Oxfam Fast Shows Student Philanthropy

On Thursday, the lobby outside Harris Refectory was unusually quiet due to the annual Oxfam Dining Hall Fast.

“The Oxfam Dining Hall Fast is a charity fundraiser for Oxfam America and the New London Community Meal Center,” Michael Murgo ’15 SGA Chair of Diversity and Equity said. The fundraiser is organized by SGA, Dining Services and the Office of Spiritual and Religious Life.

The Dining Hall Fast falls under the umbrella organization called Oxfam America – “an international relief and development organization that saves lives, helps people overcome poverty, and fights for social justice,” according to their website.

The week leading up to Oxfam, students could voluntarily “give up” their meals. In other words, those who signed up would find food elsewhere for the night – either at Oasis or off-campus venues. Students who didn’t volunteer for Oxfam were able to eat on campus at Jane Addams dining hall. For every student who chose to give up their dinner, Dining Services donated $3.15 – the raw food cost of a meal – to organizations who feed the hungry; Murgo estimated that the program has been going on at least since 2006.

In order to tally the number of students participating, Dining Services collected the sign up sheets each night after dinner. However, the total number of meals given up will not likely be tallied until after Thanksgiving break because, as Director of Dining Services Ingrid Bushwack describes, it’s a pretty complicated process.

“We are still checking on the people that eat at JA, in case they pledged to give their meal up but ate anyway. We also have to check the use of athletic team vouchers at the snack shop for the same reason. This is pretty time consuming for us,” she said.

However, Murgo can report that the first three nights of sign-ups yielded about 650 signatures, and roughly estimates that the total tally is about 867 – a total $2, 731 in donations. This number is lower than last year (1,074 meals were donated last year), which Murgo explains may be due to a different sign-up procedure.

“Last year, instead of having students sign up, Dining Services and SGA decided to take the average number of meals eaten on the three preceding Thursdays, subtract the number of people who ate in JA or used a voucher in Oasis, and donate that amount,” he said.

“This [old] method works well, but Dining Services was concerned that it deteriorates the spirit of Oxfam. Because students weren’t signing themselves up, many didn’t know that they were donating their meals. All they knew was that they couldn’t eat in Harris that night. Having students sign up individually helps them realize the good that they are doing for the world’s hungry, and the difference they are making in their lives by choosing not to eat just one dinner at a dining hall,” Murgo said.

Alexandra Bolles ’13, who represented the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life in the organization of Oxfam, agrees with the new method. “I’m a big fan of the sign-up method. Even if the numbers weren’t quite as high (though they’re always impressively high), the goal goes beyond raising money. The goal includes raising awareness. That moment, that ‘I eat everyday and some people never eat’ realization, is an important one. Tangible donations are, without a doubt, important, particularly to the people receiving them. Getting people to think about privilege and injustice, even if just for a night, is invaluable.”

Next year, SGA will assess the success of Oxfam 2012, weigh the difference in methods between this year and last year and decide which to use next fall. Murgo said that SGA may also consider reaching out to local businesses to offer special deals for students who give up their meals.

Bolles spent a few nights tabling in Harris, and was impressed by the philanthropic attitude of many students. “Conn is a really special place because we’re all so fortunate to be here and experience what it has to offer. It seems like a small gesture, but setting aside a night for us to recognize our own privilege, the fact that many people lack basic necessities, and to realize how easily we can make a collective effort to contribute – it’s an important and necessary message for us at Conn to get.”