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Ridgefield Academy Students Sample Taste Of World Hunger Issues

Ridgefield Academy recently hosted its third annual Oxfam Hunger Banquet. Photo Credit: Contributed by Margaret Cissel
Some students ate rice and beans. Photo Credit: Contributed by Margaret Cissel
Ridgefield Academy's also shopped with a small amount of money to simulate the hardships many families encounter. Photo Credit: Contributed by Margaret Cissel

RIDGEFIELD, Conn. -- Ridgefield Academy hosted its third annual Oxfam Hunger Banquet as part of its mission to develop students who are compassionate, community-minded individuals.

The luncheon emphasizes the disparities regarding hunger and poverty in the world. The school also devoted an entire day to raising student awareness of local and global hunger, providing students with a better understanding of the challenges many people face regarding finances and nutrition.

“We dedicated an entire day to the ‘learning’ aspect of Service Learning for this program,” said Kate Howell, Ridgefield Academy’s Service Learning Coordinator. “In addition to taking a look at global hunger, we also had speakers from the Connecticut Food Bank come and do sessions for all students, grades four through eight, that centered around hunger on a local level. We also addressed nutrition and health facts faced by those who experience food insecurity. All students watched the movie, A Place at the Table, participated in the Hunger Banquet and a few advisory sessions, and created a square, word-art ‘patch’ that is now on display outside of our dining area.”

Students experienced food and nutrition disparity first-hand. At lunchtime, students entered their dining area and drew tickets assigning them to an income tier – high, middle or low – that reflected the latest global statistics on the number of people living in poverty.

Based on their assignments, students were invited to eat a well-balanced meal that consisted of the delicious choices high-income families typically enjoy (just 15 percent of the students); given rice and beans if they received a middle-income level ticket; or, if one of the 50 percent of students holding a low-income ticket, asked to sit on the floor for small portions of rice and water. Children with high-income level tickets ate with utensils; low-income ticket holders ate with their hands. The experience was eye opening for all involved.

“I felt sad and angry, knowing that people have to live this way every day,” said one student with a low-income ticket. Others explained that the experience made them realize how lucky they were to “come home to a meal every day.”

The Connecticut Food Bank sessions were equally impactful. Hunger 101, for example, encouraged students to navigate the hardships of a family profile, by simulating shopping with a just a small amount of money to spend on food. After explaining to students that they could also apply for assistance through the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps), one student was shocked to find that many families living in poverty don’t even qualify for aid. The Grade 5 student noted, “Some people – most people – couldn’t get money from SNAP even though they were broke or had little money. I can’t even grasp the idea of extreme hunger like that.”

At the end of the program, students received a healthy snack to ensure that they were well nourished for their afternoon activities.

Ridgefield Academy hosts programs like the Oxfam Banquet as part of its commitment to Service Learning, a curriculum component that nurtures strong student character, civic-minded responsibility and empathetic citizenship that extends from the school to the outside world.

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