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Helping the Hungry, in Boston and Beyond

Student conference to bring 300 to BU for education and activism

Volunteers Maddy Weber (COM’08) and Rachel Mennies (CAS’08) load food into the Student Food Rescue van. Photo by Vernon Doucette

This weekend, more than 300 students from across the country are coming to Boston University to tackle some serious social issues, ranging from domestic homelessness to global poverty.

The 2007 East Coast Conference on Hunger and Homelessness will address domestic and international poverty issues, such as housing and homelessness, hunger, international economics and globalization, and humanitarian crises. Sponsored by the BU Community Service Center’s Student Food Rescue (SFR), which distributes surplus food from local supermarkets and restaurants to homeless shelters, and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness, which seeks to educate students about poverty in their communities, the conference is expected to be the largest in recent history.

“It is a huge deal for Boston University to host this conference,” says Stan Hwang (SMG’07), SFR co–program manager. “The project has been an enormous undertaking, and we’ve received an overwhelming response.”

Students will be arriving from more than 42 schools — some from as far away as California — which Hwang attributes to both the conference’s schedule and its location in Boston. The organizers plan to bring participants directly into Boston to volunteer at local food banks and shelters and to experience the city’s solutions firsthand. “This is the first time any conference, either regional or national, has incorporated these types of ‘city trips’ into the agenda,” says SFR co–program manager Viral Sheth (CAS’07), “and I think it’s a great opportunity for students from other schools — and students from BU as well — to help the people of Boston.”

Students who participate in the community service city trips will visit Dorchester-based Fair Foods, Inc., the Greater Boston Food Bank, Haley House, and Jamaica Plain’s Shattuck Shelter. Participants can also stay on campus and watch the documentaries Give Us Your Poor and Living with Hunger.

Throughout the weekend, conference attendees can choose from more than 40 workshops and issue briefings. Taught by outreach leaders from across the country, the workshops will focus on topics that range from organizing successful campus food and clothing drives to the importance of promoting fair trade and combating global hunger.

“While a lot of the homelessness and hunger issues that students deal with are on a local scale, we have to understand that people are hungry and homeless all over the world,” Hwang says. “There are people living in every country, who for whatever reason — be it economic or social or because the country is at war — can’t make a living wage.”

Hwang and Sheth learned last summer that BU had been selected to host the East Coast Conference on Hunger and Homelessness, and since then they, along with seven other students, have been scrambling to prepare for the big weekend. “Basically,” Hwang jokes, “we go to class and we think about the conference.”

Registration is still open, and Hwang and Sheth hope that BU students will take advantage of a student discount and participate. Students may register here

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu.