By: Laura Mizes Youth Outreach Coordinator with MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger
I grew up attending Jewish summer camps and remember how much fun I had with my best friends at our home away from home. I am sure you can imagine how thrilled I was to join the URJ Greene Family Camp community this summer to pilot a new program. As the Youth Outreach Coordinator for MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, I spent a week at camp leading anti-hunger awareness and advocacy activities…and I got to go zip-lining in the dark, too! So much fun!
The units of Melachim, Seganim and Kibbutz engaged in a 2-day program focused on anti-hunger awareness and advocacy. The campers learned that there are 50 million hungry Americans, and that 1 in 4 children are going hungry. These statistics were shocking to many and led to many great discussions about what it would be like to be food insecure. In bunk groups, I asked them to list six things they paid for that are necessary for living their life. After each group narrowed all of their ideas to just six things, I asked them to eliminate two…and then two more. It was fantastic to watch them wrestle with these decisions and begin to recognize the long-term impact of eliminating an item from their list. They were truly beginning to understand the struggle that 50 million Americans face everyday.
On day two, the campers learned more about MAZON and our multi-faceted approach to fighting hunger. We talked about how important it is to fight hunger in a number of ways, because as a camper mentioned, food banks and pantries can’t solve the problem alone. Then, because advocacy is a prominent aspect of MAZON’s approach to fighting hunger, we concluded with a Paper Plate Campaign. I asked each camper to write a message about hunger on a paper plate to be shared with the greater camp community. The campers were also pleasedto know that I would be sending their plates to the elected officials in their communities. As I walked around the room to talk with each kid and read their messages, I was moved by their compassion:
“All of my grandparents NEED Food Stamps to keep food on the table and even with it they require other assistances. My grandparents aren’t the only people who need Food Stamps. More families, Americans and people of the world need it too. Please protect funding for Food Stamps.”
“I have friends whose parents have to choose which child to give lunch to. That sucks!”
“There are 17 million children going to school without breakfast every morning and that number keeps increasing. Who is to say that I am not next? Please do something.”
I displayed these messages – and about 100 others – in the Chadar Ochel on Friday night as camp began to celebrate Shabbat. I was so proud to see such thought-provoking messages lining the walls of this sweet celebration. As I walked around the room to read each plate, it was obvious to me that the kids really got it. It was apparent that they truly understood our Jewish obligation to protect the most vulnerable people. I can’t wait to see how they use this experience and new knowledge once they return home from camp – and I can’t wait to do this program again next year with new camps and more campers!