With over 1,360 participants, the third annual Fast-a-Thon and Ramadan Banquet raised $17,061.91 for St. Vincent DePaul’s Amazing Grace Food Pantry in Middletown this year. To help combat local hunger, students fasted last Thursday and donated meal plan points or meals to the food pantry.

The fund-raiser has grown substantially since its start in 2007 as a joint effort between the Interfaith Justice League (IJL) and the Muslim Student Association (MSA). In its first year, the Fast-a-Thon raised $4,390 with 180 participants, and last year it raised $11,391 with 825 participants.

“That’s the strength in the event—it comes from grassroots,” said Nadeem Modan ’10 who helped start Fast-a-Thon at the University in his sophomore year.

Starting Sept. 21, students could donate meal plan points, but not meals. While students could donate up to three meals last year, this year students were only able to donate a single meal at the banquet last Thursday. They could additionally choose to donate their guest meals. Modan explained that it was more effective for students to donate points as opposed to meals because each point counts as a dollar. A meal, which ranges from $5.50 to $9.25 in value, only brings in three dollars for the food pantry. The remainder of the meal value goes to Bon Appétit to cover overhead costs.

For the past two years, students could e-mail their point contributions to a Fast-A-Thon Planning Committee. This year, the committee created a webpage to expedite the process that allowed students to donate meal plan points instantly. Ultimately, Modan felt that the website did not influence the rise in participants as much as it targeted advertising for the fund-raiser.

“Overall, I wouldn’t give the website nearly as much credit, as the fact that this is the third time we’re doing it,” he said. “We’re targeting what works.”

As in years past, organizers put forth a massive tabling effort at various dining locations on campus. Resident Advisors (RAs) also participated in fundraising. They were able to incorporate Fast-a-Thon into one of their community service programs. Some RAs posted sign-up sheets on their doors so students could write their names and the number of points they wanted to donate.

Noumaan Shamsi ’10, Head Resident for Fauver, WestCo, and Clark, emphasized the impact RAs could have on getting freshmen involved in the event.
“What better way to get people involved then for RAs to talk to their immediate residents, particularly freshmen?” he said. “If freshmen get involved now, then in the coming years it will be more and more likely that they’ll be willing to donate points—when they have more points.”

The total number of points and meals that students donate are credited to a Weshop account that enables Amazing Grace to purchase food at wholesale prices. The food pantry, located on Main Street in Middletown, allows needy families to choose the food items they would like from what is currently available at the pantry.

“Many students and faculty are very aware of the needs of the people we serve,” said Ron Krom, Executive Director of St. Vincent DePaul Place.

After a day of fasting, students gathered in the evening for a banquet catered by local restaurant Haveli India. Due to last year’s high attendance rate, the event was split between Beckham Hall and the Daniel Family Commons.

Introduced by organizer Emily Hoffman ’10, the event had several speakers, including President Michael Roth, the University’s Muslim chaplain Marwa Said Aly, Executive Director of St. Vincent DePaul Ron Krom, as well as a traditional Muslim call to prayer performed by Sandy Yudhistira ’12.

Roth focused on the importance of food distribution to those who need it and the impact students could have on this issue.

“I want to commend you for thinking about people who don’t have the same access to food that we have,” Roth said. “Giving people food is an act of justice. In my tradition, we say, ‘Charity is okay, but justice is what really matters.’”

Aly emphasized the social justice component, as well as the ritual significance of fasting, regardless of one’s specific faith.

“People so often focus on the negatives of fasting,” she said. “They forget that we gain so much by fasting. It gives us this moral connectivity that we’re normally not aware of.”

Flavia DeSouza ’05, a field organizer from Bread for the World, an organization focused on combating hunger at both the national and international level, also addressed students. DeSouza provided envelopes at each table for attendees to write personal letters to Connecticut Senators Chris Dodd (D) and Joe Lieberman (I) asking them to support the Foreign Assistance Revitalization and Accountability Act of 2009. The bill is geared towards strengthening foreign assistance programs, particularly the reduction of poverty and hunger. DeSouza plans on hand-delivering the envelopes to the senators in Washington D.C.

Charles Mitchell, the Assistant Coordinator at Amazing Grace Food Pantry, emphasized the importance of local food drives and raising money for the organization.

“That’s the biggest contribution, because that’s what we’re here for, to distribute food to the needy,” he said. “It’s what keeps us going.”

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