Participants, leaders declare week a success

Hunger and Homelessness Week has been a staple of Gannon University’s efforts to give back to the community for many years.

But this year, the Center for Social Concerns and student leaders who together organized the event went back to the drawing board and made some changes.

For many of those involved, these changes – most notably the replacement of Box City with food basket delivering to Nepalese refugees – were deemed successful.

More than 100 students, faculty and staff participated in the putting together, decorating and delivering of culturally appropriate Thanksgiving baskets to 36 refugee families, according to a press release from the Center for Social Concerns.

After the baskets were put together by different organizations, they were displayed on tables in the Waldron Campus Center during the week so people could vote on which one was best. People voted by donating money. All the profits went to the Second Harvest Food Bank, Jessie Badach Hubert, the assistant director for the Center for Social Concerns, said.

Hubert said the value of the baskets – combined with the money raised during the voting collection and at the offertory collections at Masses – comes to more than $2,500. Last year Box City raised $1,400, she said.

Then the baskets were delivered by different Gannon organizations – from students in Greek life to the provost’s office – to the Nepalese families.

Melissa Croston, a senior, occupational therapy major, was one of the three students who decided to make this year’s major project the basket making and delivering. She said the student leaders made that decision based on their experiences on a past service trip to Washington D.C.

Croston said she thinks the new event was a success because she received positive feedback from participants who were touched to actually meet the people they were serving.

“It was nice to be able to see where your donations were going to instead of just dropping them off,” she said.

“You could see how you made their Thanksgiving.”

She also said this Hunger and Homelessness Week didn’t lose any of the competitive spirit that Box City provided in the past.

Due to the basket voting element, it retained that spirit, while adding a more personal, service-oriented element.

Becky Iscrupe, a senior occupational therapy major, participated in the basket project with her sorority Alpha Sigma Tau and she went with one of her sisters to deliver to a family.

During this trip she met a father and his four children. The mother was away.

In spite of a strong language barrier – only one child spoke English, and very little at that – she said felt welcomed by the family’s friendliness.

“The little girl grabbed my hand and brought me into the house,” she said.

According to Iscrupe the family also immediately offered her a seat on the couch and the children were eager to show her their rooms.

She noticed that their home was simple and that the children all wore winter coats and flip flops while inside.

They were grateful to receive the food – which included staples such as bread and potatoes, and various Nepalese items – and devoured it right away.

She said they were excited to see American people, and eager to learn about the culture.

Iscrupe called the experience eye opening.

“It kind of made me realize that I’m grateful to live in America and have what we have as Americans,” she said.

She said she thinks the basket delivery was the highlight of the week and she learned a great deal about the refugee situation in Erie.

She said that she learned Erie has taken in a vast number of Nepalese refugees of late, but this will change.

Ten years from now, a great number of refugees will come from a different country.

Shay Meinzer, Gannon’s director of community development and academic affairs, who also heads up the Erie-GAINS program, said a number of baskets were delivered in the neighborhood worked in by Erie-GAINS.

She delivered baskets to two families – with the provost’s office and the provost’s council.

One family had one small child and the other had a number of high school age children.

All the high schoolers attend East High School in Erie.

The high schoolers told Meinzer that most of their peers have been welcoming and friendly, as they try to adapt to the new environment.

Like Iscrupe, Meinzer experienced a language barrier with one family, but she said their happiness and gratitude at receiving the supplies was apparent.

Meinzer believed the project reaffirmed the need for Gannon to pay attention to the community, while being welcoming, humble and gracious.

“Those around us are different,” she said. “They have different needs, wants and desires.

“Being cognizant of that helps us work together as a community.”

Ken Davis was also brought in to speak as new addition to Hunger and Homelessness Week.

Croston attributed the experience of meeting homeless men in D.C. that partially led student leaders to select Davis.

Davis, a formerly homeless man from Cleveland, drew a crowd of about 60, according to the Center for Social Concerns.

Croston said she thought that Davis’ words were profound, because they were real.

“You don’t get to hear people’s personal stories,” she said.

“When you hear them, you realize it is easy to become homeless yourself.”

Croston claimed Davis – as well as other activities during the week – showed that old stereotypes about homelessness, such as that it stems from laziness and drugs, don’t hold up.

She said that many homeless people are veterans, are afflicted with mental illnesses or have gone to college.

She also hoped this week made people realize that lately there has also been a new crop of people forced out into the streets.

She said middle class people who lose their jobs and can’t afford to pay their mortgages, sometimes lose their housing.

“With the declining economy and some people suffering job loss, it is creating a new population of homeless,” she said.

Meinzer believed this year’s Hunger and Homelessness Week helped to educate people about the problems in the local community, and also gave them a chance to help alleviate those suffering.

“It was a good learning and volunteer experience,” she said. “[It] simultaneously met community need.”

TESSY PAWLOWSKI

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