For the third year in a row, students at West Hartford’s Hall High School went hungry to fight hunger by participating in the 24-Hour Famine, raising money that translates into more than 10,000 meals for area families who are hungry or food insecure.
By Ronni Newton
About 70 students at West Hartford’s Hall High School finished eating dinner before 6 p.m. Thursday, and although they participated in their regular activities, including attending class on Friday, the students abstained from all food until 6 p.m. Friday evening.
Junior Ashley Granquist, who is co-president of the Hall Community Service Club with senior Sophia Ellavsky, organized the school’s 24-hour fast this year – the third year that Hall has participated in the event. Students from grades 9-12 participated.
The students were permitted to drink water, as well as non-acidic juice to prevent becoming light-headed, Granquist said. She said she had some juice, but definitely felt very hungry.
Being in school and trying to concentrate while hungry definitely had an impact, said Granquist. “You go to class and you’re taking a test and thinking it would be easier if you could eat.” Seeing other students eating, taking it for granted, also has an impact.
After school, prior to the end of the fast, the participating students gathered in the gym where they engaged in bonding activities, including dodgeball, Pictionary, and other games, to bring the community together in their unified effort to fight hunger. Granquist said that teams of 10 students competed together in their fundraising as well as in the bonding activities.
The total fundraising efforts had not been tallied as of Friday evening, but Granquist said that at least $4,500 had been raised. The first year that Hall participated in the 24-Hour Famine the funds were donated to World Vision, but for the past two years monies have stayed local and have been donated to Foodshare, which supports the hungry and food insecure in Hartford and Tolland counties.
Just before the fast ended, Foodshare President and CEO Jason Jakubowski, a West Hartford resident, met with the students. He was joined by West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor, who is a member of Foodshare’s Board of Directors.
“How do you feel? Could you do this all the time?” Jakubowski asked the students. “Hungry!” and “No!” the students shouted in response.
Jakubowski told the students that studies show that you learn less when you’re hungry, and asked the students to imagine feeling hungry as a kindergartner or first-grader, just trying to learn the basics.
Hunger is not just in the cities, Jakubowski said. Of the 121,000 who are served by Foodshare, there are many in Simsbury, Avon, Tolland – and West Hartford. Kids go to school hungry every day.
“Close to 7,000 bags of food were handed out in West Hartford last year,” Cantor told the students.
Jakubowski said that many senior citizens, living on fixed income, become food insecure and rely on Foodshare. And during the recent partial government shutdown, Foodshare sent truckloads of food to assist TSA agents at Bradley Airport.
“These are people who are educated,” he said of the TSA employees, but when they were without income had to make the decision about spending what they had saved on shelter, on heat, on medication, or on food.
“We’re very grateful for what you guys do,” Jakubowski said. He thanked the students for raising awareness as well as funds – and noted that Foodshare, because of its buying power, is able to purchase 2.5 meals for every dollar raised.
“I am so, so proud of you all,” Cantor said. “We do live in a very caring community,” she said, where people support each other.
Cantor said that by fasting and supporting Foodshare, the students went above and beyond and she is proud of the statement that they made. “You don’t have to go without food, you don’t have to raise your hand to make your voice heard … I want to thank you for being champions for those who are not as lucky.”
Hunger is a year-round problem, said Jakubowski, and the need can be greatest in the summer when students don’t have access to meals at school and there are fewer fundraisers. It’s also important to target the root of hunger, and Foodshare doesn’t see itself as a permanent solution to the problem, he said.
He asked the Hall students to make sure that underclassmen are ready to take the reins in continuing the fundraiser, and also said he would love to have them volunteer at Foodshare and participate in the Walk Against Hunger at Dunkin Donuts Park on April 27.
“You’ve really set the standard,” Jakubowski said, adding that he hopes students at Conard will assist as well.
At 6 p.m., the students were able to break their fast, enjoying a feast that included food donated by Crown Market, Joey’s Pizza Pie, Blue Plate Kitchen, Feng’s Asian Bistro, and six trays of macaroni and cheese prepared by the students in Jessica Brand’s foods class.
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