Fundraising dinner gives guests a look at poverty

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JEFFERSON CITY - At first glance, the group of people sitting down for dinner at The Millbottom looked like a normal event.

But for the people there, it was much more than just a meal.

Dinner for a Difference, put on by the Central Community Action Committee, divided its guests randomly into three socioeconomic groups: wealthy, middle class, and impoverished. Each guest sat at a different colored placemat, with each color representing a different socioeconomic group. 

“The whole idea is the way they’re sitting at the tables is no less arbitrary than the people they are born into,” said Darin Preis, the Executive Director for the Central Missouri Community Action. 

The guests with a red placemat ate with fine china and were waited on. Those with the lavender placemat had a standard place setting and were served food, but not waited on. People with the blue placemat used paper plates and had a buffet-style meal. All three groups were mixed together at the tables.

“Half of the time we forget about those who are less fortunate as us. I was ready to get in and start eating until I realized she didn’t have anything at her seat,” Tim Jackman said.  

“I feel really awkward waiting for her to get served. It’s very difficult for us to eat while waiting for her to get served. It’s uncomfortable,” Judy Drake said.

The Central Community Action Committee is a nonprofit agency that works to address the causes of poverty in mid-Missouri. Preis said the money will go towards helping fill people's needs such as paying rent or buying professional clothing for interviews. The donations will also go towards the Women's Business Center and the organization's other programs. 

According to a 2015 Missouri Community Action Network report, somewhere between 15 to 20 percent of those in Boone County live in poverty. The report highlights five key issues: food, education, health, house and energy, and family and economic security.

“It’s our job to promote an image of poverty that’s more true than the myths we hear,” Preis said.

Preis said he was hesitant about the event at first.

"I thought it was a little bit of a kooky idea," Preis said. 

However, at the end of the event he said the message got out and was willing to do it again for the second year. 

“I think it’s a really neat experience. An event like this really raises the awareness of how many people there are that have needs. It does make you stop and think how not everyone is treated equally,” Steve Duncan said.

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