Friday, April 4, 2014 - 12:30

Rep. McGovern Visits Assumption to Help Raise Awareness for Hunger

U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern delivered a charge this week to a packed room of approximately 100 students, faculty and staff at Assumption College, challenging them to lobby their lawmakers to support local, state and federal anti-hunger and anti-poverty policies and legislation.

McGovern’s presentation, held March 31 in La Maison Française Salon, was part of a larger “community conversation”—and one of a number of efforts launched by Assumption students—to raise awareness of hunger in America and how it relates to Worcester, as well as to encourage individuals to think about what they could do to make a difference.

“In addition to your volunteer work, write to your elected officials, and watch how they vote,” advised McGovern, who delivers weekly speeches on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives about ending hunger and has garnered national recognition for his “End Hunger Now” campaign. “We need to advocate for the hungry. We need a plan to end hunger, and I’m going to keep giving those weekly speeches until we solve the hunger problem.

“I am outraged that we live in a country with such riches, yet we tolerate poverty,” he said.

The conversation was organized by students in Assumption College Professor Lucia Knoles’ speech class, who have formed the group “Hounds Help Hunger”—a movement to promote awareness of hunger issues and provide support for St. John’s Food Pantry for the Poor in downtown Worcester.

Kyle Gallivan ’15 of Millbury, Mass., who introduced McGovern, shared several alarming statistics: 

  • One in three children living in Worcester are hungry or at risk of being hungry each month.
  • In Worcester, the prevalence of hunger is six times the Massachusetts average.
  • 33 percent of surveyed mothers in Worcester not living in shelters said there were days when their family members went without food.
  • 72 percent of children in Worcester Public Schools are eligible for free- or reduced-cost meals.
  • According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 50 million Americans lived in “food insecure” households in 2013.

“This endeavor is bigger than just a class project,” said Gallivan, who majors in history and minors in business management. “It’s about raising awareness of the real issues in the community and erasing the stigmas that come with being hungry. No man, woman or child should ever go without food, and it’s our mission to make sure they don’t.”

McGovern, a married father of two, last year lived for a week on the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called Food Stamps, to show how difficult it is to eat nutritious meals on a budget of $1.40 per meal, per person.

“I can’t imagine what it would be like to tell my kids we don’t have food to eat,” he said.

Students involved with Hounds for Hunger have worked several shifts at St. John’s free breakfast line, which is sponsored by the food pantry and open seven days a week and have also promoted awareness of the problems of food insecurity through on campus efforts such as creating an informational brochure and distributing it at Hagan Campus Center, publishing an article in the Le Provocateur student newspaper, and filming a promotional video. They group also solicits donations of food and toiletries, and “dorm-storms” to collect bottles and cans that can be exchanged for money to support the food pantry as well.

The campaign’s crowning achievement/moment, though, was the “Hounds Talk Hunger with Congressman Jim McGovern” presentation. McGovern, a lifelong Worcester resident, took the lead role in the community discussion about the causes and effects of food insecurity—and what people can do about it. Also taking part in the dialogue were Assumption students and staff who have been involved in hunger-related programs through their involvement in the Reach Out Center, Service Learning, and/or Campus Ministry SEND mission trips.

Lauren Johnson ‘15 of Lynnfield, Mass., a biology major and economics minor, pointed out that hunger and poverty affects everyone.

“This problem is in our back yard,” she said. “Many people come to food pantries dressed in business suits. They say they had to decide between eating food and paying their rent.”

Katerina Reilly ’14, a Human Services and Rehabilitation Studies major from Wilmington, Mass., encouraged students to get involved in raising awareness for hunger and poverty.

“We’re blessed to have Assumption College educate us on social issues through SEND trips,” she said. “Sometimes we get caught up in lumping people into categories and stereotypes. ‘They’re homeless. They’re poor.’ Well, they are us. We need to look at people as family, and not as strangers.”

McGovern pointed out that there is not one single congressional district in the United States that is hunger free.

“Everybody fits into this category,” he said. “This is the richest country in the world, and we should be ashamed that we have a hunger problem. This problem is solvable. Ending hunger globally is something we can all work to solve in our lifetime.”

Kimberly Dunbar, Director of Public Affairs, Assumption College @AssumptionNews