Food drives and other means of helping others are a hallmark of the upcoming holiday season, but Suffolk University’s S.O.U.L.S. Center for Community Engagement takes the concept a step further by raising awareness about social inequities during its Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Month activities.

In addition to serving meals and organizing a campus food and clothing drive, the center’s many November activities include an Oxfam hunger banquet, a talk by Spare Change News founder James Shearer, and an exhibit of photographs and narratives about people who have experienced homelessness.

Student Caroline McHeffey, a community partnerships scholar with the S.O.U.L.S. Center, is organizing the November Hunger and Homelessness Awareness events. She also created the Make Change exhibit, drawing on her experience writing for Spare Change, a newspaper reporting on and providing employment and community to homeless people.

Real people, real problems
The exhibit profiles Spare Change News street vendors as well as former clients of the Boston Rescue Mission who now serve as staff members helping others out of homelessness.

One of the people McHeffey profiled is Anthony, who fell into drugs and drinking as a young teen and struggled for years to regain sobriety. He met several people who helped him along the way and finally found “peace” at Boston Rescue Mission.

“Anthony wants others to know that there are very complex reasons that go into someone who encounters homelessness,” wrote McHeffey in her exhibit text. “Whether it be mental illness, drugs, or any type of addition, people are not responsible for their actions, but are accountable. The largest misconception … is that people don’t want to do anything differently and that the homeless can simply go and get the services they need but … don’t want to. … It is far more complex, and that is something Anthony would like the world to see. “

Teaching children about hunger
The Oxfam Hunger Banquet fund-raiser is a longtime S.O.U.L.S. tradition that brings elementary school children together for a meal. The hitch is that color-coded tickets are handed out in proportion to the levels of poverty in the world. Therefore most of the banquet’s guests eat a meager meal of rice and a few beans. Some, representing the middle class, have a more substantial meal, while a very few enjoy a generous feast.

“Afterwards we facilitate a discussion among the students, asking them: ‘What do you think about the food you ate?’” said McHeffey.

McHeffey is majoring in History, with minors in English and Religious Studies. Her community engagement work stems in part from her interest in issues related to poverty.