Guest post by Food Bank volunteer Leslie Mladinich: When I think of hunger having a voice, I think of TV commercials showing starving children in faraway lands and a celebrity asking for a monthly pledge to feed that child.
But the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano’s educational play, Hungry, showed me that hunger does have a real voice, and it’s speaking right here in our own community.
Hunger is an actual character who acts as the conscience of Eric, a middle school student who struggles with not having enough food to eat when his father is out of work. The play wraps up its 4-week tour today at Foothill Middle School in Walnut Creek, with more than 4,000 students learning about hunger through this innovative tool each Fall. (Information about booking future performances can be found at the end of the article).
Commissioned by the Food Bank, the play was written by award-winning playwright Patricia Loughrey to educate the community in a unique way. Throughout the plot, professional actors alternate in roles of students, teachers, a mother, father, fast food server, nutritionist, school nurse, and Food Bank employees to convey that hunger is a strong emotional and physiological force.
And it isn’t isolated to those faraway lands in television commercials.
But with his booming, abrasive rap, the character of Hunger is the loudest: he voices Eric’s dialogue in his head – broadcasting the physical pains, scattered concentration, and low energy that come with having to skip meals regularly.
Thinking back on my time in middle school, I could put myself in the shoes of Reena, a cliquey, insecure girl who doesn’t want to work with Eric, “that weird guy who sleeps all the time,” when they are assigned a joint class presentation on hunger. Eric is also hesitant to work with Reena, afraid she’ll discover his secret of having mayonnaise sandwiches for dinner and being constantly hungry. He doesn’t want her to know that along with falling asleep in class, hunger causes his stomach to hurt and his mind to obsess with embarrassment. When Reena gives Eric a bag of food she carries on the bus to his house, he throws it away because he’s ashamed of taking a handout.
Eric and Reena tour their local Food Bank for research. For example, as Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano Executive Director Larry Sly pointed out before the play, the Food Bank helps some 149,000 people each month and distributed approximately 16 million pounds of food last year which is enough food for 13 million meals. Startled by the statistics and not feeling so alone, Eric realizes it is okay for others to know his family is hungry and declares to Reena: “Why is it any different for you to help me with food than for me to help you with math?” Eric decides he is going to ask his parents to get help from the Food Bank because: “I’m sick of being hungry.”
Interest in the topic of hunger is rising and through the play, actors tell community members how they can help. They could donate their time and food. Sandra Scherer, Executive Director of the Monument Crisis Center in Concord, said the play hit on themes that she sees everyday from clients across the economic spectrum.
“Hunger hits across all of our communities,” she said.
The play Hungry makes it possible to humanize this.
For nearly 10 years, the Food Bank has been using theatre as an educational tool by sponsoring this free performance. Questions about sponsorship opportunities or booking “Hungry” performances should be directed to Patty McDowell at [email protected] or (925) 676-7543, extension 243.