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A mile in their shoes

By Roger Greene
Coastal Observer

For 30 hours, more than 40 members of the Belin Memorial United Methodist Church youth fellowship went hungry.

The youth minister, the Rev. Erik Mays, said the focus of the weekend project was to provide an opportunity for the group in grades six through 12 to discuss and learn about complex social issues such as poverty, hunger and homelessness.

"We wanted to do something that would make our youth think," said Mays, who has directed the youth fellowship for two years. "We wanted to create an eye-opening experience for them, where they could experience what the millions of people around the world who are affected by hunger and homelessness go through each day."

Those involved said the message was received.

"It was something that hit home for me," said Emily Oakley, a junior at Waccamaw High School. "Poverty and hunger are things that exist in our community and are a lot closer than many people realize. They are problems that we need to fix."

With the exception of vitamins and juices on an as-needed basis, those involved were not allowed to eat from the time they went to bed on Friday until Sunday morning, when members of the church's men’s group arrived to cook them breakfast.

The group gathered at the church Saturday and spent the night sleeping in a "box city," designed to simulate conditions the homeless population routinely faces.

Canned goods were collected during the evening to benefit Helping Hand, a United Way agency that responds to the needs of the less fortunate and homeless along the Grand Strand.

"It wasn’t even that cold on Saturday night and we had a fire to help keep us warm," said Patrick Saber, a St. James High freshman. "That made you think about all the people who face much worse conditions and who don't have anything to help keep them warm."

"We said a prayer that night," Mays said. "I asked everyone to think about all the others who would be sleeping in a box, or who were hungry, that wouldn't have a meal prepared for them, or a home to go to the next day."

Saturday evening, group members played Tribe, an interactive activity designed to teach participants about the conditions in Haiti after the devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake in January 2010.

"It showed how much people went through just to get basic needs," Saber said. "Things that we take for granted, like water, which most of the time wasn’t even clean after the earthquake."

"The role playing we did made an impact," Oakley said. "We got a clearer understanding that things were much worse than people thought."

Mays plans on making "30-hour Famine" an annual event and wants to broaden its community outreach aspect in the future.

"We want our youth to open their hearts and minds to the world," Mays said. "We want them to think outside of themselves and think of how they can help others."

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