Hundreds of students turn out for Hunger Banquet at UCF
The line to enter the Pegasus Ballroom stretched down to the UCF seal in the center of the Student Union. Everyone involved in the 21st Annual Hunger Banquet, hosted by Volunteer UCF on Monday, was shocked at the voluminous turnout.
The final count was 296 students in attendance. As each entered the ballroom, he or she was handed a ticket at random representing a socioeconomic status: high-, middle- or low-income class.
Once inside, students were confronted by a large patch of old newspapers spread across the floor, which was covered in used water bottles and other assorted trash. This was the sitting area for the low-income class.
Across from the stage was the high-income class seating area. Tables were set up with formal place settings, and a red velvet rope sealed them off. The middle-income seating area was to the left and was composed of aisles of chairs without tables.
"Becoming educated on an issue is the first step in working to fight that issue and being here tonight is a great step to take," Tara Nath, a member of the Hunger and Homelessness Committee, said in an address to the audience.
The goal of the event was to educate students through talks with community members and the interactive element of the class-division exercise.
P.J. Charles, who represented Straight Street Orlando, was the first speaker of the night. Hunched over the podium, Charles recounted a mission trip he took to Bolivia.
"A hungry man doesn't want to hear about Jesus when he can't hear your voice over the sound of his stomach grumbling," Charles said.
Eric Gray, the executive director of the Community Food & Outreach Center, cited Orlando as the No. 1 tourist destination in the world, but mentioned how it is also home to the largest homeless population of any mid-size city in the United States.
Speaker Unique Love offered a personal perspective on homelessness.
"Being homeless is scary, especially when you're a woman by yourself and you can't see," she said.
Love was blinded when men cleaning her building's air ducts did an inadequate job, causing fiberglass and insolation to land in her eyes.
She was on Social Security Disability Benefits, but her niece didn't fill her forms out correctly and Love found herself on the streets.
"Whenever you guys see someone who is homeless, don't look down on them, because it hurts," Love said. "I know; I'm a witness."
Students were fed food based on their social status. Those representing the high-income class were served a salad and New York strip steak by a staff of waiters.
Students representing the middle-income class had to leave their seats to fetch sandwiches for themselves while the lower-income class was given rice for dinner.
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"We get more requests for people who want to volunteer the week of Thanksgiving than any other week of the year. We wish people would consider volunteering all year-round, but we're certainly very appreciative of any volunteerism people can give," Gray said from behind his table, as students ate their meals.
Alice Neira, the Hunger and Homelessness Director for VUCF, began planning the event over the summer and has been working hard to make everything come together seamlessly.
"I think it was really successful. My goal was to have 230 attendees, and the final count was 296 so that was really amazing," Neira said.
Once students dispersed, the members of VUCF all gathered in a circle to reflect on the event. Everyone was dressed in black except for Neira who was wearing a bright yellow dress.
She concluded the night by saying the event was "definitely" a success.