Students of a number of different faiths participated Thursday in the eighth annual Fastathon from sunrise to sundown.
The event, which USC’s Ansar Service Partnership and several other religious organizations sponsored, holds a collective fast every year to raise money and awareness for the homeless and hungry populations in Los Angeles. The fast concluded at sundown with a feast held at USC’s newly rebuilt Caruso Catholic Center.
For coordinators of the event, Fastathon represents more than a simple day of fasting.
“All of the Fastathon’s profits go exclusively to humanitarian efforts,” said Faaria Kalam, president of the Ansar Service Partnership, the primary host organization of the event. Supporters of the Fastathon reached out to local businesses for donations to sponsor the fast. Subsequently, all proceeds from these donations are then given to the ILM foundation, an organization that feeds Los Angeles’ burgeoning homeless population.
“The Fastathon’s purpose is multifaceted. Each year ILM holds their humanitarian day, where they’ll serve over 10,000 homeless people in Los Angeles, and our students will also volunteer at humanitarian day,” Kalam said. “By going hungry for a day, we can experience the plight of the homeless. We can make sure that others don’t go hungry.”
In addition to the fundraising and awareness that Fastathon brings to its participants, many also note that the fast strengthens campus interfaith ties.
“The purpose of our fast is to engage in a spiritual practice shared by many faiths that allows us to focus more on what’s really important,” said Katherine Schofield, the minister for campus engagement at the United University Church, another co-sponsor of the event. “We do so much consuming in our lives that it’s imperative to take some time to consider the real things that we should be surrounding ourselves with. In a sense, our own hunger reminds us of the hunger of others.”
While Fastathon began eight years ago as a solely Muslim-based effort by the predominately Muslim Ansar Service Project, this year’s fast is the first that is co-sponsored by several other organizations of many faiths, including the Caruso Catholic Center, the United University Church, USC Hillel, the Hindu Student Organization, USC Residential Education and the Office of Religious Life.
“This year we’re doing our event bigger than ever before. Usually only Muslim people come out to support us. However, this is the first time we have actively gone out to all of the university organizations to co-sponsor because we understand that the Fastathon is a diversity learning experience,” Kalam said. “We want to create an openness to religious diversity at USC and we want students to understand that poverty exists in America regardless of religion. Hunger doesn’t have a god.”
The event’s new location lends yet another hand to the aim of interfaith understanding at the Fastathon. Sergio Avelar, the pastoral council chair at the USC Caruso Catholic Center, said he believes that holding the event at the Catholic Center will help expand the appeal and audience of the event.
“In the past, the Fastathon was always held at the mosque on Vermont and Exposition. However, ASP reached out to us to host the Fastathon banquet at our new Catholic Center,” Avelar said. “This change of location gives a chance for the interfaith community to check us out.”
Fastathon provides USC students of all faiths with the opportunity to fast for the well-being of others, but also highlights the relationship between faith and community service.
“It’s important to draw attention to hunger in our community, and important to recognize how faith can be a basis for approaching issues of social justice,” Schofield said. “ASP deserves a lot of recognition for the wonderful work they do to support and to serve the community through this event.”
Some students who fasted for the event said the community service aspect of the event was what drew them to participate.
“We thought it was for a good cause,” said Ada Wong, a freshman majoring in business administration. “If you go hungry for a day someone else doesn’t have to.”
Alisa Bealessio, a freshman majoring in physics, said she found the event fulfilling and would participate in future events.
“I’d do it in the future,” Bealessio said. “It’s not difficult to fast for one day for a good cause.”