Fasting students? Perfect time to go grocery shopping!


By John Sorrell

This is the first year in a long time that I won’t be a part of a 30 Hour Famine. I just moved countries, ministries and pastoral roles and so this year won’t include a 30 Hour Famine for me. I am already missing it!  The clear focus of the experience and the cause behind the Famine make it one of my favorite events of the year. The Famine opens up conversations and makes space for realizations you can’t offer in other more routine programs. You can show pictures and talk about privilege in a weekly message, but during the Famine experience you get to allow students and leaders to make deeper connections.

One of the ways we created these ah-ha moments was a grocery store shopping simulation. World Vision provided this idea a while back and I am not sure if it’s still accessible in the resources. I’ll describe it as best I can here.

We had our students in tribes already and after they returned from their service projects on Saturday morning (anywhere from working at soup kitchens and prayer walking to prepping materials for our upcoming VBS), we sent them all out to grocery stores.  The mission was to provide a week of meals for a person on an average wage of a poorer country than our own. At this time, the average weekly income in India—for example—is $11.82 (you can choose a country with a slight higher average weekly income if you don’t want the challenge to be quite as difficult. The official “poverty line,” by the way, is $1.90 per day, or $13.30 per week). The students had to buy 21 meals for that weekly average. We added another element to help diversify the experience. We assigned our tribes to specific shopping areas. Some were sent to higher-end grocery stores and some were sent to cheaper stores or market areas. I’ve the led the famine in Asia for many years so some were sent to local markets and some were sent to gourmet food stores.

Each group was given that weekly average in an envelope and were told to bring back their week of meals to show the rest of the groups. Were you ever told not to go grocery shopping while hungry? It can be torture to go while you are fasting. It always took the groups a little time to get oriented and past the desire to buy everything! Every tribe came back with a well planned out menu for the week. The differences between where they went and what was available created new understanding. Eyes were opened. Realizations were made. Yes, the places you think aren’t that high-end actually cost more than you thought. Some were starch and grain heavy with some veggies to help balance it out. Others tried to load up on eggs and grains to give some more protein. They all explained their decisions why they bought the food they had.

Every tribe realized how little you had to live on with the limited budget. They debriefed afterwards and noticed how meat wasn’t an option at all and how limited the choices were for a weeklong menu. It caused some cognitive dissonance for them to understand that meals with this sized budget weren’t going to look like what we were used to eating. It always led to a somber understanding of living with meager provision.

If you have never sent your tribes to the grocery stores with this challenge, I would highly recommend what is a rather easy simulation to set up for your group. Give them space to realize the difference. Give them space to see how little or mundane the meals are going to be. It will stick with them for a long time.

Make sure at the end of the simulation you know where you can donate the items to bless your nearby community. Or take a step further and have them fix their own “break the fast” meal with the ingredients they came up with. It’s a fun but eye-opening way to end the Famine with some teachable moments. Happy Famining this season!