NJ bill brings Oxfam Hunger Banquet closer to home

Photo by Scott Yunker

A recently-proposed bill package in the New Jersey State Assembly localized a global issue at the Civic & Community Engagement Center’s annual Oxfam America Hunger Banquet, held Wednesday night in the Alumni Lounges.

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin announced legislation aimed at reducing food insecurity within New Jersey on Monday morning. The bills will be heard in committee on Nov. 29.

“We’re linking the issue of global poverty and hunger to the local level,” said Karen Booth, an assistant director of Ramapo’s Center for Student Involvement and staff leader of CCEC.

One of the proposed bills, known as the Hunger-Free Campus Act, was addressed during the public Q&A segment of the event. One student at the microphone urged his peers to show their support of the bill on the steps of the state house.

“It will establish a grant program to address food insecurity among students enrolled in public institutions of higher education,” said Allison Goddard, a senior and CCEE student co-manager who presided over the banquet, who also asked attendees to “pay attention” to the assembly’s decision.

The banquet is geared as a simulation based on world hunger statistics. Participants are assigned names, income levels and backstories upon entry to the event and instructed to move toward assigned seating. The majority of the nearly 100 students in attendance were positioned on the floor amidst crumpled newspapers, while some sat at tables representing the near-middle class. A select few, designated as upper class, were seated at smaller tables toward the back of the room.

Goddard and her co-presenter, sophomore and CCEC student coordinator Kripesh Ranabhat, then asked a select number of students from each income-based class level to stand. Some, in the role of farmers met with a bad harvest, were moved from the middle-class tables to the floor. Others, who began the night as lower-class seamstresses, were told they had secured a lucrative contract and asked to move up on the socioeconomic ladder.

The upper-class attendees were served a multi-course meal before the middle class was asked to serve itself a small portion of rice and beans. Those in the lower class were given a handful of rice served on a napkin with a small glass of water.

The simulation was more effective than a lecture in teaching students the widespread nature of poverty in the world, said Ranabhat.

“People get to experience it firsthand.”

Ranabhat was moved by the number of students placed in the low-income category.

“I was asking my co-peers why there were so many low-income people,” he said, “and they replied, ‘exactly.’”

Oxfam was founded in 1942 by activists based at the University of Oxford in England seeking to aid refugees during World War II. The organization’s North American branch opened in 1970. Like its parent organization, Oxfam America is a nonprofit dedicated to eliminating poverty throughout the world. According to its website, a bulk of Oxfam’s funds (46.2 percent) are directed toward areas in Africa and the Middle East.