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Hunger Action Week: Poverty simulation shows hunger from inside out

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Hunger Action Week begins by immersing participants in the daily rigors of a life in poverty.
Underwriting support from:

Schedule of Free Events

Wednesday, September 5: Poverty Simulation

4:30 p.m. — 6:30 p.m.

David D. Hunting branch, YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids

RSVP Shelly Helmus by Sept. 1, [email protected]


Thursday, September 6: Healthy Food Cook-Off

5 p.m. — 7 p.m.

United Church Outreach Ministry, 1311 Chicago Drive SW, Wyoming

Contact Shawn Keener, [email protected]


Friday, September 7: Agency Open Houses

Agencies include local food pantries, Catherine’s Health Center, YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids and Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank.

Visit the hunGRy? Facebook page for a complete listing

Contact Emma Rosauer, [email protected]


Saturday, September 8: “Hunger Hits Home”

10 a.m. — 12 p.m.

Loosemore Auditorium, Grand Valley State University

Contact Ashley Abbott, [email protected]


Keep up with Hunger Action Week on Facebook and Twitter.

Hunger Action Week 2012 begins not with a lecture or a film but by immersing participants in the daily rigors of life in poverty. “We want people to be a little stressed out by the whole experience,” said Shelly Helmus, Development and Communications Coordinator at Access of West Michigan. “This is about educating people in a personal way, by building empathy with people who are struggling with poverty and hunger.”

On Wednesday, Sept. 5, Access of West Michigan will facilitate a poverty simulation at the David D. Hunting branch of the YMCA in downtown Grand Rapids. The two-and-a-half-hour event, which begins at 4:30 p.m. is free to the public.

Participants are assigned a family and a financial scenario, and then the clock starts ticking. They have to make it through four weeks on a fixed income, shuttling between the employment office, the food pantry, Human Services and the shelter. Not every participant is dealt the same cards, as the simulation approximates the diverse forms that poverty takes in West Michigan.

The event concludes with current and former clients of Access sharing their personal histories with poverty. Access’ food pantry network serves approximately 80,000 households every year.

The Sept. 5 poverty simulation puts hunger in context. Rather than an isolated problem, hunger is one part of a life of financial strain.

“There was a study that found 64 percent of U.S. households could not weather a $1,000 emergency, that they just don’t have the means to cover that,” said Elianna Bootzin of Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank. “So if you’re one of those families that ends up with a car accident and you have to pay $800, how are you going to eat this week?”

Taking part in a poverty simulation can be a revelation even for those with an intellectual understanding of the issue. “Even though I work with persons living in poverty almost daily, I was still surprised at how little I really knew about the realities of being poor,” a previous participant said. “The need for systemic change becomes even more clear after this experience.”

The poverty simulation concludes by offering participants a host of ideas on how they can start to address poverty in West Michigan. For the organizers of Hunger Action Week 2012, awareness is the beginning of action.

Registration is open until Sept. 1. Contact Shelly Helmus at 616-774-2175 or [email protected] to sign up.

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