The Shoval Center, Department of Theology and the Office of Study Abroad held their third annual Interfaith Fast-a-Thon to benefit refugees. On November 30, the King’s community broke the fast with a dinner.

Students gave up a lunch swipe from their meal plan the day of the dinner. Chartwells, the King’s dining services provider, donated the money from each meal to the Save the Children Federation, an organization dedicated to helping children have an education and safe, healthy lives, especially in times of crisis.

“Giving up a meal swipe is a small sacrifice to make in relation to what the refugees are going through. If me not eating lunch can provide even a little bit of support or awareness towards this important cause, I am more than willing to make that sacrifice,” said Katelyn Talbot, a King’s sophomore and attendee of the interfaith dinner.

Director of the Shoval Center for Community Engagement Bill Bolan explained that they chose to donate to Save the Children  because “we knew that over 80% of its funds goes towards its program services that send food and other supplies to children in refugee camps.”

The past Fast-a-Thons have each raised around $2,500 from students and faculty giving up meal swipes and donating online to the Save the Children Federation. At the dinner itself, the number of participants has ranged from 50-80.

Students and faculty were welcomed to the free dinner, even if they didn’t fast that day or give a meal swipe.

“We didn’t want there to be any barriers by making people pay for the dinner or restricting who could come. We wanted the dinner to be an open place for dialogue to transpire,” explained Janice Thompson, associate professor of theology.

Three students read prayers from the Bible and Quran and a quote from a Buddhist document called the Agara Sutta. Each piece of literature encouraged society to offer hospitality and solidarity towards everyone, even those who are not of the same ethnicity, religion, or race.

“A great majority of refugees are Muslim. There is a misperception to some that Muslims are terrorists. We want the Interfaith Fast-a-Thon to create an understanding about different religions and belief systems and have people realize that no faith promotes such violence,” remarked Bolan.

Likewise, students gained a clearer understanding of the direness of the crisis.

“I learned that the situation is much closer to home than one would think. There are even students on the King’s College campus seriously affected by the refugee crisis. Some are unable to go home to see their families, a privilege a lot of people take for granted,” said Mackenzie McGeehan, a King’s sophomore and attendee of the interfaith dinner.

Guest speaker Elias Berro, a King’s junior, shared his personal connection to the refugee crisis.

“I was born here in America, but my parents are from Syria. I have gone to Syria as some of my family still lives there, and I have seen the chaos and how bad it truly is there,” Berro described.

The Fast-a-Thon’s inception took place three years ago in Berro’s FYE class filled with mostly international students. At this time, the Syrian refugee crisis was on headlines across the globe, and the students knew they had to get involved in one way or another.

“FYE classes require students to complete service hours, but the students wanted to do a special project concerning Syria since some even had families who were living there,” added Thompson.

Directly sending supplies such as water and food to the refugee camps was a primary thought. However, it was quickly realized that shipping supplies across the sea would cost more than it would to simply send hard money.

“We wanted to connect the whole King’s campus to support these refugees. All religious faiths and philosophical schools believe in hospitality and helping those in need. Likewise, many traditions fast. We felt these interfaith commonalities could be used in a type of service to raise donations for international refugee children and families,” explained Bolan.

Only about 1% of the United States’ federal budget goes to foreign aid. Since the U.S. is a wealthy nation, 1% of the budget is a large amount, but proportionally, however; the U.S. could be giving a lot more.

“The current administration is considering cutting more money from foreign aid. That means there is less clothing and food to give refugees, which raises the probability of even more not surviving. We have optional postcards made concerning this issue that students could sign that we then send to the student’s local representatives,” said Bolan.

There are more than 22,500,000 million refugees, half under the age of 18, in the world, and this number climbs higher each year. Citizens from Syria, Myanmar, Afghanistan and South Sedan are forced to leave their country due to poverty, violence or persecution based on religion and political opinion. Those who stay in their country run the risk of being raped or executed by opposition groups or even the country’s own tyrannical government.

“I had heard a few snippets of stories coming out of Myanmar about the Rohingya, but I was not fully aware of the situation. There is a genocide happening; nobody is talking about it.

To me, that is shocking, and that is why the Fast-a-Thon is so important,” said Talbot.