com reported in 2011 that the poverty level in Bergen County has increased by 75 percent over the past 20 years. The 2013 poverty rate for the county stands at an outstanding 18.4 percent and many nonprofit shelters report an increase in homelessness.
Unable to accommodate the increased numbers of homeless people, Family Promise, a coalition of religious congregations that provides shelter for homeless families on a rotating basis, has been forced to turn away many families because of the lack of space in their facilities.
Known nationally as an affluent area, Bergen County is often quick to be overlooked as a place where poverty exists, but the suburbs have been affected just as much as larger cities like Paterson and Newark, which are historically known to struggle economically in the past 40 to 50 years.
Many Ramapo clubs and organizations are running Thanksgiving- and Christmas-themed food and coat drives and events throughout the months of November and December.
Fraternity Alpha Phi Delta (APD) is hosting a Turkey Jam this Friday, a concert featuring artists and bands from Ramapo to benefit The Community FoodBank of New Jersey. APD is raising money and non-perishable food by charging $5 for entry, and with every donated can of food, students will get $1 off their admission price. Sorority Tri Sigma and the National Society for Collegiate Scholars (NSCS) are hosting a coat drive running through Dec. 13 to collect hats, scarves, coats and gloves in good condition to be donated to a clothing shelter. Clothing items should be dropped off in the red boxes in the Women's Center in C-wing.
Throughout the rest of the week, the CCEC is offering students other CEC opportunities and chances to learn about the reality of hunger and homelessness and its impact on New Jersey and New York communities.
As part of HHAW, the movie "The Line," which documents the stories of people across the country living at or below the poverty line, was screened on Monday followed by discussion questions after.
On Tuesday, the "So You Think You Know the Struggle?" panel was held and participating panelists included Jeanne Martin from Pascack Valley Meals on Wheels, an organization that delivers food to seniors and disabled people across Bergen County.
"Many people don't realize that Bergen County actually has the highest senior population in New Jersey," Martin explained.
Other panelists included John Paul from New Jersey Institute of Technology's Extra Mile program, who spoke about feeding the homeless sandwiches at Newark Penn Station. Junior Cara Daniello, who volunteers almost every Friday at Extra Mile, also spoke as a panelist.
"People ask me why I would want to spend my Friday nights there," Daniello said. "I tell them that I wouldn't want to be doing anything else. People have no idea how rewarding it is."
The week continues with the third annual OxFam Hunger Banquet, a poverty simulation based on real-world statistics. Students were placed into low, middle or high economic statuses, which will determine their meal for the night.
Professor Martha Ecker's "Do You Want Fries with That?" presentation will take place in the Alumni Lounges on Thursday, where Ecker will present on the fast food industry and how it plays a major role in economic disparity in America, and the major health concerns that have resulted from franchising fast food restaurants.
Service trips are offered through OrgSync throughout the week, including trips to Eva's Kitchen, Oasis: A Haven for Women and Children, both in Paterson, N.J., Extra Mile in Newark, N.J. and House on the Hill, a preschool that is part of the federally funded Head Start program, a unique agri-business made up of students of the preschool primarily from immigrant families, particularly migrant workers in New York state.
Students, clubs and organizations can continue combatting hunger and homelessness after HHAW ends. One possible suggestion includes collecting food or fundraising for Center for Food Action (CFA), a food bank located in Mahwah, N.J. that needs food and monetary donations year round. If students have further questions or want to find volunteer opportunities, they should contact firstname.lastname@example.org, call 201-684-7586, and sign up for events and service trips on OrgSync.com.