This isn’t a classroom project, and Gretchen Mohr isn’t working for a grade.
The North Scott High School senior is spending hours upon hours each week, planning a first-ever Dr. Borlaug Quad-Cities World Hunger Summit for more than 100 students at 16 area schools, for just one reason.
She wants to see more young people talking, and doing something, about hunger in their communities and the world.
“I’m just asking that they take this back to their communities,” the 17-year-old said. “Do something so that the knowledge goes back to their schools.”
Partnering with St. Ambrose University’s women’s studies department to host the event, the summit will be held at the university’s Rogalski Center on Nov. 19, a few days before Thanksgiving. It is named in honor of Iowa native Norman Borlaug.
This is happening as high school students across the Quad-Cities collect canned goods for the annual Student Hunger Drive, but the two events are not directly related, Mohr said.
However, representatives from River Bend Food Bank and the Student Hunger Drive will participate as speakers at the event, she said.
“They are both happening in the fall, and hopefully both will be a success and create discussion at the Thanksgiving dinner table about what an individual can do to help end hunger,” the teen said.
Eight students will be selected from 16 different high schools on the Iowa and Illinois sides of the Quad-Cities to attend, participating in discussions, listening to keynote speakers and other hunger-related activities.
Even lunch will be part of the learning experience, Mohr said, explaining that every student will draw a random card to determine where they will sit and what they will eat.
About 65 percent will end up eating the lowest-level meal, representing the lowest income population of the world. They will sit on the floor, receiving only “a huge bowl of rice plopped down” in front of them, Mohr said.
About 25 percent will eat the middle-level meal, representing the middle class, sitting in folding chairs and eating rice and beans in a buffet-style line, she said.
The smallest percentage of students will sit at tables and get a three-course meal served to them, including dessert.
“And men have to eat first, because in so many cultures, it’s the men who eat first, then children and women are left for last,” Mohr added.
This activity is one example of how the event goes right along with St. Ambrose women’s studies program discussions about inequality, along with the university’s mission to inspire students to work for social justice, women’s studies director Katy Strzepek said.
Students also will put together enriched food packages for distribution to River Bend Food Bank in Moline and some smaller food pantries, including the North Scott Food Pantry.
“So the things we do will make a direct impact in our community,” Mohr said.
Much of the event has been inspired by the teen’s experiences attending the annual World Food Prize symposium in Des Moines, where she learned about founder Borlaug’s quest to improve the world’s food supply.
Mohr is able to rattle off facts about Borlaug, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work in world agriculture. She also talks about “the amount of growth” she has seen in herself as she learns more about hunger around the world.
“She’s really taking Dr. Borlaug’s words to heart,” said Chris Green, a retired teacher who is helping Mohr with the event. “He spoke often and passionately about the need for hunger fighters, and a new generation of hunger fighters. I see Gretchen actually doing something that will help solve the problem.
“If each of these kids just does one thing, it’s going to be a ripple effect.”
Green meets with Mohr regularly and acts as her “secretary,” she said with a laugh. She has been helping the teen raise funds for the event, which will be held free of charge for participating students and their schools.
Mohr, who plans to study political science and international relations after high school, said she is working to raise enough money to make sure all participants can wear the same Hunger Summit T-shirts to the event, because “it’s really a unifying thing.”
“Too many times, it’s all about competition,” Mohr said, talking about students wearing team colors or shirts from their various schools. “I think by everybody wearing the same thing, the green T-shirt, everybody is coming together as hunger fighters, not students from their schools.”