More than 70 youth spent the last weekend of February experiencing what it’s like to live in poverty.
For the 16th year, the youth group of St. John’s Episcopal Church in SouthPark took part in the national 30 Hour Famine, going without food from noon on Friday to 6 p.m. Saturday. On Friday night, the group slept on the church lawn in cardboard shelters, and temperatures dropped to the mid-20s.
“Nothing compares to spending a freezing night in a cardboard box with your stomach rumbling,” said Emma Burri, a senior at Providence Day School who has participated in the 30 Hour Famine for seven years. “When you go through this, you really understand how lucky we are in this part of the world.”
St. John’s Episcopal teenagers solicited pledges for their fast, and they have raised more than $53,000 for World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization.
St. John’s began participating in the fast 16 years ago when teenagers at the church wanted to do something globally to help hunger, said Matt Williams, St. John’s youth minister.
The next year, another teenager pointed out that poverty was about more than hunger, and the youth added camping in a cardboard shelter.
Williams said the 30 Hour Famine began with excitement as youth gathered at the church on Friday to put their cardboard shelters together. Students are reminded, though, that when they get tired and cranky they are experiencing what many people around the world feel all of the time.
“We tell them that for you, this is a temporary thing,” Williams said.
After sleeping outside, students went into the church Saturday morning for a cardio funk exercise session to get them moving, followed by a time of worship.
They then divided into groups for service projects. The younger students worked in the warehouse at Samaritan’s Feet, and the older students partnered with Love INC to help several seniors with yard work.
They regrouped at 5 p.m. for a worship service, breaking their fast with the bread and wine of communion.
By that time, the smell of fried chicken was wafting into the building, Williams said.
He said, laughing, that the church typically stations people at the back of the room to keep the youth from running to the dinner tables.
“They usually are pretty ravenous by the time it gets there,” Williams said. One youth commented in the final hours of the fast that his brain was squishy.
At 6 p.m., the youth enjoyed a fried chicken dinner followed by pie and ice cream.
The annual event, which is held at churches across the country, can have lasting effects on teenagers, Williams said.
One St. John’s Episcopal teenagers began volunteering regularly with Room in the Inn, a church housing program for people who are homeless, after her first 30 Hour Famine, he said.
“For the most part, the famine gives them an appreciation for what it’s like to be hungry for a long time and it makes them thankful that it’s something they get to do voluntarily and not something they have to live with,” Williams said.
“They know a little bit of what it’s like, and they don’t want people to have to live that way.”
Marty Minchin is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marty? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.