As the holidays approach, many people take time to consider what they’re thankful for and how they can give to others. In that spirit of community, many colleges participate each year in Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. This week of action takes place during the week prior to Thanksgiving – this year the Awareness Week runs from November 11th-19th.
Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is co-sponsored by the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness and the National Coalition for the Homeless. This amazing event was first organized by students and administrators at Villanova University in 1975. This year, hundreds of colleges, high schools, and community groups across the country will come together during the week to raise awareness about the pressing issues of hunger and homelessness.
Participating schools fill the week with events designed to raise awareness and engage students around poverty and related topics. These often include educational events such as lectures, panel discussions, and movie screenings; community service events such as shelter visits, meal packaging events, and food drives; and fundraisers such as benefit concerts, bake sales, and swipe-a-meal drives.
For campus administrators, Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week can be a powerful tool for student engagement and leadership development.
First, the Awareness Week helps connect students with the local community. By educating students about poverty in the surrounding area, it helps students break out of the campus bubble and better understand the world around them. This increased awareness can then be channeled into different educational and extracurricular activities, ranging from community service programs to classes with a service-learning component.
Second, Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week provides a vehicle for the students involved to develop their leadership skills. It takes a big team to carry out a full week of events, so schools frequently create an organizing committee made up of student activities staff, faculty, and student volunteers and interns. Students on the committee get the chance to help plan campus-wide events, recruit their peers to attend and participate, and develop their own skills in the process. Top students can take on even more responsibility, running individual events or taking charge of realms like publicity, student outreach, or fundraising.
In addition, while the week has traditionally focused on poverty in the community or global poverty, an increasing number of schools now use the week to raise awareness about food and housing insecurity on campus. Many schools now include educational events in their week to address hunger and homelessness within the student population. Some campuses also donate the food and money raised during the week to their on-campus food pantry.
For many schools, Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week has become a permanent piece of their student engagement and leadership program. At Oregon State University, for example, the week is organized by their Center for Civic Engagement. They have turned the event into a deeply collaborative project by partnering with a wide range of other campus offices, including the Human Services Resource Center, Pride Center, Student Sustainability Initiative, Associated Students of Oregon State University, and National Residence Hall Honorary.
OSU’s most recent Awareness Week featured a diverse calendar of programs. To raise awareness about poverty, they held a panel discussion titled “Faces of Homelessness” which featured presenters who had personally experienced homelessness. Students also had the opportunity to volunteer at a local community garden or collect hygiene items for a local youth shelter. They rounded out their week with a trip to lobby for affordable housing at the state capitol, as well as the chance to join a local housing advocacy group
As you think about the coming year, consider making Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week part of your plan. You can provide a critical civic engagement opportunity for students while also strengthening the national movement to end hunger and homelessness.
Learn more about Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week at www.hhweek.org.