Sleep-out, fair trade sale fight homelessness

Rachel Glogowski

Various events were organized for last week’s Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, including a fair trade sale, a sleep-out and a speech by Bread for the World founder and President emeritus Rev. Art Simon.

“Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is a great example of living out our mission because it calls students to look at the issues in society,” said junior Jenn Maez, who helped organize Tuesday’s fair trade sale. “Raising awareness encourages students to continue to struggle for justice inside and outside of the classroom.”

Various handcrafted items including jewelry and bags were sold in the Connelly Center. According to Maez, the sale raised over $2,000 for Handcrafting Justice and $1,500 for the Augustinian Mission.

“Having a fair trade craft sale as part of Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is necessary for people to see that the decisions we make here in the United States directly influence the lives of people around the world,” Maez said. “Fair Trade creates a relationship that fosters fair wages, better working conditions and opportunities for advancement.”

On Thursday, students experienced what it was like to be homeless for a night during the sleep-out, which took place in the St. Augustine parking garage due to rain. About 20 students gathered to learn what the poor have to deal with.

“I think it’s significant that the event shows solidarity,” freshman Fiona Grugan said. “Something as monumental as sleeping outside in a parking garage is significant in forming your opinions.”

Sophomore Sung Lee, who helped organize the sleep-out, explained the various components of the event. In addition to sleeping outside in solidarity with the homeless, participants were given facts about poverty, lit candles and took pictures of cardboard signs to send to Congress.

Junior Jeff Sved said that the pictures support the reformation of an old hate-crime bill to now include protection for the homeless.

“The point of the sleep-out was to raise awareness because we have no idea what it’s like to be out here in the cold,” he said.

“A lot of people think we’re in a Villanova bubble,” Lee said. “But the week helps Villanova students reflect [and] encourages us to be more active in our participation.”

Simon spoke to a few hundred students in Driscoll’s auditorium on Nov. 18. The organization was created about 35 years ago to mobilize an outcry of citizens against hunger.

Professor Sue Toton, faculty advisor of Villanova’s Bread for the World chapter, described the group as a collective Christian voice helping to raise awareness of the issue of poverty. She said it is critical to write to legislators and urge them to reform foreign aid, which Villanova’s chapter of Bread for the World attempted to do by setting up stations to write to legislators at the major events of the week. Simon was a pastor of a Lutheran church in an economically disadvantaged area of New York City when he realized the need for a group of advocates for the homeless. He loosely calls the group a lobby, although he does not like the negative connotation associated with the word because the group does not endorse candidates. He said their sole purpose is to shape and change public policy and draw attention to the issue of poverty.

“The founding of Bread for the World proves how small but important activities can really blossom… and, over a period of time, change the world,” Simon said.

Simon said the current economic situation provides a unique opportunity for the organization.

“We’ve got rare opportunities to change things,” he said. “We have the opportunity to begin to see the world in a different way.”

He addressed the audience and told them their responsibility.

“You can have a hand in making it happen. If you remain silent, you’re voting for the status quo or for things to get worse. Please don’t tell me you agree with what I say and walk away and do nothing,” he said.

Although Simon said he could not be absolutely certain, he agreed that Villanova probably led the initiative for college students to be advocates for the poor. “As far as our memories take us, we’re pretty sure Villanova had the first Bread for the World chapter.”

He noted that he was aware that was the case for Hunger and Homelessness Week in general, which was created at Villanova by Father Ray Jackson and has spread to hundreds of campuses across the nation.

Their first issue was the Right to Food Resolution, which was not a bill but a “statement of principle” that outlined the nation’s responsibility in respect to hunger. Congress members paid the resolution no attention until they received letters supporting it and it eventually was passed.

Not every initiative was an easy victory for the organization though.

“We’ve had to fight for every inch of what we’ve been able to get,” Simon said. “They’re a struggle every step of the way.”

“If you’re willing to become an advocate for the hungry, you can really help shape the nation’s policies,” he said.