By Monica Sager
ClarkU Hillel brought students and community leaders together on April 13 for a Food Insecurity Symposium at Clark University’s Tilton space, as they worked to fight the issue that plagues one in three college students as well as learn how to advocate for themselves.
The Food Insecurity Symposium, which was hosted by graduate student Monica Sager, joined community members from Worcester along with Clark University students and faculty. They came for a meal and discussed the issue of and advocacy efforts behind food insecurity nationally, locally, and directly within Clark’s campus.
Clark’s Associate Dean of Student Kamaro Abubakar, Reverend Clyde Talley of Belmont AME Zion Church, Rabbi Aviva Fellman of Congregation Beth Israel started the event with prayers.
Joseph Corazinni, Clark’s vice president for government and community affairs, and Associate Dean of Students CARE Becca Kitchell welcomed the group of 75 audience members, sharing their experiences around fighting food insecurity.
“There’s always something more that we can do,” Corazinni said. “Hopefully we can lead those conversations ourselves and look more critically.”
Kitchell told of her new position, in which she focuses on supporting students when they need extra assistance socially, emotionally, and academically.
“It’s so important that we work to break down silos…and to turn the you into we,” Kitchell said, adding her own experiences with food insecurity growing up.
Kitchell has worked to implement the Swipe Out Hunger program at Clark.
Steven Schimmel, the executive director for the Jewish Federation of Central Massachusetts provided a historical dimension to the talk, encouraging people to look at how we’ve had to deal with the issue of food insecurity throughout the past and how we are still facing it today.
The message rang clear with Congressman Jim McGovern’s speech as well.
“There is not a campus or a city or a town or a congressional district that is hunger free but too often hunger is brushed under because of policy that hides it,” McGovern said. “That makes it hard for people to find the help they need.”
McGovern went on to share how the stereotypes that people hold of who is on SNAP is quite the opposite of who actually is utilizing the governmentally supported program. Trying to end SNAP is a “good sound bite,” he said too, but it’s not what we need right now.
“We live in the richest country in the history of the world. We have the money. We have the food. We have the infrastructure. We have the ideas,” McGovern said. “We lack the political will.”
It’s a monumental effort just to not end food insecurity. Bills rack up because people end up in the hospital or need support each and every year. The end is clear, McGovern said.
“There needs to be dignity in this whole process,” McGovern said. “We need to understand the diversity in this whole process.”
And that’s what the local heroes showed the audience Wednesday. Echo Louissaint, who went to Clark 20 years ago, encouraged everyone to use their voices “because what am I but a woman with a story?”
Louissaint was one of the founders of the Worcester Community Fridges. She said that just like her, anyone in the room could start a movement.
“If you are an advocate the main job you have is bringing your voice and to make everyone else passionate about it,” Louissaint said.
Charles Luster, the executive director of 2Gether We Eat, joined those sentiments, adding that we need to think outside of the box. If one in five kids don’t know if they will have dinner tonight, then it is our job to be an agent of change and work to creatively seek out solutions.
“The unique thing about agents of change is that they see something unique that you don’t,” Luster said. “Hunger doesn’t discriminate.”
Tim Garvin, the President and CEO of United Way of Central Massachusetts, rounded out the talks.
“40 million people – I can’t understand how big that number is,” Garvin said. “But I can understand one story.”
Garvin shared his own stories of working with those who are food insecure within Worcester and ensuring everyone has the right to a meal. One story can make an impact, he told.
“Without judgment, meet the people,” Garvin said. “There are a thousand opportunities. Take them. Don’t be silent.”
At the tables, community members and students were able to read about programs throughout Worcester and at Clark that work to fight food insecurity as well as have the opportunity to write postcards to their senators and representatives to encourage them to act now and provide aid to those in need.
“ClarkU Hillel students work hard organizing to fight food insecurity all year long,” said Jeff Narod, the ClarkU Hillel Executive Director. “Hillel is proud to bring together so many organizational leaders from our Clark campus and from the Greater Worcester community for a Food Insecurity Symposium with a goal to promote working together and focusing on much needed solutions to fight hunger.”
The Symposium came as a vision through the work of the club and particularly Sager, the Community and Communications Intern for ClarkU Hillel. Sager has worked with what is now called Nazun for the past four years to find solutions at Clark University for those who cannot afford the meal plan.
“I have seen a lot more growth and interest by the administration and deans within the past few years in how to help the students and support them,” Narod said.
Sager has been the principal liaison for the students as ClarkU Hillel has made weekly trips to the Worcester Community Fridges, a volunteer effort the group has done together for over a year now.
Throughout the week of April 11, students at Clark University also donated food to El Buen Samaritano Food Program Inc., which is located at 39 Piedmont St. in Worcester. Students donated non-perishable food items to the community organization, which works to battle hunger and address the issue through education and advocacy. Mari Gonzalez, the executive director of El Buen Samaritano, was also present at the Symposium on the 13th.