Instead of their typical diet of Lean Cuisine meals and salads, members of the Office of Community Engagement ate cheese sandwiches and canned peaches this week.
In order to gain a better understanding of hunger in Williamsburg, these individuals ate only from the list of foods Friends in Service to Him, or FISH, a local non-profit food and clothing bank, provides to residents in need from Nov. 14 to 18.
In addition, Cathey Sudowski, a member of the FISH board of directors, spoke Wednesday about FISH’s endeavors to address the realities of hunger and poverty throughout the Williamsburg community.
“We had a 60 percent increase in new clients to FISH this August compared to last August because people moved to Williamsburg looking for jobs in the hospitality industry but there just weren’t any left,” Sudowski said.
Advisor for Campus Kitchens Chelsea Estanoca, one of the participants in the weeklong altered-lunch endeavor, lamented that hunger affects 21 percent of the Williamsburg population — larger than in Virginia as a whole.
“I think students should care about this issue because one of the underlying factors is that it’s so much more expensive to eat and live in Williamsburg,” Estanoca said. “These realities affect them as well — whether living on or off campus.”
Estanoca relayed that the average cost of a meal in Williamsburg is about $3.30 whereas in the state of Virginia the average cost is approximately $2.80. Coordinator for Student and Community Engagement Elizabeth Miller, another participant in the activity, discussed the realities of these higher expenses.
“What I found so surprising is this trade-off happens where these individuals have such limited funds to pay for medical bills, housing bills and for their children’s health, and somehow food becomes negotiable,” Miller said.
Associate Director of the Office of Community Engagement and Scholarship Melody Porter commented that her experiences with these limited lunches brought attention to the families in particular.
“Though we’ve been dividing the food equally, I know that if I had kids I would want to give them more, so that’s even less for the parents than the already small portion,” Porter said.
As she experienced the meals eaten by many Williamsburg residents, Estanoca thought about the children affected by these circumstances.
“If it’s hard for us to concentrate I can only imagine what it’s like for kids in school who maybe aren’t getting this nutrition at home to try to learn,” Estanoca said.
In order to ease these hardships within the community, organizations like United Way refer individuals to food banks like Operation Hope, Grove Christian Outreach and FISH. According to Joyce O’Brien, United Way Director of Planning for the Greater Williamsburg area, United Way referred about 350 local residents to food banks every month in 2003.
“Though we receive referrals from churches and schools, it’s nice that the majority come from United Way as far as looking at the bigger picture because they have access to so many more resources that just FISH,” Sudowski said.
Despite FISH’s impact — spending over $49,000 on food and $33,000 on toiletries and other items in the past year — Sudowski emphasized the continual need for volunteers and aid to recognize and combat hunger throughout the Williamsburg community and beyond.
“I hope that I have made clear that there are bigger goals than those that our small organization can accomplish,” Sudowski said. “We’re just a band-aid.”