As the temperature chills in South Bethlehem and students bundle up to stay warm, one student cannot help but think of the men and women in the community who are not so fortunate.
Ashley Pritchard ‘09 has coordinated an entire week of events to create awareness among the student body about global hunger and homelessness. Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, which kicks off Monday, will feature a series of events to reveal the harsh reality behind these social issues.
“We are trying to raise awareness about hunger and homelessness and expose stereotypes of what Lehigh students perceive the homeless to act like,” Pritchard says. “[Students] think they are all alcoholics or drug users, and that’s actually not why people are homeless.”
Starting on Monday, there will be reminders across campus of the destitution that exists both on the outskirts of Lehigh’s campus and on an international level. Clotheslines depicting facts about poverty issues and a giant photo display of the men, women and children who suffer from hunger and homelessness will be set up in the Ulrich Student Center throughout the week. Shirts revealing shocking statistics will be sold for students to help spread knowledge.
The events will begin by giving students the chance to make and donate food for people in the area. Volunteers can join the Office of Community Service in the upper UC on Monday to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to feed the children of the South Bethlehem Neighborhood Center. The community service office is also organizing a trip to serve food to the residents of Victory House.
Tuesday’s main event includes the FACES Panel, featuring members of the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington D.C., accompanied by local speakers who have lived at extreme poverty levels in the Bethlehem area.
A sleep-out will take place on Wednesday night on the front lawn of the University Center. Students are encouraged to spend the night outdoors to get a taste of what it is to be homeless.
“Students didn’t know people were homeless right outside of our door,” Pritchard says. “Spending the night in February on cold concrete puts a damper on reality and how hard being homeless really is.”
The week of events will finish with a Hunger Banquet. Upon entering, students will be assigned an identity, Pritchard says. Their meal will be determined by the socioeconomic category in which they are randomly placed.
The banquet will be based on national statistics in order to make more students aware of what is happening in nearby communities.
“I think a lot of people just don’t realize that Bethlehem itself has local poverty issues,” Pritchard says. “When we ask students to estimate numbers, they are way off. [The banquet] raises awareness and changes their perspectives.”
Reality vs. perception
Carolina Hernandez, Lehigh’s director of community service, says she wants to motivate students to act locally.
“The week is designed to get people to think differently about what the reality is versus the perception,” Hernandez says.
Both Hernandez and Pritchard agree that the previous year’s Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week was a success. Pritchard recalls last year’s events such as the sleep-out, in which 20 students assembled in front of the UC in 18-degree weather to share stories at a candlelight vigil.
“What surprised me the most was the individual stories students brought to discussion,” she says. “I just didn’t anticipate it.”
Pritchard says she is looking forward to this year’s FACES panel, although she has attended similar events numerous times.
“No matter how often you see it, it’s always a different panel and the stories people are willing to share about their lives and how they arrive to that dire situation is so incredibly moving,” she says.
Hernandez commends Pritchard for her ability to expand previous hunger and homelessness programs into a week-long series of events. The team effort between Hernandez and Pritchard was inspired by the poverty they witnessed in their hometowns of Miami and San Francisco, respectively.
The passion they feel for this cause is evident in the success of their programs.
“The overall positive reactions are amazing,” Hernandez says. “It is nice to see students wearing last year’s hunger and homelessness t-shirts. It’s amazing how [the events] have sparked conversations. I am proud of all the programs we were able to offer.”
Schedule of events
• Clothesline of donated clothes presenting facts about poverty in Ulrich Student Center
• Photo display of hunger and homelessness issues in Ulrich
• Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week long-sleeved shirts sold from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the upper UC
Monday, Feb. 18
• Sandwich-making for the South Bethlehem Neighborhood Center in the Upper UC from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
• Student trip to the Victory House from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 19
• FACES panel discussion in Packard 101 at 7 p.m.
• Letter Writing Campaign in the Upper UC from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Wednesday, Feb. 20
• Sleep-out at 8 p.m. on the UC front lawn
Thursday, Feb. 21
• Hunger Banquet at 6:30 p.m. in UC 308