Hunger Banquet: Think poverty is far away? Your fellow students have experienced it firsthand

An image of grains on the plate in the shape of the seven continentsAttending the Hunger Banquet for the first time, Allen Conti was assigned to the floor of Decker 201 – the ranks of the poor.

Without even tables or chairs, they were physically lower than students assigned to the middle or upper classes, and consigned to share a meager dish of rice and beans. Reflecting global conditions, they were also the largest group – and would have been even larger.

“As I was sitting there, as it was going on, people were in the lower section got up and left. It felt like a hot knife going through me because they thought they were better than that, better than being poor,” said Conti, now an Event Management major.

Allen knows that poverty isn’t a mark of character. He himself grew up in poverty in California. His mother, brother and half-sister shared a house with another family. It was difficult to make ends meet, and Allen didn’t even have his own bed; he shared one with his brother.

Like many children, he didn’t realize he was poor at the time; it was simply the life he knew.

“Since I’ve known what poor is, I’ve grown up to be a humble person,” he said.

Allen Conti

Allen Conti

When he was 6 or 7 years old, his mother found a way out for Allen and his brother: She relinquished custody to his father and step-mother in New York State. He didn’t realize the sacrifice his biological mother made until years later.

“She gave my dad custody because she wanted a better life for us. That’s something I will always love her for,” he said.

During the banquet, which serves up an important lesson about social class, sexism and food insecurity, the men have the opportunity to eat first – mimicking the social realities of people around the world. It was an uncomfortable moment for Allen and his fellow male students assigned to the lowest class, he said.

Moments of discomfort – such as those fostered by the Hunger Banquet experience – are an essential ingredient to both learning and empathy.

Join us on Nov. 15

This year’s Hunger Banquet will be held at 11 a.m. Nov. 15 in Decker 201. Join us not only for the free lunch, but the opportunity to engage in deep experiential learning about poverty and food insecurity.

Food insecurity is real — even for college students. Statistics show that at least 42 percent of community college students have experienced hunger due to food insecurity.

While admission is free, there are a limited number of tickets. Please contact Melissa Martin in Counseling Services at martinmm2@sunybroome.edu to order tickets.  Those who attend the banquet are encouraged to contribute a non-perishable, canned or packaged food item for the campus food pantry.

Share your story

As a walk-up to the Hunger Banquet, we are interested in sharing stories from students, faculty and staff who have experienced food insecurity in their lives. Have a story to share? Please contact the college’s writer, Jennifer Micale, at micalejr@sunybroome.edu or (607) 778-5682.