25 Years of Developing Student Leaders and Fighting Hunger and Homelessness
As famine swept across Ethiopia in the early 1980's, leaving millions of people at risk of starvation, countless Americans felt compelled to alleviate Ethiopia's suffering. The average American could not watch the evening news or visit a newsstand without seeing images of the tragic event that was threatening a nation. The horrific images of starving Ethiopians inspired massive public outcry and action worldwide. Concerned Americans joined their foreign counterparts to organize food drives and fundraisers that would ultimately benefit the suffering county.
At the same time, hunger and homelessness was on the rise in America as funding for several federal key low-income housing and feeding programs was eliminated. From 1981 to 1986, funding to create new public housing was cut by over 75%. The backlash of these changes created a society of poor people who were forced to sleep on the streets or park benches and had to line up outside soup kitchens just to be able to eat a warm meal.
To address the expanding problem in Ethiopia, thirty-nine musicians and celebrities joined efforts to record the song We Are the World, whose proceeds would benefit USA for Africa's famine relief efforts. USA for Africa used the profits generated by the sales of this incredibly popular song to support local, national, and international programs designed to address the Ethiopian famine and hunger relief programs.
Recognizing the incredible potential of the collective power of these volunteers and young people, USA for Africa and the state student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) combined their resources to establish the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness in 1985. The Campaign works to increase student community service and action to end hunger and homelessness by offering resources, support and guidance to a potentially powerful, concerned and disconnected population. That first year, the Campaign contacted hundreds of schools and student groups nationwide in an effort to unify their efforts and offer support and training.
The success we achieved that first year only confirmed our belief that students were concerned and only wanted the opportunity to act. Through the Campaign's "Let's Start Giving Campaign" students raised more than $250,000, collected 85,000 signatures to encourage decision makers to "Stamp Out Hunger," helped organize 10 million Americans to unite in "Hands Across America," and surveyed 1,574 emergency food recipients to paint a "Portrait of America's Hungry."
With this initial success, the Campaign decided to expand its programs, as well as the coalition of students working to end hunger and homelessness by developing long-term solutions. Over the past twenty years, the Campaign has become the student-arm of the anti-hunger and homelessness movement. We have developed several national programs, become a clearinghouse of information and a liaison between national and student organizations, and expanded thousands of students' leadership skills to become better organizers and activists. We have engaged thousands of students in community service and political campaigns, developed local long-term projects like food salvage programs, and raised millions to fight hunger and homelessness here and abroad.