Wornick students get a taste of hunger at Thanksgiving

Some students had a feast: lasagna, salad, brownies, lemonade and seconds of anything they wanted.

Most students, however, only smelled the warm aroma of chocolate baked goods. They ate rice and beans out of a Styrofoam bowl instead.

The cuisine gap at Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School in Foster City symbolized the gap worldwide between the haves and the have-nots.

Dozens of students in fifth through eighth grades celebrated Thanksgiving Nov. 22 with only a little food. The hunger banquet aimed to teach students about global hunger and poverty during the most bountiful of U.S. holidays.

“We are here today because 1.2 billion, about one-fifth of the world population, live in poverty,” said Arielle Storm, a seventh-grader, to a group of about 60 students and teachers.

Students listened attentively to Storm and her classmates rattle off more statistics: A person dies from hunger every 3.9 seconds. Fifteen percent of the world consumes 70 percent of the food.

“Wow,” whispered Natalie Spievack of San Mateo, a 10-year-old with wire-rimmed glasses, olive skin and dark brown hair pulled back into a ponytail.

“We’re really lucky,” she added after the food was served (rice and beans for her).

“We have more than we need,” said her best friend Ilana Gordon of San Carlos, a thin 10-year-old with pale freckled skin and a big smile.

Students and teachers were randomly divided into three groups — high, middle and low income.

The high-income students sat at a banquet table, ate on fine china and were offered second helpings of lasagna. They represented 15 percent of the world’s population, with incomes of more than $9,076 a year.

The middle-income students — which included Natalie and Ilana — ate rice and beans . They sat in chairs without a table. They represented 30 percent of the world’s population, earning between $912 and $9,076 a year.

The low-income students represented a majority of the world’s population — roughly 55 percent. These students earned a yearly income of less than $911. They sat on the floor. They ate only rice.

“Just securing the bare necessities for life is a daily battle, one [that is] often lost,” said Amy Kurzeka, a Wornick middle school teacher, to the audience of students and teachers.

Kurzeka encouraged the students to talk in small groups about how the hunger banquet made them feel, what it taught them about world hunger and what they think when they see someone on the street begging for money.

“I know some homeless have a good education because I’ve talked to them. I usually give them food instead of money, in case they by cigarettes,” Ilana said, wrinkling her nose.

She said the school had a food drive in November and delivered the food to families in need.

“I wish we could have done that for everyone in the world,” she added.

Later, students shared as a large group. They passed the microphone around the room as they continued to nibble on their rice or lasagna.

“We should always give more to people who have less than us because it’s a mitzvah, and it’s just the right thing to do,” said Kapii Cole, an 11-year-old from Castro Valley.

Jeremy Kirshner, a 12-year-old from Foster City, added, “When I looked down and saw people eating just rice … I felt bad that we had more.”

That wasn’t the goal of the hunger banquet, Kurzeka said. She wanted students to feel grateful and not guilty, to be empowered and not saddened.

“The more you know about hunger, the more you can do to end it,” she said.

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.