With the holidays approaching and the spirit of giving in the air, Rider University gave back to their community by raising awareness during Hunger and Homelessness Week.
Andrea Panno '12

With the holidays approaching and the spirit of giving in the air, students at Rider University worked to raise awareness during Hunger and Homelessness Week, from November 15 to 19, with a series of events intended to shine a light on these issues, the impact of which is felt just beyond the shadows of the Lawrenceville campus.

The Community Service Council held one of the week’s signature events on the night of Thursday, November 18, with a sleep-out on the Campus Mall. The sleep-out, which saw students spend the night with only cardboard boxes for shelter, aimed to call attention to homelessness issues in New Jersey, rather than to simulate actual homeless conditions. The event began with Rev. Dawn Adamy, Rider’s Protestant Campus Ministry chaplain, leading participants in a candlelight vigil.

“Everyone there had fun and a good number of Rider students expressed their encouragement throughout the night,” said Matt Friberg, a full-time AmeriCorp member and sleep-out participant. “All in all, the event succeeded in what it was meant to accomplish – raising awareness about issues of hunger and homelessness in Mercer County.”

Friberg said there are a number of state-run programs aimed at tackling homelessness, including the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs’ Homelessness Prevention Program, which provides temporary assistance to those without homes or close to being so. The program assists such individuals in finding residences that they will be able to sustain with and without program aid.

“Despite these efforts, New Jersey’s hunger and homelessness problem still continues to grow due to the economic crisis in the nation, Friberg said. “To focus on hunger specifically, a recent study shows that the number of individuals served at New Jersey’s Federation of Food Banks has risen 45 percent since last year.”

As the nation struggles economically, food banks like the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) struggle as well. TASK, with support from Rider’s Bonner Program students, helped raise awareness during the week as well. Members from the soup kitchen performed a musical-drama, known as the SHARE Project, in the Sweigart Auditorium on Thursday night. The program benefited homeless and non-homeless people alike through its moving expressions of economic adversity.

“The SHARE Project performance is a creative and casual commentary about life and poverty, and it was well received by the Rider Community,” said junior Joe Landolfi, a Secondary Education major who helped organize the performance. “There was a large audience and they were engaged and interactive with the performers, who were even able to answer students’ questions after the performance.”

The onset of the holiday season is a busy time for the Bonner Leadership Foundation, which supports the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen as well as a number of other area service organizations and connects Rider’s Bonner Leaders to their community. The program works side-by-side with HomeFront, the Trenton Area School Program, Mercer Street Friends and other organizations. Annie Pasqua, assistant director of Campus Life who oversees Rider’s Bonner program, said the program was transformative for her as an undergraduate in North Carolina.

“As a student, the Bonner program changed my life view. I realized I had passion for creating exposure of social justice issues and motivating others to take action through community service,” Pasqua said. “The experience connected me beyond the walls of the college to people in all different walks of life.”

Rider’s campus has various programs, like Bonner and the Community Service Council, that allow students to involve themselves with their community and reach out to those in need. Hunger and Homelessness Week was a successful and moving illustration of how Rider’s opportunities come together with community programs to express their consciousness of nation-wide issues.