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Salt Lake teens go hungry so others won't

SALT LAKE CITY — Desiree Jensen's stomach feels hollow. It's been almost 24 hours since she last ate, and she's so hungry her legs are starting to shake.

The 14-year-old maintains a sunny disposition, though, as she tapes labels onto cereal bags at the Utah Food Bank.

"I'm happy to be here," she says. Just six more hours 'til dinner.

Jensen, along with more than 745 Salt Lake teens, voluntarily gave up eating for 30 hours this weekend to raise money for starving children around the globe. In other parts of the country, some 15,000 people joined in the fast, which is sponsored by World Vision, a Washington-based Christian relief and development agency.

"Our primary focus is transforming the lives of people in need," said Pat Rhodes, manager of World Vision's 30-hour Famine program. "The 30-hour Famine is an effort to transform our supporters here in the United States. It gives privileged people a chance to feel their stomach growling a little bit — gives them a little insight into others' conditions."

During the fast, Salt Lake teens helped out at the Food Bank, served up lunch for the homeless and gathered donations for The Salvation Army.

Jayson Veillon, 13, a seventh-grader from Wasatch Evangelical Free Church, had a hard time dishing out baked beans, macaroni and hot dogs at a rescue mission.

"I just couldn't stop thinking about the food," he said. "I just obsessed over how much I wanted to eat it."

The experience helped him to better understand hunger, however. Before he participated in the 30-hour Famine, he said, he'd never missed a meal.

"What we normally call 'hunger' is just your stomach saying 'time for dinner,' " said Zack Sunderland, 16, who volunteered at the Food Bank with Wasatch Evangelical Free Church. "This gives us a taste of the real deal."

The teens hoped to raise $36,000 to feed and educate starving children in Third World countries.

Isaac Wilson, a 16-year-old junior at NUAMES charter school, collected $1,500 for the cause by recruiting sponsors. Most people donated $30 — a dollar for every hour the teens gave up food — which is enough to support a child for a month in most countries, according the World Vision.

"Some people shut the door on you or tell you they don't have time," said Wilson, who bagged macaroni with his friends from Wasatch Evangelical Free Church. "But, in a lot of people's eyes, you can see that spark of compassion. They tell you, 'I don't have much, but I'll give what I can.' "

Their generosity, he said, inspired him nearly as much as his growling stomach. "I just want to serve," he said. "My dream is to travel the world serving people."

When Jensen finally broke her fast, it wasn't pizza or hamburgers she ran to. She and her friends at Christ United Methodist Church chowed down on "plumpy'nut," a high protein and high energy paste that World Vision gives to malnourished children.

"On a normal day, it would be gross," Jensen said. "But when you're that hungry, anything looks good."