By Chuck Dobrosielski, for the Mitzpeh, @chuckdobro
A local man with a criminal history broke into the corner store Thursday night, stealing several bottles of soda.
It’s fine though; it was a pretend corner store with a pretend shopkeeper selling pretend food from behind surprisingly breakable pretend bulletproof glass at JFarm’s hunger simulation.
“I had to play my character. I realized like ‘Oh, my character is a past criminal,’ as it said on my thing. As the days go by, I get less and less options,” said Eugene Froimchuk, a senior biochemistry and neurophysiology major and president of Challah for Hunger, the event’s co-sponsor.
Around 15 people participated in JFarm’s event at Hillel Thursday night, learning what it’s like to live with food insecurity in the United States through discussion and simulation.
JFarm is a Jewish gardening and environmental and social justice group on campus that runs the garden by Hillel and hosts various social justice events, said the club’s co-president, Adam Kellner, a junior math and finance double major.
Amanda Melara, the hunger education manager for the Capital Area Food Bank led the simulation. She started the event with a group discussion about the facts of hunger in the United States.
“A lot of times I don’t share new information with people, but it’s put together in a way that gives them ‘aha moments,’ which we all need now and then,” Melara said.
Camille Newell, a junior environmental science and policy major who said she cares a lot about agriculture and hunger, specifically in relation to social justice, said she was most surprised to learn that one in six people in the United States face hunger.
“I thought it was eye-opening,” Newell said. “I think the more people who go out to these events, the better, and especially when it comes to the hunger and food and social justice, we just need more activism.”
After the discussion, each participant received an envelope that contained a card describing the identity each participant would take on, the amount of money they had available to use and, for most, a social security card. Identities ranged from single mothers of six to undocumented refugees who could not receive government benefits to Froimchuk’s, a past criminal with $1 per day to spend on food to support his family.
After receiving their identities, participants had 15 minutes to try to use the government services and buy food. People who went to the government services were handed forms that they could not read and were turned away for not having enough need.
The food pantry did not have anyone there to hand out food. Melara said this reflected the reality that many food pantries are only open for two hours per month. Shulamit Shroder operated the corner store, where participants could exchange their money for food, most of which did not have much nutritional value.
Rabbi Charlie Buckholtz, senior Jewish educator at Hillel, said he came to practice empathy, something he thinks is really important. He said he gained a lot from the experience.
“I learned a lot about what the nitty gritty, day to day of being hungry [is] and trying to get food, not just for yourself, but for your family, and how difficult that is and frustrating, how disempowering and humiliating and just overall how hard it is,” Buckholtz said.
Shulamit Shroder, the other co-president of JFarm and a senior environmental science and Spanish double major, said they got the idea for the hunger simulation from her mother, who previously participated in a similar event and praised it highly.
Kellner said he hoped “something like this will inspire [participants] to volunteer their time at soup kitchens or donate food or anything to help the cause.”