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Hunger Is Not A Game: A Teen Issue Summit on Hunger Awareness and Advocacy

Read this story in the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Philanthropic Network Blog

Detroit, Michigan faces a series of challenges, but this did not scare away the dedicated teens of BBYO. On November 10-12, nearly 80 Jewish teens flooded in to Detroit to learn about the issue of hunger in the U.S., help those in the Michigan community experiencing hunger and gain the tools necessary to advocate for individuals in their home communities.

I had the pleasure of serving as one of four teen coordinators who helped plan the summit with BBYO staff and I could not have asked for a better experience.

The energy in the room was full of excitement as the first activity began: The participants were split into mock families and were given roles to play. A span of 15 minutes was considered a week’s time and, in this time, the parents of each family needed to obtain food for their family, go to work and run extra errands while keeping their house secure and preparing their children for school every morning.

Next, everyone worked together to weigh the options to beat a game called Play Spent, which tested how long one would be able to live on minimum wage. The simulation opened everyone’s eyes to the daily struggles people experiencing hunger face everyday.

Part of the Summit involved visiting three of the Detroit area’s leading food banks–Gleaners Community Food Bank, Forgotten Harvest and Yad Ezra–and everyone was excited to physically make a difference.

As part of the group who worked at Gleaners, we spent hours packing snack bags for food insecure children (meaning they did not have enough food or money to live healthfully and they may not know where their next meal would come from) to ensure that they had some nourishment throughout the weekend.

Collectively, BBYO teens donated approximately 400 pounds of food to these food banks and packaged over 20,000 pounds of food to distribute to those in need.

We continued to learn about poverty’s effect on hunger through a BBYO hosted Oxfam Hunger Banquet. Everyone was served a different amount of food based on their mock social status, assigned to us at the beginning of the activity. We were either members of the high-income, middle-income or low-income group. The majority of teens, those in the low-income group, sat on the floor with a minimal serving of rice without a fork, while the higher-income groups received either full meals or side dishes.

The teens assigned to the low-income group were baffled when they realized their friends received more food than they did. Stressed, hungry and angry, the participants were given a first-hand look at what it means to be hungry.

As the activity progressed, we were given specific identities of people in these groups. I played the part of a seven year old girl whose parents had died. She lived with her younger brother and grandparents, and they were food insecure.

Going through the motions, attending school and working, demonstrated the hardships of a life in poverty and how hard it can be to obtain food for your family. The educational activities helped us all to gain perspective and appreciate everything we have, taking nothing, especially food, for granted.

Throughout the three days, all of the participants showed more than a mere interest in the topic; indeed the desire to help was tangible.

On the final day of the Summit, we were joined by a representative from MAZON who walked us through the Paper Plate Campaign, which involved writing letters to legislators on paper plates to get their attention. As a group, we wrote letters to President Obama after discussing how to best advocate against and fight hunger. We wrote about why this issue is important to us and the millions experiencing hunger in America and shared our concerns about cutting the budget for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This was followed by discussions of how we can fight hunger in our home towns. Everyone left with a long list of ideas to help their communities.

I feel so fortunate that I was able to coordinate the Summit; I got so much more out of it than expected: a community of like-minded peers, expanded knowledge surrounding hunger and poverty and new ways to advocate for others. Being surrounded by nearly 80 other teens who feel the same as I do, who all have the desire to fix an issue and make a difference, is truly incredible.

This experience with BBYO was invaluable and irreplaceable. I am encouraged to continue fighting for the issues I believe in!

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