Homelessness is not faceless

According to a report issued by the U.S. department of agriculture, 14.7 percent of U.S. households or approximately 50.2 million people lived in food-insecure households at some time in 2009—the highest rate in 14 years.

It is also estimated that anywhere from 2 to 3.5 million people in America experience homelessness each year.

Junior Amy Liang, through her work with Wake Forest’s Campus Kitchen, knows first-hand that there are many people for whom a nutritious meal and a warm bed are not everyday occurrences. Last summer, she conducted a research project to raise awareness of the issue. “I wanted to tell the story of homelessness in Winston-Salem by letting the homeless tell their own stories,” she says. To do this, she collected interviews with local homeless men and women, which she has compiled into a documentary.

The film, “Homeless in Winston-Salem” will be screened this week as part of National Hunger and Homelessness week (Nov. 13-19). More than 500 campuses and communities nationwide participate in the event by organizing education, service and advocacy events related to hunger and homelessness.

Liang says the homeless are in a vicious cycle. “They sign up for job-skill classes, but the list is long,” she says. “They wait and wait but no one gets back to them. Some homeless people also have criminal records from 20 years ago, and although they have had no issues since then, employers refuse to hire them. There are challenges to being homeless that most people never think of.”

Liang is a biology major and English minor from Kingsport, Tenn. Her summer research work was funded through her Wake Forest Joseph G. Gordon Scholarship.

Homelessness and food insecurity go hand-in-hand. Even when living in emergency or transitional shelters, “the homeless do not have access to the most nutritious kinds of foods,” Liang says. This is where Campus Kitchen helps.

The Campus Kitchen is a food recycling program that uses cooked but never-served food from the campus dining halls to make healthy and nutritious meals for the needy in the local community. The program is one of Wake Forest’s premier sustainability initiatives; rescuing food that would otherwise be wasted and using it to fight hunger and poverty in the greater Winston-Salem area.

During Turkeypalooza, a special Campus Kitchen initiative during Hunger and Homelessness week, cooking and serving is an all-out celebration. Campus Kitchens nationwide will be preparing traditional Thanksgiving day dinner fare for their local agencies. This year, at Wake Forest, the turkeys used are locally raised, organic birds. Homemade pumpkin cookies are also part of the meal.

Students bake pumpkin cookies for Turkeypalooza

Students bake homemade cookies for Turkeypalooza.

“I love the mission of Campus Kitchen. Agencies such as AIDS Care Service don’t have enough resources for three meals a day. They very much depend on our help,” Liang says.

Liang hopes her documentary film, Turkeypalooza and other events surrounding Hunger and Homelessness Week will encourage people to get involved. “We hope to make an impression so that people will want to be a part of the long-term solution to the problem of hunger and homelessness. These issues need to be addressed all year long,” she says, “not just for one week out of the year.”

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