Actress Charlyne Yi fights hunger with Oxfam

By Anna Kramer
Actress Charlyne Yi takes a break while filming a new video for Oxfam America. Yi says starring in the video inspired her to take real-life action to fight hunger. Photo: Amy Rubin / Strategic Productions LLC

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In Oxfam America’s new short video, Charlyne Yi plays a slacker whose life is transformed when she attends an Oxfam America Hunger Banquet® event. And even though some of the video is fictionalized (Yi does not, in fact, spend her days lying on the couch munching junk food), there’s an element of truth to the story. As the cameras rolled, the actress/writer/comedian took part in a real Hunger Banquet event in Washington, DC—an experience that she says left a lasting impression.

“They explain it beforehand, but you still don’t know what it’s like,” says Yi. “You read that millions of people are hungry … [But] we’ve become immune to that sort of thing. Being there, being told, hearing the stories, it’s a whole different experience.”

At the start of an Oxfam America Hunger Banquet® event, guests draw tickets at random that assign them to a high-, middle-, or low-income tier, based on the latest statistics about the number of people living in poverty. Each income level receives a corresponding meal—filling and nutritious or sparse and simple.

Yi ended up in the low-income group, crowded together with strangers on the floor, sharing limited portions of rice and water. “I was nervous at first, but everyone was so nice and welcoming. You instantly bond with them,” she says. “It’s kind of a social experiment. … It changes your ideas about hunger and poverty.”

For Yi, the opportunity to work with Oxfam came at a time when she was looking for ways to make a difference. “A few months ago, I realized that everything I do has to do with me. It’s always about me or my life,” explains Yi, whose family faced poverty while she was growing up. “I realized I wanted to be involved with helping people. And luckily, I’m in a situation where I’m able to do something.”

Months later, Yi is keeping that inspiration going, promoting the video in interviews and on social networking sites. She plans to organize her own Oxfam America Hunger Banquet® event in her home city of Los Angeles. Though she’s a little nervous about her emceeing skills—“I should wear a white gown and have a spotlight on me!” she jokes—she says her friends are excited to get involved.

Yi admits that having “the power to do something and not take action” makes her sad. “It’s important to try,” she says simply.

“Someone said it at the banquet: hopefully this feeling will stay with you, and you will continue to feel this way, to want to do something about it. Sometimes you get inspired, and it fades away and you forget. I don’t want to forget about everything going on in the world.”

Want to do something to help? Organize your own Oxfam America Hunger Banquet® event.