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By DAVE HINTON
Rantoul Press editor
Rantoul Township High School students last week caught a tiny glimpse of the hunger problem in America.
RTHS FFA staged a poverty lunch presentation in which students, at random, were served meals of different quality. It was all to show the indiscriminate nature of who goes hungry in America.
Anna Ramme, chapter secretary, who helped organize the event, said about 100 students from various clubs and organizations at RTHS participated. Each student was given a playing card.
Fifteen percent of the students who received a card with diamonds were to sit at a round table, where they were fed steak, mashed potatoes, dessert and an appetizer.
Those who received a card with a club — representing the 35 percent in middle class — sat at a rectangular table where they were served fried chicken lunch boxes donated by County Market.
About 50 of the students who were given a heart card sat on the floor and received rice and beans. Ten plates were served, and the students had to share the meager portions.
“Then we let them eat for a little while,” Ramme said. “The people who had rice and beans were really mad.
“Then we gave them a presentation about hunger with statistics.”
Of the Earth’s 7 billion people, 925 million of them are hungry daily.
“That’s one out of every seven people who are hungry,” Ramme said. “Eight million die from lack of food and nutrition annually.”
Sixteen thousand children under age 5 die daily from lack of food, which comes to one child every four seconds.
Ramme said the top hunger-causing problems in the United States are homelessness, being unable to support oneself financially, catastrophes and the results of war and terrorism such as being displaced from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Then we talked about families below the poverty line in Rantoul,” Ramme said.
Fourteen percent of Rantoul’s residents live below the poverty line, Ramme said. For people 18 and younger, the figure escalates. Thirty-four percent of people that age are in poverty.
Thirty-five percent of the households in Rantoul are single-mother households, Ramme said. In single-mother households with children 5 and younger, 80 percent are in poverty.
At the end of the RTHS presentation, the students who received rice were given pizza. But it’s not always a happy ending for people living in poverty in the real world.
Ramme said the event was an eye-opener for many students.
“A lot (of the students) said it really hit home, how much hunger there really is and what they can do to stop it,” Ramme said. “The kids were really affected.
“At the beginning we made these hunger sheets. At the top were two questions: ‘How can I fight hunger?’ and ‘How can my organization fight hunger?’”
One student said they can fight hunger by helping their family and those not as fortunate.
Another said their organization can fight hunger by taking food to food drives.
Lea Peck, chapter secretary, said the presentation didn’t just affect the students who got only rice to eat.
“I talked to a few kids from the different groups,” Peck said. “The kids from the high-class group said they felt bad eating so much and watching everyone else get a plate of rice.
“They wanted to share their food. We didn’t allow that because the low-class doesn’t always get help.”
Students in the middle-class group called the experience “eye-opening,” Peck said, while students in the low-class group said “they never realized things like this happen in our country.”
Ramme said the chapter knew there would be some participating in the demonstration who already knew what it was like to be hungry “and might go home hungry today.”
Eighty-four percent of the students in Rantoul City Schools are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches. At RTHS the number is 59 percent.
Ramme said the FFA chapter also plans to give the presentation to area organizations such as the Farm Bureau and Rotary.
Peck was part of a group from the RTHS chapter who attended a leadership conference in Washingon, D.C., and said they got the idea for the poverty presentation at the conference.
“The poverty dinner really touched us, so we thought we’d do that,” Peck said.
It seemed to have the desired effect. The chapter hopes the lessons learned last.