World Vision's 30 Hour Famine began in basement of Calgary church

In 1971, a group of teenagers staged a 'starve-in' at the Crescent Heights Baptist Church.

Teens staged 'starve-in' at Crescent Heights Baptist in 1971

A unidentified child is fed at a local hospital, as children receive treatment for malnutrition at the border town of Dadaab, Kenya, in July 2011. (Schalk van Zuydam/Associated Press)

You've likely heard of World Vision's 30 Hour Famine, where young people go hungry — by choice — to raise money for those suffering from starvation.

The annual event kicks off Friday in more than 20 countries, including Canada.

But what you probably don't know is that the event started 44 years ago in the basement of a Calgary church.

Ruth Roberts remembers seeing images of starving children in Ethiopia on the news.

"It was just so frightening and so scary," said Roberts, who was a teenager at the time and president of the youth group at Crescent Heights Baptist Church.

"And I just said to them, this one simple question: 'Have you ever gone hungry?' And all 14 of us shook our heads and said no. I wondered what it would be like, and so that's where the idea came from," she said.

Teens stage 'starve-in'

Roberts' father made a poster for the church so people could sign up and donate for the 'starve-in.'

But where would the money go?

Roberts said they decided on World Vision because a couple who belonged to the church had sponsored two children in Africa through the organization.

"It was quite a weekend. We had to have planning down to the tee because there was so much thought on our stomachs," said Roberts.

In 1971, Ruth Roberts started an event at her Calgary church that morphed into what is now World Vision's 30 Hour Famine. (Danielle Nerman/CBC)

To pass the time, members of the church youth group played volleyball, went on walks and watched a movie — which was a big deal back in 1971. 

"We had to get it from the National Film Board of Canada. We watched Around the World in 80 Days, set up a projector, reel-to-reel," she said.

The teens also heard from a World Vision guest speaker named Mel Johnson, who spread the word about the Calgary 'starve-in' to his colleagues across the country.

"You have something exciting with teens, and somehow it just catches on with no rhyme or reason," said World Vision spokesperson Genevieve Barber.

Barber says following the Calgary event, World Vision youth in the United States started holding 30 Hour Famines. From there, it went to Australia, New Zealand and around the globe.

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