Hunger Banquet brings awareness to Ogden poverty

The Weber State University Community Involvement Center will host its first hunger banquet in order to demonstrate the socioeconomic disparities found in Ogden. The event will be held Nov. 21 at 6:00 p.m. in the Shepherd Union Building Ballroom A.

“The idea of a hunger banquet is to dramatize and show how poverty affects an area,” said Noel Wilkinson, an AmeriCorps volunteer and Service to America (VISTA) member. “The meals reflect the socioeconomic situation in Ogden city, so people will be able to eat. There just may not be a lot of food to represent what people are going through.”

Guests who purchased wristbands for entry to the banquet with a canned food donation will be randomly assigned a high-, middle- or low-income bracket based on Ogden’s poverty statistics upon arrival. Their seating assignments and meals will reflect their brackets.

According to Wilkinson, other universities have hosted similar banquets, but they focus on hunger from a world-view perspective. The goal of the WSU banquet is to illustrate hunger issues in the school’s community.

“We are focusing on the Ogden area specifically so we can raise awareness of the poverty issues affecting our friends, family and fellow students,” Wilkinson said.

According to the Federal Register, updated in January of this year, the federal government considers a Utah household of four with an income of $22,350 to be living in poverty.

“That number seemed like a lot in college,” Wilkinson said, “but the banquets go through the costs of transportation, childcare, food, housing and health issues that people face on a daily basis that add up, and that money disappears really quick, and you’re not left with anything in many cases.”

The Utah state government allows families that make up to 150 percent of the federal poverty level to qualify for food benefits. That would be $33,525 for a family of four. Based on Census data, the average Ogden household size is 3.14, and 44 percent of households make less than $34,000. This leaves some families with just enough money to not qualify for federal assistance.

Alexis Marquez, chair of the Weber Cares Food Pantry, which started earlier this semester, will also be speaking at the banquet about hunger issues on campus. Items donated in response to publicity for the pantry and the hunger banquet wristbands have helped the food pantry meet the increasing demand, but that is expected to taper off after the event.

“People are definitely listening,” Marquez said about the increase in donations of requested items like grains and cereals, “but after the banquet is over, we will still need more.”

Marquez said the pantry has helped more than 60 people since it opened two months ago, and that they have seen an increase from two or three students a day, to six or seven.

“We get mixture of young students who are living off of peanut butter and jelly and some with families and kids,” Marquez said. “It’s a pretty diverse crowd.”

Karina Martin from the Joyce Hansen Hall Food Bank at Catholic Community Services in Ogden and Jeremy Botelho, executive director of Cottages of Hope will also be presenting information about local poverty issues and ways to help at the event.