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Rocky Supinger

iStock_000007842598XSmallThe first red plastic cheese spreader I spotted didn’t really get to me, only irked me in a half amused kind of way. “Cute,” I thought. “Some renegade student pinched one of the cheese and cracker packs from the kitchen. Stealing food at a 30 Hour Famine–what a rebel.” Shrug.

The second and third ones, though, angered me. Obviously, some of our Famine participants didn’t get that we were here to experience hunger. Despite the speeches and the activities, despite all of the hunger statistics we hurling at them, these privileged suburban kids remained hardened and self absorbed.

Soon I lost count of the little red sticks and approached my colleague about it. Our youth groups had planned the Famine together for the second year in a row, and we have a good working relationship, so I was direct. “Kids are stealing the food we brought for making snack bags for the homeless. We need to say something.

His forehead creased as he looked quickly at the floor. “Yeah,” he muttered. “That’s Matthew, one of my students. He has real food insecurity issues. He and his brothers were starved as kids

My face flashed hot with embarrassment and shame. I looked over at Matthew. His sub-five foot frame now looked suspiciously small for a high school junior. The construct of privileged-suburban-youth-learning-about-hunger evaporated before my eyes. What could I say? I managed, “Forget about it.

My colleague and I had coffee the following week to debrief, where we spent most of our time on the red cheese spreader sticks. He shared that many of the kids in his youth group come from decidedly un-privileged backgrounds, despite the fact that they attend our college community’s signature establishment church. These students need to learn hunger like an Eskimo needs to learn cold toes. The structure of the Famine rests on a faulty assumption for them, namely that hunger lives somewhere else, that is something experienced by kids in Africa and Rural America, and that they, the fortunate, need to experience it first hand in order to help fix it.

How much of our “mission” work with teens rests on this assumption? For me, it’s a ton. I don’t like that. So I wonder how we might plan a Famine that invites kids well acquainted with hunger to offer that experience to their peers? What if Matthew shared his story? How would that change what happens and what students take away?

And what if participating didn’t require Matthew and youth like him to re-live the trauma of starvation? I shudder to think of how Matthew talks about what he experienced that weekend and what we were asking of him with no idea what it would put him through. Is there a 30 Hour Famine for Matthew?

What do you think? How would you make adjustments to the 30 Hour Famine for Matthew, or for a whole group full of Matthews?