Williamsburg’s thriving tourism industry, along with the College of William and Mary’s large population of affluent students and faculty, would suggest poverty isn’t a problem in the area. But in reality, one in four residents of the Williamsburg area live in a state of food insecurity, which the USDA defines as a consistent lack of food due to “a lack of money and other resources at times during the year.”
Oxfam America at the College of William and Mary and Students for Stop Hunger Now are two student organizations working to raise awareness of local poverty and hunger issues. The two groups are holding a collaborative food drive from Sept. 23 to 27 to benefit FISH Inc., a local poverty alleviation group that works in the Williamsburg and James City County areas.
Donations of non-perishable items can be made at the Crust, Aroma’s, Retro’s Good Eats and the Sadler Center. Students are encouraged to buy inexpensive products like canned foods or macaroni and cheese at the Students’ Exchange with Flex points.
“Helping out can really be as simple as using some extra Flex points,” Oxfam member Allison Doane ’16 said.
Kate Brown ’16 explained that Stop Hunger Now usually focuses its efforts as an organization on international hunger issues by preparing packaged meals that are sent abroad to famished areas, but they wanted to collaborate with Oxfam to impact the local community.
“A lot of people when they think of hunger just think of starving kids in Africa. People know the issue’s there but they don’t understand how they can help,” Brown said. “With the local drive we want to show hunger isn’t just an ‘elsewhere’ problem.”
Although Oxfam has an international mission, the group’s Vice President Daniela Sainz ’15 said they want to orient the College’s Oxfam chapter toward the problems found in the surrounding area.
“This year we are really trying to work in the community and try and make an impact in the immediate area,” Sainz said.
The group has several initiatives planned that aim to spread awareness and help local citizens.
Later in the fall, Oxfam is partnering with the Wesley Foundation and Williamsburg United Methodist Church to hold a Global Hunger Banquet. At a ‘Hunger Banquet’, guests receive a card upon their arrival that ascribes them an income level and a brief background story. Most people in attendance will be in the lowest income bracket and receive a meager cup of rice for their meal. The middle group gets a cup of rice and beans.
The smallest group in attendance, the high-income bracket, dines on a full meal with meat and side dishes — a stark contrast to the other two income levels. Doane said hunger banquets are designed to demonstrate the widespread problem of hunger and food insecurity.
“We use that as a platform to discuss the power dynamics that relate to poverty and hunger as a global issue,” Doane said. “We are going to use this same format to put on a Williamsburg Hunger Banquet in the spring to help raise awareness of local hunger statistics.”
Oxfam is also considering entering the Big Ideas Competition, a program sponsored by the University of California Berkley, the College and AidData. In the competition, teams create a proposal for a project relating to one of several categories, such as Global Poverty Alleviation and Clean and Sustainable Energy Alternatives. Members of Oxfam have discussed developing a food recovery program, in which surplus foods produced by cafeterias, grocers and restaurants are distributed to those in need.
“We’ve talked about developing a program locally where leftovers from the Caf and Sadler are given to churches. For this we want to come up with something more generalized, a system that isn’t just a college-church relationship that can be applied in different areas,” Doane said.
The group is currently looking for additional team members to help with their Big Ideas project.
Students for Stop Hunger Now plans to spend the semester fundraising to help pay for the meals they package and send to impoverished areas. Each meal costs only a quarter to produce, but their goal for the semester is 10,000 meals.
Oxfam meetings are held Thursday at 6 p.m. in James Blair Hall 215, and Students for Stop Hunger Now meets Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in Blair 217.