‘This Cannot Be True:’ One College’s Fight Against Hunger and Homelessness

November 9, 2007

▲ 3.5 million people in the United States are likely to experience homelessness this year
▲ 1.35 million are under 18 years old
▲ 44 % of the homeless population has done paid work in the previous month
▲ 1 in 8 American youth will become homeless this year
▲ 1 women’s college in Staunton, Virginia will raise hundreds of people’s awareness
Stephanie Klusmann '11 describes her passion for helping the homelessMary Baldwin University freshman Stephanie Klusmann was 12 years old the first time a park in her neighborhood in Virginia Beach served as her bedroom. She acknowledges the negative connotation of the term “runaway,” but it appeared to be a better alternative to living with her father. She became a statistic, one of the 1.6 million American children under age 18 who are on the streets on any given night.

Klusmann’s experience makes her a natural as one of several organizers of Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week at Mary Baldwin November 12–16, a local version of the national awareness week. Annual events at Mary Baldwin, such as a Hunger Banquet and canned food drive, and new ones, such as a sleep-out on the lawn of the President’s House, combine for a line-up to open eyes and minds. The college’s newly minted Spencer Center for Civic and Global Engagement will be the epicenter for many of the week’s activities, including assembling donated canned food into a peace tower to symbolize the tower in Iceland dedicated to John Lennon in October, Klusmann said.

Members of the Mary Baldwin Sociology Club volunteer in the kitchen at Valley MissionHelen Burke, executive director of Valley Mission homeless shelter in Staunton, said Mary Baldwin students regularly volunteer at the shelter and in its thrift shop. “Volunteering here gives them a real look at the situation many people are in. Many times, they come in to fulfill a requirement, but they end up staying when that is finished because they want to continue helping,” said Burke, who will be a panelist at the college November 13 as part of Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.

As an Mary Baldwin student, Klusmann, 16, has a stable home in the residence hall for the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted, but the picture of homelessness — particularly youth homelessness — she saw while on her own was unforgettable. “When I first heard some of the statistics, I said ‘This cannot be true,’” she said. “I realized I would do whatever it takes