Ohio Wesleyan University students and staff members next week will examine how socio-economic classes affect individuals' ability to sustain themselves.

Ohio Wesleyan University students and staff members next week will examine how socio-economic classes affect individuals' ability to sustain themselves.

On Dec. 3, Mary Howard -- a 13-year OWU professor of anthropology and current chairwoman of the university's department of sociology and anthropology -- will join the student group Progress OWU in hosting "The Hunger Banquet."

The event will take place at 6 p.m. in OWU's Benes Room in the Hamilton-Williams Campus Center, 40 Rowland Ave. It will help Open Shelter Inc., a Columbus-based outreach organization which seeks to assist the homeless, by asking everyone who attends to donate $5 or three canned goods.

Organizers hope to raise awareness about poverty and hunger by providing attendees with slips which assign them a specific socio-economic class. The type and quantity of food they will be given to eat at the banquet will reflect their status.

"It's largely to get students to appreciate the maldistribution of resources between countries and within a country," Howard said. "Students and faculty come in and grab a sheet that gives them an identity. Their identities are just a matter of their good luck or fortunes."

Fifteen percent of banquet attendees will represent the upper class and will enjoy a four-course, fully catered meal.

Another 30 percent will represent the middle class and will be permitted to wait in line and serve themselves rice and beans.

The remaining 60 percent will represent the impoverished, and will be served from a soup-style kitchen, receiving one scoop of rice. They also will eat while seated on the floor.

"It's trying to play on the fact we're all human beings, but some of us have been born into circumstances that we don't have to worry about hunger," Howard said. "The vast majority of students at Ohio Wesleyan are like that."

The Hunger Banquet is the third incarnation of similar activities held during recent years at OWU to raise awareness about poverty and hunger. Howard has devoted her career to analyzing issues related to those societal problems after serving on the Open Shelter board, writing about drought and famine in East Africa in the 1970s, and filming documentaries about homelessness in Columbus.

Progress OWU's involvement comes after regularly serving meals to up to 160 homeless and hungry people on behalf of Open Shelter, and after recently raising $1,100 for the shelter through a "Dorm Storm" event.

"I think a number of students through this linkage have developed career interests in human service work related to poverty issues," Howard said. "It's not only a responsibility to help others, but there's a real gleam of meaning in life to focus on other people and not only yourself.

"I think there's a clearer feedback when people see something can be accomplished by trying to help a small corner of their community. It's one of those clichés, 'Think global, act local.'"

As part of the banquet, Kent Beittel, the Open Shelter's executive director and founder, will give a keynote address focusing on the growing need to fight poverty and hunger in communities throughout the world.

While The Hunger Banquet is an event for the OWU community, Howard said she hopes it also raises awareness about poverty and hunger throughout the local community, and persuades people to support organizations such as Open Shelter in Delaware, central Ohio and beyond.

nellis@thisweeknews.com