A Meal With a Message: Strafford Church Provides Perspective on Global Hunger

  • Emmett Wurm, 7, of South Strafford,Vt., delivers another plate of rice and beans during the United Church of Strafford hunger banquet benefiting Oxfam on Nov. 18, 2018, in Strafford, Vt. Guests were assigned at random to a high-, middle- or low-income group, based on statistics about global poverty. The low income group was served last, and only rice and water. Tom Jacobs and Robyn Jacobs, left, of Strafford drew low-income tickets and ate on the floor, while Maggie Hooker, of Strafford and Kate Reimanis, of South Strafford sat in chairs being in the middle-income group.(Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

  • Luke Miller, 11, of Strafford, Vt., passes out low-, middle- or high- income tickets for guests during the United Church of Strafford hunger banquet benefiting Oxfam on Nov. 18, 2018. Miller along with Iris Chesnut, 9, of Sharon, Vt., left, and Esme Krauthamer, 12, of Strafford, volunteered to help with the meal. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/18/2018 11:52:56 PM
Modified: 11/18/2018 11:52:57 PM

Strafford — If Iris Chesnut needed one more wake-up call about food insecurity, it arrived on a paper plate with a scoop of plain, white rice late on Sunday morning.

Accepting her ration from Danette Harris, the 9-year-old Sharon resident looked up from her seat on the linoleum floor and said, “But there’s no butter or salt.”

Welcome to the United Church of Strafford’s hunger banquet — and to nutritional reality for over half the world’s more than 7 billion people.

For about 15 minutes before the communal meal, the church’s first with a world-hunger theme in at least 10 years, Iris and four other students from Harris and Joey Hawkins’ religious-exploration class shared with the congregation statistics and stories about people who don’t know where they will obtain their next meal.

Among the more daunting stats: the non-governmental organization Oxfam International estimates that 15,000 children younger than 5 die every day from malnutrition and related maladies.

For the next 15 minutes, Iris, Luke Miller, Charlotte Reimanis, Esme Krauthamer and 7-year-old Emmett Wurm shuttled meals from the parish-house kitchen to about 40 attendees, who sat according to the income status — high, middle or low — that Luke had randomly assigned to each as they entered the parish hall.

After receiving tickets containing links to the biographies of actual clients of Oxfam, a little more than half of the diners found themselves seated on the floor, to represent the vast percentage of humans who on average struggle to survive on less than $2,135 a year.

Sunday’s presentation was the culmination of three weeks of study and discussion and rehearsal. At the banquet, Luke handed a plate of rice to parishioner Mary Newton’s 5-year-old son Thomas Gortner and pointed to the festively-clothed table nearby, where a handful of “high-income” diners were seated.

“They get spaghetti-and-meatballs and salad,” he declared.

“They” included church pastor Tom Kinder, who confessed to discomfort with his unearned privilege — and later expressed pride in the social mindfulness of the congregation that he joined in September 2017.

“During my interview with the search committee, a member who had grown up here talked about the hunger banquets they used to hold here when she was young,” Kinder said. “She said she hoped that we would do them again.”

Enter Harris and Hawkins, both of whom taught for many years at Strafford’s Newton School and who remember the banquets that started in the late 1980s.

“We had a number of adults who had long memories,” Hawkins recalled last week. “They wanted this good experience for their kids, as part of our religious exploration.”

Mary Newton recalled participating in an earlier incarnation of the banquet as an eighth grader, while growing up in Strafford in the 1980s and 1990s. After college and graduate school, she returned about six years ago with daughter, Elizabeth, and shortly after had son, Thomas.

As her kids have grown, she’s taken comfort in seeing the congregation’s renewed effort to raise awareness of social-justice issues in general and hunger in particular among parishioners of all ages.

“There’s a deliberate effort to be more global in the way they look at the world,” Newton said. “It’s meaningful that (Harris and Hawkins) had the children do that reading. ”

Longtime parishioner Rebecca Bailey, whose grown daughter Lillian Schley participated in previous hunger-related meals, welcomes the resurrection of the tradition as well.

“For a while there, the numbers had dwindled down, but the last few years we’ve had more families and more children come in,” Bailey said. “It’s great to have this be focused on something tangible, to connect it to the sheer statistics in a personal way. People have a lot of other things going on in their lives, sports practices and stuff, so to see this kind of commitment of time is encouraging.”

Esme Krauthamer, 12, a sixth-grader at the Newton School, said that the lessons at church reinforced “similar things we’ve done at school, like a food drive. That was more about hunger in Vermont, so most of this about how things are in the rest of the world is new.”

They started learning how conditions are farther afield in early November, starting with an Oxfam handout introducing students to a West African woman named Fatou, who struggles to grow food for her family in the midst of drought and storms attributed to climate change.

Subsequent lessons introduced the students to Oxfam clients in a variety of circumstances.

Among those they introduced to the congregation pre-banquet was an Ecuadoran teenager named Pablo, who after finishing school at eight grades went to work for an oil company.

While the job provided him with a livable wage by local and world standards, Pablo worried about the way the company treated the workers and polluted the land around him — and about the threat to his income if he spoke up.

After each of the older students told such stories, Emmett Wurm declared, “It hurts to be hungry,” each time in a fainter voice.

After the last of the diners headed home, volunteers counted the donations, and found a total of more than $550 that will go to Oxfam.

“This seemed like the appropriate Sunday to do this, right before Thanksgiving,” Harris said. “It’s an avenue to teach gratitude in a different way.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.

Sign up for our free email updates
Valley News Daily Headlines
Valley News Contests and Promotions
Valley News Extra Time
Valley News Breaking News

Valley News

24 Interchange Drive
West Lebanon, NH 03784


© 2021 Valley News
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy