Hungry, homeless take focus

Gannon University’s Center for Social Concerns is preparing for its annual Hunger and Homelessness Week, and although the list of activities for this year’s event differs from previous years, the Gannon community still has the opportunity to impact the lives of less fortunate families.

The week, which this year will run from Nov. 10-19, has been fully supported by the Gannon community for at least a decade, according to Jessie Badach Hubert, assistant director of the Center for Social Concerns. Hubert said that coordinating the event around Thanksgiving gives students the chance to pause and reflect on their thankful wishes as well as devote some time to helping families in need.

ful wishes as well as devote some time to helping families in need.

“It’s usually held right before Thanksgiving break so that students and Gannon community members have in their minds the things that we have to be thankful for,” Hubert said. “But we also have the chance to use our time, gifts and abilities to do meaningful work before Thanksgiving for other people.”

In years past, one of the most well-known campus events held during Hunger and Homelessness Week has been Box City, in which participating groups constructed cardboard boxes, stood along A.J.’s Way and begged passersby for change donations.

Last year’s proceeds, which included Box City, exceeded $1,400 for Hunger and Homelessness Week.

Hubert said that the reason Box City is no longer a part of the week’s festivities is because of the negative stereotyping that was inherent in the premise of the event.

“This year, our student leadership team decided that there are better programs we can do that break down stereotypes about homelessness rather than sometimes promote them,” Hubert said.

“While Box City was great in its ability to raise money for local organizations, there really wasn’t a strong educational component.”

Drew McGuire, a junior nursing major and former Phi Eta Sigma president, said that he doesn’t think the concept of Box City as demeaning to the homeless.

“Personally, I don’t see it as being stereotypical,” McGuire said. “I’m sure that being in an institution of higher education, people know that not all homeless people live in boxes.”

McGuire said he was disappointed that the Center for Social Concerns put an end to Box City because he believed the event was more about Gannon students coming together to raise money for a greater cause, and not just about the stereotypes.

“I thought it was always a Gannon tradition, and I think it’s a real disappointment that the tradition is disappearing,” McGuire said.

“I believe it’s a disappointment that they feel that way, because I’m sure that other students don’t.”

Hubert said that she is aware of the grumbling about the end of Box City, but she is excited for the new events of this year’s Hunger and Homelessness Week.

“I would encourage those students who are disappointed to explore these new opportunities to get involved through the keynote event and the Thanksgiving basket collection,” Hubert said.

“And I would challenge them to think of homelessness issues in a more creative and maybe accurate way than cardboard boxes can represent.

“We’re challenging people to go beyond the box this year.”

Hunger and Homelessness Week 2011 kicks off with its keynote event, a lecture from Ken “Dog Man” Davis, who spent more than 25 years on the streets.

Davis’ event will feature a light soup dinner and will be held from 6-7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 10 in Waldron Campus Center’s Yehl Ballroom.

Hubert said that Davis’ story will be an excellent educational experience for students to become more sensitive to homelessness issues.

“There are just tremendous educational opportunities to overcome stereotypes about what it means to be homeless, what it means to be hungry and how you got that way,” Hubert said.

“Then we can overcome them to develop real, loving relationships that can create a more socially just world.”

Hubert said that in addition to other events, the big fill-in for Box City will be the Thanksgiving Basket Project. Student, faculty and staff groups will be asked to fill baskets with food to give to Erie’s refugee families.

Each basket will then be decorated and displayed in Waldron in a “Penny War” competition, in which students will get to vote for their favorite baskets by depositing change into the group’s collection can.

The proceeds from the donations will benefit Second Harvest Food Bank.

The student, faculty and staff groups will then deliver their baskets to refugee families at the end of the week.

The groups will also spend some time getting to know the families.

Hubert said she projects this year’s Hunger and Homelessness Week to be successful.

“Between the value of the food baskets, the value of the donations in the cans for the penny wars, and also the invaluable dimension of people actually doing service projects and meeting folks who are struggling with these issues in a very real way, I imagine we can equal or surpass the impact that we had last year,” she said.

DAN KUBACKI

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