Co- Arts & Entertainment Editor
Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week (HHAW) is a nationwide event that began here at the University.
The initiative started in 1975 with a Villanova Augustinian named Father Ray Jackson and a group of dedicated students who saw the power of educating students on issues of global poverty.
The week seeks to combine education and charity to raise awareness about the problem of hunger and homelessness both locally and globally.
Given the history of the week, HHAW at the University attracts experts in the problems of hunger and homelessness.
This year, the keynote speaker is Janet Poppendieck, author of “Sweet Charity: Emergency Food and the End of Entitlement.” She is an expert on immediate food assistance programs and the impact they have on our society.
Poppendieck spoke to an overflowing audience in Driscoll auditorium on Monday night to formally kick off HHAW. She spoke about the problem of poverty and hunger in America.
More specifically, Poppendieck examined how the problem of hunger and homelessness has changed since the University started HHAW in 1975.
The figures, she said, are not comforting. The official poverty rate has gone up about two percent since 1975.
To contextualize American poverty, consider that the official poverty threshold for a family of four is to have an annual income of $23,021 or less; just one semester at the University costs around $25,000.
One half of an academic year costs more than an impoverished family of four will make in an entire year.
The numbers indicate an obvious wealth gap between students who can afford an education and those experiencing poverty in America.
Students involved in HHAW notice this wealth gap and have constructed a week’s worth of events to fight for social justice and support for the homeless. Since it was started in 1975, HHAW has spread to over 500 campuses around the country. This year, HHAW takes place from Friday, Nov. 9 to Saturday, Nov. 17. The week features an assortment of lectures, charity drives and activities for students.
Preparation for the week begins late in the spring semester, continues through the summer and culminates in a week-long, campus-wide series of events.
Among the variety of activities for students to participate in Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week are a 5K Hunger run, a Fast Day where students can donate a meal to Catholic Relief Services and skip a lunchtime meal, a Fair Trade craft sale and a Solidarity Sleep Out.
The Solidarity Sleep Out is tonight at 9 p.m. outside Connelly. Students camp outside for one night to get a glimpse into what it is like to sleep outside in the cold weather.
While outside, students do a letter writing campaign—this year, students will write to advocate for a Hate Crime bill that is in legislation. The bill would make an attack on a person experiencing homelessness considered a hate crime.
Students also participate in discussions about the problem of homelessness locally and globally.
This year, HHAW has partnered with Back on My Feet, an organization that partners volunteers with people experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia.
Volunteers run with participants at 5 AM on Friday mornings. Back on My Feet supports the self-sufficiency of the homeless population through running.
Proceeds from the 5K Hunger run go to Back on My Feet this year. HHAW is also partnered with the Student Run Emergency Housing Unit of Philadelphia (SREHUP), an organization that is entirely student-run and operates two homeless shelters in Philadelphia.
The proceeds from this year’s HHAW, with the exception of the 5K Hunger run, go to Catholic Relief Services (CRS).
CRS carries out the commitment of the Bishops of the United States to assist the poor and vulnerable overseas. It promotes human development by responding to major emergencies, fighting disease and poverty and nurturing just societies, much of the goals of HHAW are to further this ideal of an accepting and peaceful community.