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Sarah Unruh ’12

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Statewide hunger dialogue inspires ‘power of a few’ at Bethel

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Bethel College is proof that just because you’re small doesn’t mean you can’t get things done.

Take Bethel graduate Rick McNary of Potwin who founded, and now serves as CEO of, the charity Numana, Inc. less than two years ago. In that short time, Numana has set up events from San Francisco to Philadelphia in which more than 125,000 people packaged more than 21 million meals to be sent to the most desperately hungry around the world.

This past March Numana, in conjunction with Universities Fighting World Hunger (based at Auburn University in Alabama and a partner of the United Nations World Food Programme) hosted the first Kansas Hunger Dialogue at the Overland Park Convention Center – a gathering that inspired Bethel’s student body president to organize an action involving some of her fellow students.

Invitations to the two-day conference went to all 42 private and public institutions of higher learning in Kansas, asking them to send representatives of their student body and administration. Half of them did so – from Bethel, that was Julia Huxman, junior from Wichita and Student Senate president, and the college president, Perry D. White.

The goal: to have participants engage in a dialogue to identify and at least start to dismantle systems that perpetuate hunger. One way was through the sharing of stories about current anti-hunger initiatives on college campuses in Kansas.

Although she didn’t know it until she arrived at the conference, Huxman was on the docket as a student speaker who would describe her college’s anti-hunger activities. However, the three-year qualifier for the national forensics tournament rose to the challenge.

“We don’t have an anti-hunger organization at Bethel, so I told stories about how we engage in dialogue,” she says. “Sometimes that’s in places like convocation, like when the interterm group that went to Haiti and the Dominican Republic in January talked about their experience – a chance to share with the entire student body.

“I talked about our Numana packaging event [in February 2010] and how the interterm group was able to follow through on the delivery of the food in Haiti,” she continues. “I told about another interterm group that went to Mexico in January and was given the equivalent of a day’s wages and told to go to the market and try to buy food to feed a family, and they weren’t able to do it.”

These kinds of experiences, Huxman says, “put a face on hunger” and help make a broad concept more concrete and personal. And it’s Bethel’s small size, she adds, that makes them possible.

Huxman notes how impressed she was with the Hunger Dialogue’s main speakers, Margaret Ziegler, deputy director of the Congressional Hunger Center, a nonprofit anti-hunger training center in Washington, D.C., and Tony Hall, former Ohio Congressman and former ambassador to the UN, now executive director of the Alliance to End Hunger.

A few days after the Hunger Dialogue, Huxman and White met to debrief the experience. They had learned that Tony Hall was planning to start a hunger fast on March 28 to bring attention to proposed federal cuts in international food aid programs.

So Huxman sent an e-mail to Bethel students, inviting them to fast for a meal or a whole day and to let her know if they were doing it and for how many meals. In response, Bethel’s food service, Aladdin, Inc., would make a donation to Numana equivalent to the cost of the number of skipped meals.

Huxman admits it was a last-minute idea and only a handful of students participated – and the actual cost of meals to students is low. However, about 30 students skipped one or more meals on March 28, resulting in a donation to Numana of $180, or 600 Numana packaged meals.

“I had people e-mail me to say thank you for doing this, that it was a great thing to bring awareness,” Huxman says. “You feel like you can’t do much as one person, but you really can.”

Longer term, she says Bethel will probably organize another Numana meal-packaging event, maybe next fall. “Where we are with our resources, [it’s most effective to] keep sending students to other countries and places in our own country that put a face on hunger,” she adds. “It’s more than just sending food – it’s about understanding the roots of hunger and why it happens.

“People at the Hunger Dialogue were touched by the stories I told. It’s not as encouraged at larger universities to travel overseas. Those interterm opportunities are invaluable.”

“We believe it is the college students of this generation that will solve the hunger problems of the world,” McNary says. “That’s [why] we planned the Kansas Hunger Dialogue, to give an opportunity for colleges and universities to work together with their students to impact the world.”

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2010-11 Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States and is in the first tier in its category in the “U.S. News & World Report” annual ranking of “America’s Top Colleges” for 2011. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.

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