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A New View

December 2, 2014

Kathleen Burns, Marketing Assistant in University Ministry, shares her reflection on service and this year’s Hunger Banquet.

The immediate mental picture that accompanies homelessness is often that of a physically unkempt man on a busy street corner with a cardboard sign. Simply doing a Google Image search of the term ‘homeless’ confirms that generalized image: a man, a corner, and a sign. I too held this stereotype of what homelessness looked like and always figured that there was some foreign reason I didn’t understand, that caused a person to end up without a home and hungry. However, this year my vision and understanding of homelessness and hunger has significantly changed through my experiences in both Service in the Streets and in attending the recent Hunger Banquet.

Where Service in the Streets allowed me to have the amazing experience of connecting with the homeless in Chicago and hearing their stories, the Hunger Banquet confirmed what I had learned from those I had met in Chicago: that the homeless service in the streets logo 2and hungry are not unlike me or anyone else at all. I learned about the many complex and difficult decisions that those who are hungry and on the brink of homelessness deal with every single day. At the banquet, each table was given a laptop to access an online simulator that recreated what it was like to be in that situation. There were choices such as, going to a loved one’s funeral or missing it to save money, or attending your child’s school play or skipping it to not miss a day’s pay at work, or even leaving a note after you bumped into someone’s car or performing a hit-and-run because you can’t afford to pay the insurance. Each decision was more difficult than the last. It helped me realize that hunger banquet logo newpeople in these situations don’t really have a choice out. They are put into a box that forces them to choose between two extremely hard decisions.

Another lesson that struck me was brought up by the discussion leader at my table. During the banquet, each table was assigned a discussion leader from Dominican’s Graduate School of Social Work. My leader made the point that the obvious symptoms of homelessness and hunger are physical, such as not being able to buy medicine or being cold and hungry. However, those are not the only pressures that weigh on someone in that position. Being on the verge of homelessness disrupts the family dynamic and puts enormous emotional stress on everyone involved. Children in these homes can feel resentful or hurt that their parent isn’t around for them as much because they are at work all the time. The parent in turn, feels guilty for not being able to be there, but can’t because the family needs the money to survive. Over-working and hunger combined takes a huge toll on them as well. I never fully realized all the small but extremely impactful issues that families on the verge of losing their home face every day.

While I ate soup and salad, along with the bread brought by other banquet attendees, I reflected on everything I had learned and how grateful I was for never having to worry about where my next meal is coming from. As we now transition into the holiday season, I aim to show my gratitude by helping those in need. Through Service in the Streets and the Hunger Banquet, I see that every effort towards providing food, conversation, and warmth to the hungry and the homeless makes a huge impact. Volunteering at soup kitchens, homeless shelters, Service in the Streets, or even just smiling and donating to anyone you see in need on the street are all great ways to help during this holiday season. As I push myself, I also urge everyone to spread love, joy, and help as much as possible this year.

A special thanks to all those involved in putting on this year’s Hunger Banquet: Office of Community Based Learning, Amnesty International, Office of Student Involvement, Graduate School of Social Work, and Eco Club.

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