Hunger Games for Congregations & Youth Groups

kids eating food

Students eat food on the floor during a hunger game

The following simulation games are helpful for understanding hunger better. They give us a glimpse into what it may feel like when life-giving food is unfairly distributed. They can be used by youth, young adults, and adults. The Coffee Break simulation can be done in 15-30 minutes; the other three are done over a mealtime.

These games come from Hunger: Understanding the Crisis through Games, Drama, & Songs by Patricia Sprinkle (out of print).

  • Famine – Feast  (Same idea as Oxfam’s ‘Hunger Banquet’)
  • Coffee Break 
  • Poverty Meals
  • Hunger Surprise

Famine – Feast

Time: Mealtime

This is a mealtime version of the Coffee Break Game. It is most appropriate for a church or youth group supper, church luncheon, or workshop meal.

Preparation Beforehand: Make name tags in three colors or in three shapes. According to the size of your group, use the following ratios:

  • 1 in Group One (First World – Developed/Richer Countries)
  • 3 in Group Two (Second World – Less Wealthy Countries)
  • 6 in Group Three (Third World – Impoverished Countries)

Distribute these tags when participants enter the room, without making any statement about their being different. If anyone asks why they are different, be as casual as you can, so as not to arouse suspicion.

Procedure: Announce the meal. As persons go through the serving line, servers give them a meal that corresponds to their name tags.

  • First Worlders Get:  Meat . Salad . Rice . Bread and Butter . A Vegetable . Dessert
  • Second Worlders Get:  Rice . Salad . A Vegetable
  • Third Worlders Get:  A small portion of rice (perhaps with some beans)

As they leave the serving line, First Worlders are directed to a table lavishly set with flowers, lace cloth, perhaps silver.

Second Worlders are sent to a table with a rough or paper cloth, paper cups, no flowers. Third Worlders are sent to a bare table off in one corner of the room with only a couple of chairs around it.

Observe the group during the meal for dynamics. When they have been eating for about 5 minutes, stop the game for an announcement: “May I have your attention, please?

First Worlders, we just want to tell you that there’s a lot of food in the kitchen, and you are entitled to all you want.

Please go back for as much as you will. That’s all. Thanks.”

Be sure to use the phrase “You are entitled to all you want” because the catch here is that they can get anything they want, not only for themselves, but for anyone else! But don’t say that . . . see if they figure it out.

When the meal is over, it is essential to call the group together to discuss what happened and how members of each world felt. You might use such questions as:

  • How did you feel when you saw what your name tag meant?
  • Did you think this game was “fair”? Why or why not?
  • How did you feel about your world? About those in the other two?
  • How did your group deal with the situation? What are some other ways we might have dealt with it?
  • As a member of the real First World, how do you react to this game?

Coffee Break Game

Time: 15–30 minutes

This probably should not be the first item on your agenda.

During a hunger study, at an appropriate time suggest that your group take a coffee break, and then use this exercise without warning the group ahead of time that the break is also a hunger game!

Preparation Beforehand: Make name tags in three colors or in three shapes. According to the size of your group, use the following ratios:

  • 1 in Group One (First World)
  • 3 in Group Two (Second World)
  • 6 in Group Three (Third World)

Distribute these tags when participants come into the room, without making any statement about their being different. If anyone asks why they are different, merely say casually you’ll tell them later.

Procedure: Announce the coffee break. Tell each person to go to the coffee break area represented by his/her name tag. (You might color-code tables, dangle appropriate shapes above them to match name tags, or merely point them out.) Ask them to go to the designated areas and remain within them during the entire break.

The First World should have an elaborate area with choices of coffee, tea, cocoa or punch, cream, sugar, lemon, cookies or cake, spoons, and more than enough chairs. You might even use a lace cloth and silver, flowers, etc., to provide a setting of luxury.

The Second World should have an adequate setting, with either coffee or tea, cream and sugar, not quite enough spoons, and just enough chairs. Serve them in mugs or paper cups, and use a plain cloth, if any.

The Third World (with the most people) should have inadequate supplies. They should have lukewarm water, a few teabags or about three spoonfuls of instant coffee, no cream or sugar, no spoons, and only one or two chairs. No tablecloth, of course!

There should be some separation between groups, but they should be visible to one another. Permit them to eat for 5–10 minutes, watching the dynamics for later discussion. Then call the group together.


  • How did you feel about being where you were? about the other two groups?
  • Why did you think you were put in the group you were?
  • What happened—was there sharing? stealing?

You might point out two less obvious parallels between this game and the real world:

(a) people have no control over the “world” they are assigned to at birth, and

(b) each world is fully visible to the other two.

You may, of course, decide to end the break by permitting everyone to have a “real” (i.e., First World) break, or you may ask the group to make that decision.

Poverty Meals

Time: Mealtime

Persons concerned about hunger have devised several menus and settings for meals that permit participants to actually experience identification with the world’s hungry while contributing to hunger relief. The usual procedure is to provide a very simple menu (which has been announced ahead of time), for which a regular price is charged.

Partakers understand ahead of time that the difference between the actual cost of their meal and the cost of the regular meal will be sent to a predetermined hunger cause.

Suggested Menus:

  • Brown rice, unsweetened tea
  • Cooked dried beans, unsweetened tea
  • Peanut butter sandwich (no jelly), milk (the milk and peanut butter make a complete protein)
  • Simple soup, cornbread, fruit, beverage

Hunger Surprise

Time: Mealtime

This is the nastiest game in the book, which is why it is saved for last.

This works best with a whole congregation or fairly large group, and especially well immediately after a hunger worship service.

Procedure: Announce that a churchwide meal will be served immediately after worship. During the service, have some persons preparing the food, being sure it is the kind of food that smells delicious . . . turkey, ham, roasts, vegetables, pies, breads-anything that smells good. Be sure these smells are reaching those who plan to attend the meal. About the time participants are to be coming in, load all the food onto a table in the center of the dining room.

Meanwhile, prepare enough rice for each diner to have one scoop-full, and enough tea for each to have one cup (unsweetened). Set the dining tables in such a way that the laden table is in full view (and in full smell).

When participants enter, direct them to seats, telling them they will be served. Then serve them rice and tea.

Announce as they are being served that unfortunately no members of the First World were able to attend the meal, only Third Worlders. But the First Worlders’ food will be held for them.

Observe the dynamics for later discussion. Either in small groups at tables or as a larger group, discuss both how the participants felt about the meal and what happened. You might use such questions as:

  • How do you feel about being tricked? Might persons in the Third World feel similarly about being born where they were?
  • Against whom did you feel what you felt? (anger? disappointment? etc.)
  • Did it matter that everybody also had rice and tea? Or did you feel you really ought to get a First World meal anyway?
  • How did your group deal with this situation? What did you hear and/or see?
  • Then ask the $64,000 question: What shall we do with the food? (Note: It’s cheating to eat it!)