National Exhibit Shares Intimate Stories of Hunger in America
Words by Marissa Nichol
The room turns pitch black. Eleven strangers sit in silence at a long wooden table. A screen lights up with a black and white portrait of a man narrating how hunger crept into his life — just like 42.2 million other Americans.
The middle aged man — Bill — is a real American fighting hunger after losing his job making six figures and the healthcare and life insurance that came with it.
“Don’t ever think this can’t happen to you or your family,” he says. “You don’t have an understanding until you’re there. But you know what? What happened to me can happen to anybody.”
The free This is Hunger exhibit came to Kent State on its tour spanning from New York to Los Angeles in a 53 foot semi-trailer to share the intimate stories of Americans facing hunger. Mazon started the exhibit in 2016 to address misconceptions and educate others on hunger in every community.
Mazon engages the American-Jewish community and anti-hunger catalysts to help end hunger in America through a variety of projects. This particular project includes walls covered in portraits of people ranging in age from children to seniors facing hunger and 6 interactive audio-visual narrations.
During the 45-minute exhibit, quotes like “I used to help people,” and “We were skipping meals so we could feed our baby,” appear on the communal table from a light above. Sound effects of a child bouncing a basketball and a somber piano number invite people into an intimate perspective.
Sixty-eight people attended the first day at Kent, including two groups from Upward Bound.
Jackie Schicker, the tour facilitator for This is Hunger, says people in different areas express different reactions, but are always shocked at how big of a problem hunger is in America. She even starts the exhibit by sharing that hunger is impacting 1 in 8 Americans.
“It is very eye-opening for most of the people that come through the truck,” says Schinker. “They tend to be sad but moved towards greater awareness, which we’re really grateful for.”
Dianna Penny is a Kent State residential services employee who found out about the event through Kent State Student Affairs. Already aware of the issue at hand, she came to find possible solutions.
Penny related to those featured in the exhibit from dealing with hunger herself. She married someone in the Air Force who always worked a second job because his wages weren’t enough to support her and their two children.
She went from a home with full meals at the table every night to living on hot dogs and white bread.
“It’s easy to think about all of this happening across the world but we don’t think about the United States” she says and insists other people come to the exhibit to educate themselves.
When sharing her story at the communal table, the once silent strangers started a discussion on the issue of hunger impacting veterans. While discussing, they interacted with the exhibit by flipping through books featuring narratives of people struggling with hunger and calculating the cost of one meal for a family.
After the presentation people are invited to take part in the mission of Mazon by donating, sharing photos taken from a photo booth and filling out reflection cards for feedback. Each corner of the room holds an iPad to sign a petition to fight the possible decimation of SNAP, the U.S. food stamp program.
Among those signing the petition was Amanda Paulus, Director of the Office of Experiential Education and Civic Engagement. Paulus contacted Mazon to bring this exhibit to Kent so more could people grow aware of hunger in Kent’s community, as well as nationally and globally.
She founded the Flashes Fighting Hunger Committee comprising faculty, staff, students and community members that now hosts Homelessness Awareness Week at Kent Nov. 13-18.
Paulus is now on the other side of the issue after living off SNAP following graduation from college in 2009, and used the program for four years. Receiving benefits helped her raise her daughter, get her master’s degree, and ultimately get to a stable career.
“I always hate when people say, ‘Well, if people would just pull themselves up by their bootstraps’ –– some people don’t have boots, so how do you want them to pull themselves up?” Paulus says. “I think I can see benefits like SNAP as just being critical to our country and fellow humans.”
The biggest misconception the exhibit clears, she thinks, is how people get to hunger. The stories show hunger being caused by health problems, companies going bankrupt and communities collapsing.
“I hope that by people coming and seeing the exhibit, they realize it’s not a choice that people make in many instances. It’s not a bad decision that people made, and that people will be more empathetic towards the issue of hunger by seeing the faces and by hearing the stories,” Paulus says.
The event will continue to be held in the R-12 Schwartz Center parking lot off of Summit Street until Monday. Reserved ticket time slots run from 9 a.m.-12 a.m. Monday.
Click here to reserve tickets to see This is Hunger in Kent and learn more about the Mazon mission. The exhibit will tour until on Feb. 14 in the Greater Los Angeles Area.
To get involved in fighting hunger in our own community, the Flashes Fighting Hunger Committee holds monthly meetings the third Wednesday of every month. Anyone is welcome to attend the meetings, which run from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. in room 143 of the Center for Undergraduate Excellence. The Campus Kitchen Project and Women’s Center also provides hunger volunteer opportunities throughout the year.
Marissa Nichols is a reporter, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.