Students Fight World Hunger

October 28, 2008

Wrapped in torch red capes, and donning white t-shirts and baseball caps embroidered with “Be a Hunger Action Hero,” a handful of BMCC students spent an afternoon in Times Square earlier this month urging New Yorkers to “Fight World Hunger,” while handing out empty Dixie cups symbolizing what roughly one billion people around the world eat before going to bed every night.

The BMCCers were among dozens of volunteers marking World Hunger Week by spreading out across the city — other groups hit Union Square, Penn Station and Port Authority — hoping to enlighten New Yorkers to one of the world’s worst health epidemics. The group was also trying to drive citygoers to a first-of-its-kind interactive action center run by the global relief and development organization Mercy Corps. The center, opened on Oct. 16 (World Food Day), is located at 6 River Terrace in Battery City Park, just blocks south of BMCC.

“We decided to build this center because we want to invest here in the states — to educate Americans about the hunger situation,” said Helen Thompson, a communications officer with Mercy Corps. “But we also want to invigorate people; to tell them ‘you have a role to play.’ And we think the interactive nature of the action center will get people motivated.”

The BMCC scholarship contract requires all scholars to volunteer or provide services for BMCC or community events at some point while going here. For BMCC and its students, collaboration with the Mercy Corps was a no-brainer, considering the issue, and the location of the new center. Students jumped at the chance to get involved.

Devlyn O’Connor, for instance, was a bartender for 18 years, before recently giving birth to her first daughter. At that point, she decided to go back to school entering BMCC’s nursing program this fall. Why? “I wanted to feel like I was making a difference,” she said, fitting her role as a volunteer.

“There are a lot of worthy causes out there,” said O’Connor, “but I find this one to be particularly worthy — it’s the number one health crisis in the world.”

For Wioleta Jaworska, a business student, living in New York City is enough to open her eyes to the plight of too many. Indeed, the city estimates there are more than 35,000 homeless people, and roughly 3 million residents of the city struggle to feed themselves and their families each day, according to Mercy Corps’ Thompson.

“Living in the city, I see hungry people everyday,” said Jaworska, who added she shells out a few dollars almost every day — maybe $2 or $3 — to people that look homeless and hungry. “I feel sorry for them. I feel empathetic.”

And while Thompson, the Mercy Corps’ communications officer, would be happy if New Yorkers felt any sense of compassion for the hungry, she would like to see a sense of involvement, too.

“You don’t have to go overseas to get involved in the fight against hunger,” said Thompson, who wore a Mercy Corps shirt reading “Be the change,” a play on the famous Mahatma Ghandi quotation. “Buy fair trade goods, conserve energy, consider how your actions impact climate change, even make financial donations — all of this will help people in third-world countries, people who are less fortunate.”

Eventually, Thompson would like to see this all translate from a social cause to a movement with consequence.

“Ultimately, we want to create political will,” she said. “We want the power to make our political leaders enact laws that are best for everyone.”



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