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Breaking Out of the 'College Bubble'
I am a recent college graduate of The University of the South, a very small university that sits on top of the East Cumberland Plateau in Sewanee, TN. I know that I am fortunate to have had a cafeteria to serve me three meals a day, and a supermarket that I could walk to for groceries; however, not everyone in my town was as fortunate. As a college student, it’s easy to get stuck in a “bubble,” and sometimes forget about issues that may be in your backyard.
Sewanee is a small town of just 2,361 people, and 3.3 percent of families in Sewanee live below the poverty line. This figure may seem low, but when you consider that the majority of Sewanee residents are employees or students of the University, the percentage of families living in poverty who are not associated with the university is actually much higher.
During my first year in college, I volunteered at the Otey Parish in downtown Sewanee, where I learned very quickly that many families in the community don’t always know where their next meal will come from. Otey’s outreach program provides assistance to families in need, and gives meals to about 75 families in the community once a week. Volunteering at Otey Parish was an eye-opening experience because I had never before thought that families within the small town of Sewanee suffered from hunger.
In my last year at Sewanee, I volunteered with a program called Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, where I learned that there are many families in Tennessee that face generational gaps, and sometimes struggle to provide food for their families. I visited with these families weekly to share a meal, talk politics, learn about their lives, and just enjoy their company. In Tennessee, 11.9 percent of children under 18 live in homes where the householders are grandparents or other relatives (U.S. 2010 Census). Twenty-two percent of these “grandfamilies” in Tennessee live below the poverty line and rely on key safety net programs such as SNAP, WIC, and EITC to stay afloat.
The biggest thing I learned from my time at Sewanee is that hunger is not a distant problem; it is a very real problem. There are people all across the United States who suffer from hunger every day. For me, Sewanee is such a safe place and it was surprising to see families who needed assistance.
My advice to college readers is to get involved on your campus and find out about volunteer programs in your area to help people in need. Reach outside of your “college bubble,” and get to know the people and the area around you. It’s easy to feel safe on campus, but be proactive about the hunger and poverty in your local community. I bet you’ll be surprised to find out that more people than you think live below the poverty line, and that a lot of families in your college town struggle to put food on the table.
I also want to urge young readers to help educate people in your town about advocacy—whether at your university or any of the local charities in your area. While local charities and churches play a huge role in meeting the immediate needs of the community, anti-hunger and anti-poverty advocacy are essential to making lasting change. Bread for the World offers great resources for getting involved in advocacy, making it easy to take your compassion to the next level.
Photo by Flickr user CarbonNYC.
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