Dancing Against Hunger: The Story Behind the Syndicate


“Making waves is like spreading love through our community and having a ripple effect and I think the fact that we’re donating food for a food drive is also like the first ripple that will soon turn into a wave once more people start donating food,” Sarah Luan, dance volunteer at Alliance Sports Camp event themed “Making Waves.” Photo by Megan Smarkusky.

Melinda Wu, Staff Writer

Dancing Against Hunger (DAH) was launched in March of 2022 as a non-profit organization working to provide youth with accessible dance education and opportunities for social empowerment while working to relieve food insecurity for school-age students.

Claire Chi, State High junior and founder of DAH, has seen first-hand the amount of hunger and desperation there is in the world, from living near the Mississippi Delta and in rural South Dakota. There has always been poverty in the world, however seeing it with her own two eyes sparked something within her. Now living in State College, she has taken note of the disparities between a college town and low income rural areas.

“I am only 16 years old, and I’ve seen all this hunger and all this desperation in the world in the United States, which is the wealthiest country in the world,” Chi voiced.

Originally, her mission was to support those with food insecurities, however, after finding a new passion for education policy, Chi decided to center the organization’s focus on food insecurity in youth. Around the same time, she was appointed to be the Junior Student Representative to the Pennsylvania State Board of Education, which gave her a voice at the state level to advocate for food assistance in schools.

Chi has danced since she was 4 years old. Dance has followed her through times when she’s struggled, when the environment, people, classmates, and teachers have all changed. It’s always been there for her. When Chi realized that dance has a special place in many other people’s hearts as well, she started to think about how she could help those struggling, and made it her goal to make dance education more accessible.

“I loved to dance, and at first, it was an artistic pursuit,” Chi explained, “but I realized that dance could benefit more than just the artist and the audiences that they’re performing for.”

Years later, she has transformed these encounters into an organization that helps struggling communities in both poverty, and dance. To create this student-led organization, she pulled from past experiences, her love for dance, and an urge to help those in need.

Claire’s student-led, non-profit organization is an inspiration demonstrating how much people can have an impact on others regardless of age. DAH’s Executive Team embodies the collaboration and teamwork that produce community impacts. The structure of the organization is made up of two bodies; the Executive Team and the Board of Directors. Board Directors serve as advisors to the organization and its operations. The Executive Team is composed of three committees: Philanthropy, Community Outreach, and Media. These groups are there to make sure their work is as efficient as possible, and that everything is accounted for.

“Ultimately, I really wanted our team to have a sense of purpose, of passion, and of meaningful commitment,” Chi expresses.

She feels that by having a smaller team where the work of Dancing Against Hunger is more personal, the organization is able to make more purposeful change.

In March of 2022, the Dancing Against Hunger Executive Team worked with Roots of Life, a local dance ensemble focusing on West African dance with the purpose of informing people about cultural aspects of Black history and civil rights. Because of the way Roots of Life is structured to raise awareness, this event was more of a qualitative approach, rather than quantitative.

The difference between these two approaches to events is that qualitative focuses on raising awareness, making sure people know what they are advocating for, whereas quantitative centers on the number of people they can reach, and the number of donations they can receive.

Later, in July 2022, an event with the Alliance Sports Camp themed “Making Waves,” worked to receive as many donations as possible, which would go to the SCASD Helping Hands Food Pantry, the State College Food Bank, and the YMCA Anti-Hunger Program.

Katie McWhirter, a junior at State High, has been the Director of Philanthropy for DAH since the start of the organization. She has always felt that volunteering and fundraising is an important part of being active in the community, and DAH takes it a step further. Partnering with these organizations was particularly meaningful to her and the team of DAH as it allowed them to help students in their own school district.

“It’s on a personal level now, we’re looking at fellow students in your own school district that are benefiting from the hard work you put into these events, and I think that’s such a magical thing,” McWhirter says.

The theme of Making Waves represents the impact of charity events and student leadership. It shows how many small acts can come together and become a larger wave. Sarah Luan, a freshman at State High who attended the Alliance Sports Camp event as a dance volunteer, felt that the meaning of Making Waves was especially inspiring because of the analogy used to portray the message and the way it related to the event.

Luan shares, “Making waves is like spreading love through our community and having a ripple effect and I think the fact that we’re donating food for a food drive is also like the first ripple that will soon turn into a wave once more people start donating.”

At the close of this event, Dancing Against Hunger collected over 2000 food donations, which all went to low-income families with children enrolled in school. This event was a significant stepping stone on a larger scale. Accumulating that number of donations was something that the team was incredibly proud of and grateful for.

Student leadership, like Chi’s, is important in society because youth isn’t taken seriously in matters that both relate to them and not, this shouldn’t be the norm. It is difficult for teenagers to find opportunities in leadership positions where they will be listened to.

“I knew that as a teenager, it’s hard to be taken seriously in society, basically, and that also comes in with raising awareness, because maybe other youth will listen to you but you have to think about will the adults in your community think and listen to you,” Claire Chi.

When students see those of a similar age leading in different ways, it can inspire them to become active in student leadership as well.

The Dancing Against Hunger team has had a monumental impact on the community, helping an astronomical amount of people in just two events. Claire Chi was able to take a mere feeling —an urge to help those in need — and took it to the next level, creating a non-profit organization that could contribute to solving the problem and helping both those struggling with food insecurity and those in need of accessible dance education.

More information about Dancing Against Hunger and its community impact can be found on their website and their Instagram @dancingagainsthunger.