The students filed into Xavier University’s Center for Innovation that Friday evening – many of them exhausted after a long week. They stood in little groups making small talk, discussing tests and term papers and making plans for Thanksgiving weekend. They were smart and accomplished Computer Science Majors ranging from novice Freshmen to seasoned Seniors preparing to graduate in a few short months. For the next three hours they would be immersed in a Poverty Simulation hosted by the Eigel Center for Community Engaged Learning, facilitated by the Freestore Foodbank and put together by the Missouri Community Action Network.

The Simulation benefited two specific student groups: Computer Science students who, along with their faculty, will be focusing their service learning coursework over the next two years on the Poverty Collaborative shepherded by United Way of Greater Cincinnati. As directed by their faculty, these students will take on projects as part of their coursework that provide tangible benefits to this initiative and further its significant outcomes. The second group, Xavier’s Community Engaged Fellows, already engage our surrounding communities weekly through service and collaboration as part of their scholarship. This opportunity offered them deeper insight into some of the obstacles that the families, students, and residents they engage.

“Preparing students before they immerse and engage in community activities as part of their learning is essential,” comments Sean Rhiney, Director of the Eigel Center. “The Freestore Foodbank’s Poverty Simulation served as that critical connector between the lessons in the classroom and the experiences offered by the community, and ultimately provided students who participated in the simulation with experience and insight into the challenges facing our community’s most vulnerable. This will inform the students’ collaborative work over the next two years working with nonprofits and furthering the outcomes of the Poverty Collaborative. “

The simulation gave participants a first-hand experience of poverty – of what it feels like to be poor and unable to pay rent, purchase food, pay utility bills, afford health care make car payments. Over 60 students attended the Poverty Simulation – a few of them volunteering their time to help facilitate the exercise, while the others were active participants. They each assumed a different identity for the duration of the simulation, handling critical issues that many of our neighbors face on a daily basis – hunger, lack of affordable housing, inability to afford childcare, lack of health care, and eviction.

“The experience was life-altering in many ways,” a student commented afterwards. “It changed my perspective on poverty and the troubles of others. It reminded me that many of the comforts I take for granted in this world, are true blessings that so many others don’t have.” The Xavier faculty and staff hope to make the Poverty Simulation a part of their curriculum and incorporate it into their schedule every year. The Freestore Foodbank is proud to partner with the university to raise awareness about issues related to poverty and hunger on college campuses and in the community. We also appreciate the able assistance of CAIN (Churches Active in Northside) in organizing this wonderful event.