Drexel’s Witnesses to Hunger project is making waves nationally; it was a major theme in the Sundance-screened film “Finding North” in January, and an exhibit on the project was featured March 12-15 in Doric Hall at the Massachusetts Statehouse.
A School of Public Health initiative, Witnesses to Hunger captures photos of people suffering from food insecurity for the purpose of ending childhood hunger. This exhibit, titled “Witnesses to Hunger — Boston,” displayed photographs and testimony of eight Boston mothers who are “witnesses to hunger” and shared their related struggles regarding food, housing, violence, drug abuse and breaking the cycle of poverty, among other issues.
The Boston exhibit was the first major showcase of the Witnesses to Hunger photos and stories beyond Philadelphia, where an exhibit has already been featured. There will soon be another in Baltimore.
Of over 700 photos and videos that the mothers took, 34 pictures were chosen for the exhibit, which was held to inform policymakers of the need for legislation that will eliminate poverty and hunger in the United States.
On opening day of the showcase, Mariana Chilton, WTH founder and an associate professor at Drexel’s School of Public Health, joined the eight Boston witnesses and four Philadelphia witnesses to speak about their efforts. Massachusetts state and federal legislators Rep. Jim McGovern, Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray, Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo also spoke in the opening ceremony.
“Taking the photographs has helped me come to realize what it is that we need help with and what need more of,” Quanda Burrel, a 27-year-old mother of two and one of the eight witnesses, said, “[Ultimately we need] more resources like diapers, more money, more food, more education and more job opportunities.”
Food insecurity is defined as lack of access to enough food for an active, healthy life. In 2010, 17.2 million households in America, or one in seven, were food insecure. In 2009, 18 percent of all children in Massachusetts lived in food-insecure households. Children that live in high-poverty areas are two to three times more likely than the state average to struggle with food insecurity.
The photos profiled the unsanitary environments the witnesses live in, including trash, used needles and empty alcohol bottles that litter the streets. Tamara Santiago, a 20-year-old mother and a student of political science at Northeastern University, described some of the featured photography.
“I took a picture of an empty cabinet in the shelter [and another] of surveillance cameras around public housing,” Santiago said. “One of our sisters took a picture of liquor bottles. It’s hard to see your own children possibly in contact with these things.”
The second day of the exhibit featured a panel discussion addressing “How Hunger and Housing Affect Public Health” with guest speakers including state Sens. James Eldridge and Thomas M. McGee; state Reps. Byron Rushing, Kevin Honan and Gloria L. Fox; hunger experts and advocates; and the witnesses.
“The best part of this is getting to meet the people who actually care,” Santiago said. “I love the fact that they are listening to us and are going to do something about it.”
“What I liked most about participating in this project is to come to the realization that I wasn’t alone, that there are others out there that are struggling like me, and I can advocate for our side too,” Burrel added.
The Boston project was sponsored by the Center for Hunger-Free Communities, Project Bread, ABCD Boston and Children’s Health Watch.
Witnesses to Hunger will hold a national conference May 2-4 in Philadelphia in order to rekindle a national dialogue on the issues of hunger and poverty in America and to ensure that legislators are discussing actions to take against them.
Donations can be made to the program online at www.witnessestohunger. org.