As famine swept across Ethiopia in the early 1980s, leaving millions of people at risk of starvation, countless Americans felt compelled to alleviate Ethiopia’s suffering. The average American could not watch the evening news or visit a newsstand without seeing images of the tragic event. The horrific images of starving Ethiopians inspired massive public outcry and action worldwide. Concerned Americans joined together to organize food drives and fundraisers to benefit the suffering county.
To address the expanding problem in Ethiopia, thirty-nine musicians and celebrities joined efforts to record the song “We Are the World,” whose proceeds benefited USA for Africa’s famine relief efforts. USA for Africa used the profits generated by the sales of this incredibly popular song to support local, national, and international programs designed to address the Ethiopian famine and end hunger.
Recognizing the incredible potential of the collective power of young people, USA for Africa and the student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) combined their resources to establish the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness in 1985. The Campaign works to increase student community service and action to end hunger and homelessness by offering resources, support and guidance to college students across the country. In its first year, the Campaign contacted hundreds of schools and student groups in an effort to unify their efforts and offer support and training.
This was also an important time for hunger and homelessness in America. During this period, funding for several key federal low-income housing and feeding programs was eliminated. From 1981 to 1986, funding to create new public housing was cut by over 75%. These changes created a segment of society that was forced to sleep on the streets and had to line up outside soup kitchens just to get a warm meal.
The Campaign had immediate success in its first year, confirming our belief that students were concerned and only wanted the opportunity to act. Through the Campaign’s “Let’s Start Giving Campaign,” students raised more than $250,000, collected 85,000 signatures to encourage decision makers to “Stamp Out Hunger,” helped organize 10 million Americans to unite in “Hands Across America,” and surveyed emergency food recipients to paint a “Portrait of America’s Hungry.”
With this initial success, the Campaign expanded its programs, as well as the coalition of students working to end hunger and homelessness. Over the past thirty years, the Campaign has become the student-arm of the anti-hunger and homelessness movement. We have developed several national programs, become a clearinghouse of information and a liaison between national and student organizations, and developed students’ leadership skills to become better organizers and activists. We have engaged thousands of students in community service and political campaigns, developed local long-term projects like food salvage programs, and raised millions of dollars to fight hunger and homelessness here and abroad.