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Students raise awareness of hunger, homelessness

Submitted by Marmian Grimes
Phone: 907-474-7902

11/21/08

Photo caption below.
Photo by Todd Paris, UAF Marketing and Communications
UAF students Mariah Acton, left, and Anna Dale organized a week-long vigil in Constitution Park in temperatures down to -20 degrees to draw attention to the plight of the homeless in America and here in Fairbanks.
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Anna Dale and Mariah Acton heard the same thing over and over as they stood around a burn barrel in Constitution Park this week.

There are no homeless people in Fairbanks.

It's precisely the reason the students, and more than 100 volunteers, spent much of the week in a tent camp in the center of the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus surrounded by a forest of homemade cardboard signs.

Yes, there are homeless people in Fairbanks, even in the winter.

"I met someone yesterday who had stayed at the Fairbanks Rescue Mission," Dale said. "A lot of people have said good things. Some of them have not agreed with [our message]. That is why we are out there, to try to break those stereotypes."

The students scheduled the event in concert with National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. The idea was born out of their experiences during the UAF Leadership Program's Alternative Spring Break in Washington, D.C. in March.

Acton and Dale were immersed in the challenges homeless people face. They, along with other students, lived in a church and worked with local organizations that served the city's homeless population. They had a chance to get to know the people they served.

"It broke a lot of stereotypes for me," said Dale. She heard stories of people who lost their health care or got sick or lost their jobs. "They just keep having bad luck."

The experience inspired the students.

"We just wanted to bring awareness and let people know that there are homeless people in Fairbanks," Dale said.

Dale estimated that she and Acton spent 40 to 50 hours each at the camp throughout the week. Students and faculty and staff members took shifts to make sure the camp was staffed 13 hours a day. Temperatures dipped to 20 degrees below zero.

"It is definitely colder than I thought," Dale said about standing for hours outdoors each day. "It takes so much out of you."

In addition to raising awareness, the students organized a donation drive for Stevie's Place, the Interior Alaska Center for Nonviolent Living and the Street Outreach Center, all local nonprofit groups. As of Friday, they had raised more than $400 cash, in addition to items like clothing and blankets.

Acton and Dale encouraged people interested in helping homeless people to donate to local agencies that serve them. She hopes to organize the event again next year.

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