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Church hopes to raise awareness of hunger

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and people are scrambling in preparation for the Christmas season. Although it is a fun and festive time of year, it is unfortunate that many get caught up in the parties, the shopping, the baking and the planning and often lose sight of what is important.

That is where a group of Sandpoint residents hope to make a difference this holiday season.

Eric Rust is the pastor at Cedar Hills Church in Sandpoint and has initiated a campaign called Feel the Hunger Day. He is encouraging others to not only learn more about this global issue but to experience first hand just a fraction of what he says one in seven people worldwide experience each and every day – hunger.

“We have an initiative at Cedar Hills inviting families to donate a day’s income to those in need, but I wanted people to feel more than that, to be emotionally involved,” said Rust. “Feel the Hunger Day is better than statistics or pictures. Participants will actually experience the hunger that a billion people feel every day.”

According to Convoy of Hope, an international hunger relief group, those who go hungry eat the same caloric content as approximately half a cup of rice on any given day. And that is what Rust and others will limit themselves to on Feel the Hunger Day this Wednesday.

Stephanie Hiatt is a member of Rust’s congregation and said she will participate in Feel the Hunger this week. Her motivation? A mission trip she took to Haiti in early November.

“Seeing the people in Haiti lining up to get their half cup of rice was heartbreaking,” said Hiatt. “Especially the ones that were too late and didn’t get any food because they had run out.”

Statistics provided by Feel the Hunger organizers state that 925 million people worldwide do not have enough to eat – a number greater than the populations of the United States, Canada and the European Union put together.

In addition, almost three billion people live on less than $2 a day with 1.1 billion living on less than $1 per day. It may be surprising to many that in America alone 13 million children live in families whose income is below the federal poverty level.

But while statistics can be informative, Rust says it is not enough to simply become aware through numbers and pictures; one must actually experience the hunger to be fully aware of the anguish that so many experience day in and day out.

“We really wanted to engage people in the process,” said Rust who said his goal is simply to raise awareness.

Rust said the impact of Feel the Hunger will be different for each individual and family who take part.

“Each individual and family has to decide what to do with it,” he said adding that it may mean taking dinner to an unemployed friend or neighbor or volunteering with the food bank.

Feel the Hunger started as an idea that Rust said has caught on quickly. And not just in Sandpoint. “We have someone in England taking part,” said Rust who encourages people to share the local website through e-mail and Facebook to help spread awareness.

Rust said he has spoken with several people who have been involved in mission trips and said he has learned a great deal from hearing their stories.

“Having talked to people who have been in that environment gives a whole new perspective,” he said.

Rust emphasizes that between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a good time to bring forth the Feel the Hunger initiative.

“In the next month most of us will eat more calories and throw more food away than any other time of year and at times we think that’s the norm,” said Rust. “But we are the exception, not the rule.

So while we are busy getting ready for the holidays, it is a good time to sit back and reflect on all of our blessings and how we, too, can help raise awareness and make a difference both globally and locally.

“At this time of year, it’s good to look outwards, to slow down a bit and sacrifice a little something for others,” he said.