March 10, 2012
By: David Sarasohn
In its current Families Against Hunger Weekend, the Southwest Portland community agency Neighborhood House is launching a bold new strategy for local families and religious groups concerned about Oregon's hunger problem:
And talk about it.
Because, where's a better place to focus on hunger than a dinner table?
"What we're asking people to do," explains Neighborhood House executive director Rick Nitti, "is sit down to dinner with their children and talk about hunger."
And figure out the places the conversation could go.
You could see how the subject could come up. Southwest Portland might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think about hunger -- of course, neither is Oregon, and we all know how that works out -- but need has been spreading through the area like blackberry vines.
Neighborhood House estimates it provides emergency food to 500 families a month, and it recently began a program specifically for seniors. By Oregon Food Bank calculations, from the first quarter of 2008 to the first quarter of 2011, the number of people served in Neighborhood House's emergency food program rose by 117 percent.
In Southwest Portland, near carefully arranged antiques shops and inviting brunch hangouts, it's now not unknown for schools to have more than 50 percent of their students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.
The immediate remedy for hunger is, of course, food, and the most direct goal of Neighborhood House's annual Southwest Hope campaign this year, lasting until April 1, is to bring in 150,000 pounds of food or the cash equivalent. It's a major effort, involving 60 local partners, including businesses, agencies and more than 23 Southwest religious institutions -- Christian, Jewish and Muslim.
But this year, the goal is a bit wider than that -- beyond bringing in canned goods to actually bringing up hunger as a subject. In past years, Southwest Hope had a larger restaurant component, with restaurants generously donating a portion of a day's receipts. That's a smaller part of the package now.
People don't generally talk about hunger in restaurants.
At home, however, it might come up.
"There are people begging on the streets in Portland," points out Neighborhood House development director Mari Yerger. "It's pretty hard not to notice."
What's harder to notice -- what could actually take some conversation -- is the level of hunger that isn't obvious on the street. The national food bank alliance Feeding America, after all, has calculated that Oregon has the highest rate of child food insecurity in the country, meaning that there's a lot of hunger that isn't standing behind a cardboard sign in downtown Portland.
The goal of this weekend is not only to point out the existence of hunger but also to remind people that there are ways -- and yes, agencies -- to deal with it.
"There aren't very many places where you can bring in young children under the age of 12 to volunteer. They can stack the shelves and sort the donations," says Yerger. "We've had a groundswell of support."
It comes out of places such as St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, a longtime supporter of Neighborhood House and Southwest Hope, which holds regular food collection events, such as a Souper Bowl Sunday and an Italian dinner night.
"It's not a holiday thing," says Eva Calcagno of St. Barnabas. "A lot of people feel very generous during Christmas time, but hunger doesn't go away in January."
Calcagno's son Max, a high school senior, is a coordinator of the church's hunger events.
"For me it's important for my kids to understand that their really very comfortable life is not the norm for everybody," explains Calcagno, "but there are ways in this country to deal with that."
It's an interesting point.
In fact, it's something to talk about.
David Sarasohn, associate editor, can be reached at 503-221-8523 or firstname.lastname@example.org. See other writing at oregonlive.com/sarasohn/
March 12, 2012
By: Afshan Ahmed
DUBAI // Ehsan Mohammadpour hates asking for favours but it is the only way he can satisfy his hunger.
For the next five days, the 19-year-old student at the Canadian University of Dubai (CUD) will sit cross-legged on a sleeping bag beside a cardboard sign reading "HELP!", relying on nothing more than the kindness of strangers to get food.
"It's humiliating to ask for food. But if you don't donate, we don't eat," said Mr Mohammadpour, who has set up camp inside the CUD grounds with four fellow squatters.
The students have joined the Five Days for the Homeless campaign, in which 24 universities in Canada will take part this month.
It aims to raise money to support homeless people around the world.
The campaign was founded as part of a student initiative at the University of Alberta School of Business, but became a nationwide cause in Canada in 2008.
This is the first time universities outside Canada have participated. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston is also taking part.
Mr Mohammadpour said they were inspired to join after witnessing poverty in their home countries.
"You don't see homeless people here, but I have lived in Iran and have witnessed their situation there."
He and his friends will camp on the CUD sports grounds for 24 hours a day, without any money or access to technology.
They will rely on handouts for food and any cash they are given will go to charity. They can take short breaks for lectures and to use the bathroom.
Tiwa Ompe, 21, an e-Business student, joined the cause in memory of a Canadian beggar.
"A year ago, while on my way to school in Canada, I saw a homeless person as I was on my way to catch the subway," he said. "On my return, I saw the same guy being carried away by the paramedics. He was dead. That shook me."
Mahdi Shishehgar, a marketing student, is the only one allowed to keep a mobile phone for the group's safety.
He said removing luxuries was the only way to understand the plight of a homeless person.
"It's tough looking for food when you know you can't just buy it, or not having a shelter," he said. "We are trying to experience that but also, through it, do our best to help those who are actually homeless."
Mr Shishehgar said he would miss Facebook the most. "How do you live without it? This is going to be a testing time."
Mohammad Anjum, 17, a telecommunication engineering student, said his biggest concern was being unable to bathe for five days.
"When we were visited by one of the founders of the campaign two weeks ago, he said the second and third day would be the toughest because that's when reality kicks in," said Mr Anjum. "We may not be able to feel the same psychological and physical trauma, but he told us to stay genuine."
The students hope to raise between CA$5,000 and $10,000 (Dh18,000 to Dh37,000) for Homeless International. "We have managed to raise about Dh1,000 and believe our friends and sponsors will pitch in during the week," said Mr Ompe.
Victor Esposito, managing director of the national campaign in Canada, said: "What makes this campaign unique is that it is all about communities supporting communities. We want to ensure that the money collected goes back to local charities and non-profit organisations [and not one global fund].
"We hope to expand to more universities in future years. This campaign has grown so much over the past few years and we expect it to continue growing"
The campaign in Canada, supported by more than 24 campuses this year, aims to raise CA$280,000 (Dh1,038,000) this year. Kamal Fodil, vice president of students affairs at CUD, said this week would be a lesson in empathy for the five students.
"They will understand the hardship for someone living on the streets, especially in countries and cities with extreme temperatures," said Mr Fodil, who worked as a counsellor in Canada.
"Despite not seeing many such cases here, it is good to see how dedicated they are to the cause."
For Mr Mohammadpour, giving up his favourite food for the next few days will be his biggest challenge.
"I feel really bad that I have to ask my friends to get me something to eat but I am already hungry. Can someone get me a KFC?"