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Even PLU students can go hungry; research looks into how to help

Photo By Jordan Hartman '02

When a top student told Professor Samuel Torvend she would have to turn a paper in late, he was surprised. Her reasons shocked him.

The student, a young mother, told Torvend her husband lost his job, they couldn’t pay their mortgage and she had turned to a food bank to feed her family.

Torvend ’73 started asking questions of other professors and spurring discussions in classes where he repeatedly heard similar stories. Single parents, young married students or military families are most often the ones who need help putting food on the table, he said.

“Hunger rates in the state are among the highest in the country,” he said. “That is to some degree reflected in our off-campus, non-traditional aged students. The reality is, some of our off-campus students might have enough funds to pay their tuition but not enough to eat.”

Matt Tabor ’05 and Professor Samuel Torvend ’73.

But it’s rarely spoken of because of the shame people feel at needing help. And it’s usually churches that help the often-silent hungry. Torvend, a religion professor who has always been interested in the history of Jews and Christians as “meal-keeping people” and has written and taught about hunger, decided to research the extent of hunger in Pierce County and how religious and humanitarian organizations are helping.

He and Matthew Tabor ’05 received the first Kelmer Roe Research Fellowship in the humanities for student-faculty research. They studied the prevalence of hunger and malnutrition and how churches respond. They believe it’s the first time such a project has been done.

The pair assumed religious and humanitarian groups were the primary providers of food for the hungry.

“We had no idea how vast this network is,” Torvend said.

They interviewed dozens of people at area resources and found that in addition to food banks, groups offer hot meal sites and delivery, operate farms and a cannery and organize fund-raisers like hunger walks.

And while the resources are deep, the need is growing, Torvend said. He said research shows many people receiving help from food banks are working families – many working more than one job – who still can’t afford groceries. The other common users are the elderly, the mentally ill and military dependents. Many family budgets are squeezed tight when a soldier is called up to active duty or deployed.

And still, the majority of society doesn’t realize the breadth of the problem, even as the gap between the richest and poorest Americans continues to widen, Torvend said.

“When we speak with groups about the alarming increase in food insecurity in Western Washington, we are usually met with initial disbelief,” Torvend’s report said. “No one hears about it. This reality is invisible to most people.”

Tabor looked through four years of regional newspapers for articles about the hungry and found only a few examples. The pair also discovered that even the churches that are reaching out could do a better job of raising awareness of the problems in their own communities.

Tabor, who hopes to attend law school next year and work on social justice issues, also helped create the profile of hunger in Western Washington and established a network of alumni who work in hunger relief agencies.

“I feel very privileged to have been involved in a project that has brought together the PLU community and those in the outside community who are in the most need,” Tabor said. “A major bridge has been built between the sometimes exclusive Lutedome and those working for dramatic change in the lives of the hungry.”

Torvend is writing “The Origins of Christian Public Services in Early Christianity,” the second in a projected series of five books. The first book, “Daily Bread, Holy Meal,” a popular work intended for a lay audience, examines the ethical dimensions of Jewish and Christian meal practices.

Along with the data they gathered, Torvend said he has learned “how easy it is to find yourself in a miserable situation.” His next research phase will look at the causes of hunger and poverty.

“In the wealthiest nation on the face of the earth, we have the highest incidence of hunger and poverty,” Torvend said. “Why can’t we figure this out?”

Photo Above: From left, Naomi Naomi (Roe ’53)  and Don ’50 and Nothstein, Matt Tabor '05, Professor Samuel Torvend.

Naomi (Roe ’53) and Don ’50 Nothstein funded the endowed Kelmer Roe Research Fellowship in the humanities in honor of Naomi’s father, who taught Greek, religion and philosophy at PLU from 1947-1967. Kelmer Roe died last year at age 100. The Nothsteins originally thought about starting a scholarship but decided a fellowship that would encourage research was more fitting. They were impressed with Torvend and Tabor’s research when they heard about it.

Naomi (Roe ’53) and Don ’50 Nothstein

“My dad would be very pleased,” Naomi said.

They like the collaborative nature of student-faculty research, because Roe was close to his students, she said, and he and his wife, Hannah, often invited students and former students to their home near PLU.


Kenneth Blaha, associate professor of computer science and computer engineering, co-authored a multi-national, multi-institutional study of student-generated software designs accepted for publication in the Proceedings of the fourth annual Finnish/Baltic Sea Conference on Computer Science Education in North Karelia, Finland Oct. 1-3.

Rick Spillman (Right), professor of computer science and computer engineering, published “Classical and Contemporary Cryptology.” The book was reviewed in Journal of the American Cryptogic Association.

Jessica Sklar, assistant professor of mathematics, published a paper titled “Binomial Rings” in Communications in Algebra inApril.

Matt Smith, assistant professor of biology, co-authored a paper titled “Glutamic Acid Decarboxylase 67 (GAD67) Gene Expression in Discrete Regions of the Rostral Preoptic Area Change During the Oestrous Cycle and with Age,” which was published in Journal of Neuroendocrinology.

Celine Dorner, associate professor of mathematics, attended Leadership Institute 2004: Building Capacity for Successful Implementation of the Integrated Mathematics Program in Colorado. She and Patricia Chastain, assistant professor of education, attended a two-week Developing Mathematical Ideas Leadership Institute in Massachusetts in July.

Sheri Tonn, vice president for finance and operations, had a patrol vessel named after her in thanks for her longtime commitment to clean up Commencement Bay. Tonn is a founder and board member of Citzens for a Healthy Bay.

Stan Sanvel Rubin, director of PLU’s Rainier Writing Workshop low-residency master’s in fine arts creative writing program, published a new book of poetry titled “Five Colors.”

Solveig Robinson, assistant professor of English, and Peter Grosvenor, associate professor of political science, each published articles in the new edition of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Robinson’s first article discusses Victorian radical poet Eliza Cook and her second article focuses on minor Catholic novelist and philanthropist Lady Georgiana Charlotte Fullerton. Grosvenor’s article discusses A.J. Penty, an architect and social thinker.

Jeffrey L. Staley, visiting assistant professor of religion, published two essays. The first, “Changing Woman: Toward a Postcolonial Postfeminist Interpretation of Acts 16.1-40,” was published in “A Feminist Companion to the Acts of the Apostles” and is a revision of a previously published essay. The second, “Choosing between Twos: Apocalyptic Hermeneutics in Science Fiction, The Radical Right and Recent Historical Jesus Scholarship,” was published in “The Meanings We Choose: Hermeneutical Ethics, Indeterminacy and the Conflict of Interpretations.”



© Scene 2004  •  Pacific Lutheran University  •  Winter 2004

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