BUIES CREEK -- On his way to his church in Sanford, N.C., one Sunday morning more than five years ago, Bob Doberstein heard a story on the radio that claimed 85,000 children in seven counties around Charlotte had little or nothing to eat on the weekends. That was about 10 percent of the area's elementary school population. The figure was high, he thought, and it surprised him.
On the following Monday morning, he asked a principal of a Harnett County elementary school how many children who attended the school went through weekends eating little or nothing. The figure: 10 percent. He asked another principal of another Harnett County elementary school. The answer was 10 percent, too.
“I have been around the world just about and seen a lot. I know world hunger is out there,” Doberstein, who served in the military for over 22 years, told several dozen students who attended the Campbell University Social Work Club’s 2nd annual Hunger Banquet Monday night in the Rumley Center to coincide with National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. “I never thought it was anywhere near that like in the United States.”
He had to do something, he told the students. So, in 2008, he started the Buddy Backpacks for Harnett County, a nonprofit he modeled after Buddy Backpacks for Moore County that provides children with backpacks filled with food that they can eat over weekends. Today, Buddy Backpacks for Harnett County serves children in 18 elementary schools and two middle schools. It costs only $5.12 to feed one child for a weekend.
That rate of childhood hunger prevalence -- and how little it costs to support one child -- surprised Campbell student Abby Anthony. A junior biology major, Anthony attended the Hunger Banquet and was reminded by how “not everybody is as fortunate as those of us who are in a higher [socioeconomic] class, and that it doesn’t take much to give back,” she said.
The dinner that preceded Doberstein’s talk reinforced that, she added.
When the students arrived at the banquet, they received a randomly-drawn ticket that denoted whether they were among the top 15 percent of the richest people in the world, the middle 35 percent or the bottom half. The richest received a meal that included vegetarian lasagna, salad, bread, chocolate dessert and tea; and they ate at white-tablecloth tables and received full service. The students who drew the middle lot initially ate rice and beans, and the lower class initially had only rice and water.
Brittany Bridges, a senior social work major at Campbell and the president of the Social Work Club, hoped the students who attended the banquet left with a better understanding of issues related to hunger and homelessness, and how many people are affected it. “People tend not to think about sad topics such as this because everybody has problems of their own,” she said. “But I hope attending the Hunger Banquet makes it a little more real to people who don’t have to worry about being hungry or homeless.”
She added: “It doesn’t take much to buy an extra canned item when we’re grocery shopping and donate it to a local food bank. I want to encourage people to make an effort to be more aware of and contribute to good causes to help with hunger issues.”
Anthony was encouraged. She’s a member of Campbell’s new sorority -- Sigma Alpha Omega -- which is “looking for new fundraising causes,” Anthony said. “[Hearing about Buddy Backpacks for Harnett County] gave me an idea to bring back to the sorority. Maybe it’s something we can help out with.”
The Social Work Club introduced the Hunger Banquet last fall when Susie Mallard Barnes joined Campbell as assistant professor of social work, coordinator of field work and the club’s faculty sponsor. She previously taught at N.C. State University for nine years and worked for 14 years in homeless services, including as the housing director at Urban Ministries of Wake County.
“[Childhood hunger] is a heart-wrenching problem,” Barnes said. “You now see Buddy Backpack programs all over the country. But it’s still a really terrible problem, and there’s an ongoing need to increase the number of bags that are available.”
Barnes said she hoped that the Hunger Banquet helped students experience hunger issues in a new way, as well as highlighted the social work profession. There are about 50 students at Campbell majoring in social work.
“Many students don’t know about social work before they attend college, so we tend to get many transfer students who thought they wanted to do something else at first,” Barnes said in an interview last fall. “For those who think they’d like to be a helping professional, social work is another great option in addition to divinity, education and health care.
“Social work is a really rewarding profession,” Barnes added. “At the end of the day, you feel like you’ve done something and that you’ve helped someone.” -- By Cherry Crayton, digital content coordinator