If you have ever seen evidence of homelessness or hunger in the streets of Irvine, consider yourself among the minority.
While invisible around UCI, and the majority of Southern Orange County for that matter, both homelessness and hunger remain pertinent social issues in America today.
Understanding the importance of these problems, organizations representing the UCI Volunteer Center, including Students for Homeless Outreach United Together, Circle K and CALPIRG invested a week’s of time and effort into educating the UCI community about these issues.
From Nov. 16 to 22, a variety of events were led by each of these community service organizations to coincide with National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.
‘The purpose of this week is to make students aware that hunger and homelessness are problems that exist,’ said Emily Huang, SHOUT co-chair and a third-year biomedical engineering major.
To kick off the events, SHOUT held a bake sale along Ring Road, which operated during the majority of the week. By supporting the bake sale, students were able to help the club raise funds for a good cause.
‘Money raised from the sale will be used to buy equipment and supplies for future projects and community service events,’ said Carrie Chan, SHOUT chair and a fourth-year biological sciences major.
With each baked good purchased, patrons received an orange ribbon signifying their support, while receiving facts and statistics about hunger and homelessness.
On Tuesday, CALPIRG offered students the opportunity to volunteer at Families Forward, a community outreach center in Irvine. Participants were asked to sort and package food baskets for the hungry.
‘It’s like a food bank, but on a smaller scale,’ said Jamie Dow, a member of CALPIRG and Circle K, and a fourth-year sociology major.
On Nov. 20, SHOUT held what was likely the largest and most popular event of the week, their 10th annual sleep-out.
Students interested in educating themselves further about issues related to homelessness were encouraged to come for an evening of food, entertainment and guest speakers, all leading up to a night’s sleep on the cold concrete in front of the UCI Administration Building.
Throughout the event, which began at 7 p.m. and ended at 7 a.m. on Friday morning, various facts and statistical figures related to hunger and homelessness were shared with participants through activities.
Although few questioned the intent of the sleep-out, many were unsure of its effectiveness.
‘I don’t think sleeping in front of the administration building is a very accurate simulation of life as a homeless person,’ said Rohmel Reynoso, a second-year studio art major.
According to club members and event participants, however, a true simulation was not necessarily the purpose of the sleep out.
‘If the event simulated the miserable realities of being homeless, it would not advance club goals. There are still people who don’t do it because they can’t handle it,’ Dow said.
Bringing the week to a close, Circle K afforded students an opportunity to volunteer at the Someone Cares Soup Kitchen in Costa Mesa.
‘We don’t serve, but we clean up afterwards. It is not glamorous, but the help is appreciated,’ said Jonathan Betonio, Circle K member and a third-year computer science major.
While not formally part of the week’s events, CALPIRG offered students eager for more direct interaction with the homeless a chance to serve Thanksgiving dinner to over 10,000 people at We Give Thanks in Anaheim on Thanksgiving Day.
Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week 2003 offered UCI students a unique opportunity to educate themselves and experience two problems that are not obviously prevalent in this South Orange Country community.
‘For Irvine, it’s a trip to discuss issues this community does not have to face on a daily basis,’ Betonio said.
The week’s events also allowed the UCI community a chance to discredit any misconceptions previously held about these issues.
‘Many think that only people you see on the street are homeless, when in reality it could be anyone,’ Chan said.
Students interested in learning more and getting involved with SHOUT, CALPIRG and Circle K are encouraged to check out the UCI Volunteer Center web site at www.volunteer.uci.edu