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NIU joins plan to raise consciousness of poverty during Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week

November 10, 2011
NIU student Megan Maloney sits with plastic bags collected to weave sleeping mats for Chicago's homeless.

NIU student Megan Maloney sits with plastic bags collected to weave sleeping mats for Chicago's homeless.

NIU and Kishwaukee College are teaming up and joining universities across the country to bring awareness to the growing homeless and hunger problems that are strangling families.

Starting Monday, Nov. 14, both schools will take part in national Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. A complete calendar of events is available online.

During the week, students and faculty members will hear speeches, take part in demonstrations and spend a night in an overnight cardboard box camp in the MLK Commons.

Participants not only will become aware of the results of poverty but also learn how to help solve the problems and ease the suffering, said organizer Becky Harlow, assistant director of Student Involvement and Leadership Development at NIU.

“These problems are everywhere,” Harlow said “The people who have them are everywhere. They are in DeKalb and many cities across the country.”

The timing of the week – seven days before Thanksgiving – is no coincidence, she said. The National Coalition for the Homeless plans the week during this time of year to remind all Americans of the extent of poverty regardless of the season.

A canned food drive, sponsored by Push America and Pi Kappa Phi, will start the week.

Students are urged to bring nonperishable food such as canned soup, boxed cereal and pasta to the Student Involvement & Leadership office in the Campus Life Building, Wirtz Hall Atrium, Gable Hall, and the Commuter Lounge in the Holmes Student Center.

The items will be donated to the Hope Haven emergency shelter in DeKalb, the Salvation Army and feed’em soup in DeKalb.

Logo of the National Coalition for the Homeless: Bringing America HomeAt 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 14, the OxFam America Hunger Banquet will be held in the Diversions Lounge of the Holmes Student Center. When students arrive as this RSVP event, they will draw income levels by chance and receive meals that correspond with that level. Contact Tashyana Wells at (815) 753-0482 to register.

“Student will not leave the banquet with full stomachs,” Harlow said, “but they will realize how much food their income can buy.”

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 15, a documentary film directed by NIU media studies professor Laura Vazquez will be shown in the Carl Sandburg Auditorium of the Holmes Student Center.

“on the edge” portrays the lives of seven women dealing with poverty, domestic violence and homelessness in America. Audience members are asked to bring canned food and personal items, such as toothpaste, soap, razors and deodorant for homeless shelters.

The following evening at 7 p.m., a panel discussion entitled “Faces of Homelessness” will be held in the Stevenson Towers Multipurpose room. Employees and volunteers from local social service agencies will explain the extent of the homelessness and hunger population in DeKalb.

On Thursday, Nov. 17, students from NIU and Kishwaukee College will have an opportunity pack meals for the “Feed My Starving Children Project.” The project, run by a non-profit Christian organization, provides the meals for children in 70 countries.

Students who volunteer must arrive at the Cornerstone Christian Academy, 355 N. Cross St. in Sycamore, at 9:45 a.m. They will work until noon. Kishwaukee College is sponsoring the event. Call (815) 825-2086 for more information.

“We’re excited to be part of this national effort and to be working with NIU,” said Allison von Ende, coordinator of student activities at Kishwaukee College.

Plastic bags sewn into a sleeping mat.

Plastic bags sewn into a sleeping mat.

Activities will end Friday, Nov. 18, with the cardboard box city.

Students willing to brave the November chill either can bring their own boxes or be willing to pay a $5 “rental” fee for large appliance boxes and call them home from 9 p.m. until 7 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 19. Money collected will be donated to Hope Haven.

“Best Buy and other stores that sell large appliances have agreed to supply the boxes,” Harlow said. “Campus police will provide security so it will be a safe setting.”

Harlow is hoping as many as 50 students sleep in the city. When they are not resting, they will be weaving sleeping mats, made from plastic shopping bags, for the homeless.

“We’re making this city an iPod-free zone,” she said. “We want students to know what it is like to depend on (the boxes) for shelter and have few luxuries.”

For more information, call Harlow at (815) 753-6703.

by Gerard Dziuba