In March, Northwestern Ohio Community Action Commission (NOCAC), with the support of local businesses, caterers and partner organizations, hosted the 2015 Hunger Banquet in Williams County. This banquet was not your typical fundraising event but instead, it was an experience to remember. As guests arrived, they were greeted by individuals holding cardboard signs—not signs that directed them to the venue or the parking lot, but signs that said, “homeless veteran,” “will work for…” and “I used to be someone you could talk to.” A family of four stood next to their truck, with two young teenagers huddled in blankets watching their parents politely ask nearly 200 guests if they could spare some change. Some offered help, though many did not.
A lucky, or unlucky, roll of the die directed guests to their dining area for the evening that ranged from upper-class to poverty. The wealthy were seated at elaborately decorated tables complete with shrimp appetizers and steak dinners while those in poverty were greeted with tables made of pallets and tarp table cloths. The homeless and lower-class watched the wealthy and upper-middle class enjoy steak, chicken and even envied the lower-middle class’s bologna sandwiches while they waited to find out if the soup kitchen would open before the end of the evening.
The Hunger Banquet did not attempt to simply explain what poverty is like, it let guests experience it first-hand. Like a game of chance, families were thrown from the upper-class to lower- class or further when, during the evening, they lost their jobs, got sick, or in one case, were even widowed.
“My husband always took care of everything for me. I didn’t know about insurance or that we didn’t have any…”
“I worked long hours driving a truck… I fell asleep at the wheel… (sobbing)… I didn’t mean to hurt anyone; I just wanted to provide for my family.”
“I invested everything in that company. Then came the depression… then the addiction… I lost everything I had ever worked for…”
Guests also heard stories of success. Stories of families receiving intensive case-management, securing housing, overcoming their addictions, finding help for their mental illnesses, and overcoming odds and obstacles by getting accepted into college despite being moved from foster home to foster home. Many stories of those helped by Northwestern Ohio Community Action Commission (NOCAC) and The PATH Center illustrated the effectiveness of Community Action and how creative solutions are effective in alleviating poverty. NOCAC administers locally controlled programs, creates partnerships and helps low-income families and individuals across six rural counties in Ohio while on their path to self-sufficiency. The Hunger Banquet was an event to remember and just one of the ways NOCAC works to change the story of poverty in Ohio.
Kathryn has over a decade of nonprofit experience with more than half of that time spent directly in the Community Action Network. She earned her bachelor’s degree in communications Summa Cum Laude from Franklin University and her associate’s degree from Ohio University. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in public relations from Kent State University. Kathryn manages the association’s public relations and communications efforts to share the stories and successes of the Community Action Network.