An NPR story–Campus Food Pantries for Hungry Students on the Rise–perfectly captures one of the things that might distract students: hunger. Or the dilemma of choosing between buying school supplies and buying a meal. I really recommend reading it or, even better, listening to the students talk in the audio clip.
It reminded me of school programs to provide meals for students or teachers who have snacks in case students are too hungry to concentrate. I remembered my high school Latin teacher had a bunch of cereal in her office because she taught an early class and she wanted to make sure students ate breakfast. It made me think about how to provide healthy snacks for children.
But the story also featured students and families who focused on their pride so they hesitated about taking more, or even any, food from the food pantries. It strikes me that, in addition to helping alleviate students’ hunger, classics and Latin teachers are in a particularly good position for alleviating the stigma of receiving help from food pantries.
Ancient Romans received help ALL THE TIME. Patron-client relationships developed from patrons giving food to other Romans. In fact, the giving of gifts was so engrained in the elite Roman’s life that it was a routine part of the day–the salutatio. Starting in the second century B.C., the Roman state gave out grain to many of its citizens. The emperor routinely gave beneficia to the people: grain, wine, feasts, tokens for the baths, gladiatorial games, theatrical shows, and public works. And poor people weren’t the only people who benefitted. Lots of rich people and soldiers received these benefits and the free grain too. Furthermore, the emperor Tiberius celebrated his gift of money to the rich cities of Asia so they could rebuild after a terrible earthquake.
By talking about the importance of beneficia and gift-giving in the ancient world (and its possible implications for power relationships), perhaps we could destigmatize and normalize receiving food and aid that students may desperately need.