EDITORIAL: Awareness, advocacy, action

This week, as it has been since 1972, is Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week at Villanova. This year, the week coincides with Monday’s meeting of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization to increase aid to farmers in developing countries in order to decrease dependence on foreign food donations and the U.S. government’s release of new statistics on hungry Americans.

In the United States, nearly one out of every six people is hungry, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There are 3.5 percent more people going hungry than there were in 2007. And three times the number of children under the age of six are hungry than were in 2006.

Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week posts similarly startling statistics around campus, such as a sign in the Quad that reads, “40 percent of people live on less than $2 a day.”

When we walk by that sign, we probably think of people living in the developing world. As alarming as that statistic may be, it’s even more shocking to find out that the United States may not be much better off.

The Gini coefficient, an economic statistic which measures income inequality around the world, places the United States at the same level as China, Mexico and Mozambique. The United States has more wealth inequality than does Russia or India.

While one in every six Americans doesn’t get enough to eat, neither do one out of every six of the world’s population, according to the United Nations. Still, the United States is the world’s top food donor, even as thousands of Americans go hungry every day.

Clearly, the problems of hunger and homelessness are larger than a week of awareness can solve. In fact, the idea of a week of “awareness” about hunger and homelessness pales in comparison to the reality of the situations of those who live in these desperate conditions.

Hunger and homelessness can only be destroyed through action, which is more of a theme of this year’s week than in past years. This year’s activities include a letter writing campaign where students can write to their Senators about a bill, the “Foreign Assistance Revitalization and Accountability Act” to reform American foreign giving, in addition to the annual Habitat for Humanity letter writing initiatives.

The week brings together students across campus and the various clubs they represent. The efforts of the week are commendable, but the momentum can’t be lost once it’s over. The focus should be on the larger causes behind hunger and homelessness, like education inequality, advocating for Obama to divert some focus from healthcare to poverty initiatives and looking at true economic inequality in the United States.

Villanova started Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week, which has now spread to college campuses across the country. In Villanova’s spirit of student involvement and social justice, the school should now move to expand its efforts against hunger beyond this week, and educate students about the root causes of the problems.