A whopping 159.4 pounds. No, that is not how much reading students have to plow through before the Thanksgiving break, even though it may feel that way. That is the amount of the garbage collected off student trays in just one hour in Daly’s. As part of Hunger and Homelessness Awareness (HAHA) Week, student volunteers weighed all the half eaten slices of pizza, left over green beans and stale desserts left behind. Who knew that taking out the trash, the nitty-gritty chore that most of us hate, would raise our awareness about the wasteful lifestyle many of us are living amid growing poverty and homelessness?
Once upon a time, Chinese emperors were served 50- course meals consisting of numerous dishes. Many were left untouched and ultimately went to waste. Fast forward to today, when some students seem to be living in a lap of luxury and throwing food by the wayside, leaving the lights on in the residence hall room without a second thought. Truthfully, it is easy to fall into the mindset and derive a sense of entitlement when we pay more than $35,000 a year to be a Rider student. It’s even easier to go about our lives in the Rider bubble and not take notice of what’s occurring on the outside.
Rider needs to look no further than its own backyard to see the unimaginable and heartbreaking effects of poverty and homelessness. The numbers don’t lie and, in fact, may be as shocking as when you go to buy a new car and see the price on the sticker. Trenton has the second highest rate of family homelessness in the nation, according to the Homeless Resource Advisory Committee. Most of us may have a tendency to think of the homeless as unemployed adults perhaps addicted to drugs and unable to hold down a steady job. That stereotype only serves to degrade and perpetuate an escalating issue.
Sadly enough, history seems to be repeating itself. Former President Lyndon B. Johnson declared an “unconditional war on poverty in America” more than 40 years ago and ushered in many new programs in hopes of providing relief and inspiration for better days. According to a 2007 report from the National Coalition for the Homeless, more than 38 million, or approximately 14 percent in the United States live in poverty. Things are not much better here in New Jersey.
If you work hard and play by the rules, you can get ahead. At least that is what comes to mind when one thinks of the American Dream. But, for some, that is a lofty dream without the potential to become a crystal-clear reality. If what has already been said has not influenced you, perhaps Aristotle’s advice, that we are most fully persuaded when something is demonstrated, will come in handy. If you are an individual making minimum wage — $7.15 in New Jersey — you would have to work 15.8 hours a day, 7 days a week (or 111 hours a week) just to afford a 2 bedroom apartment in Mercer County, according to Mercer Alliance group.
These statistics and facts will hopefully leave us all with an uneasy feeling as if something were crawling up our spine as we feast over the upcoming holidays. If all goes well, many of us will be propelled into action to help alleviate hunger and homelessness. Yet, there is a bright light shining, as a group like HAHA proves that Rider is taking these social matters seriously. Rider sends students on the Midnight Run every month to New York City to provide the homeless with food and clothing. This year Rider and its student organizations aspire to donate 300 baskets filled with goods to donate to local organizations that will ensure needy families enjoy a Thanksgiving meal.
In the end, there is much to be appreciative for this year. The untimely loss of four students and a professor in the span of a month touched us all and challenged the Rider community, under great duress, to find the courage to move forward. Our hearts may be weighing heavily, but let’s be thankful for the time we had with Thomas Galletta, Ryan Marsich, Justin Warfield, Nicholas Costa, Alicia Lehman and Dr. David Rebovich.
While we are at it, let’s remember to say, “thank you.” It’s amazing how these two simple words can make the world go round and bring out the humanity in each of us.
Written By Opinion Editor, Jamie Papapetros