Hunger Lives Here — So Does Hope
By Larry Hollar
It’s never easy to get bad news like last month’s House vote to cut nearly $40 billion from SNAP. But there’s no place I would rather have been when that news broke than with the women of the Witnesses to Hunger project in Camden, N.J.
At Gallery Eleven One in downtown Camden that night, 10 mothers and grandmothers came together to tell their stories through photographs they took of their experiences with hunger, homelessness, lost jobs, and flawed approaches to public assistance. The signs of poverty are everywhere in Camden—in boarded-up houses, empty shells of businesses, depleted neighborhoods, and violence in the streets. But the stories these women told were ones of hope — that by having more capacity to speak out and witness to their realities, they believed they could influence our leaders to make better decisions that would help the children and families in Camden and throughout the nation.
Witnesses to Hunger is a participatory advocacy project of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities at Drexel University’s School of Public Health. Started in 2008 in Philadelphia, it has fostered projects in Harrisburg and Scranton, Pa., Boston, Baltimore, and other East Coast cities. The Center partners with the real experts on hunger—the parents and caregivers of young children who have first-hand experience with hunger and poverty. The people of Witnesses to Hunger share their expertise and create change through their roles as photographers, educators and advocates, and advisers. The Camden project has been generously supported by the Campbell Soup Company.
I spoke in Camden to witnesses Christie and Kathy, who told me of their difficulties in making ends meet, even with a nearly full-time job, and what it’s like to live in a shelter with your children after a fire destroys your home. I was struck by how many of the women, both from Camden and those present from other cities, felt a deep and empowering kinship with the other women who experience the complex struggle to overcome poverty.
One of the photographs on the wall, taken by Nia of the Camden Witnesses, was of a truck from the Food Bank of South Jersey with these words on its side: “Hunger Lives Here. So Does Hope.” The vote Congress took to slash SNAP by $40 billion made it even more certain that hunger will continue to live in Camden. But as I spent that same moment with the women of Camden who are witnesses to what change can look like, it’s clear to me that hope wins.
Larry Hollar is senior regional organizer in Bread for the World's eastern hub.
Photo: "Hope" is one of the photos featured in a Camden, N.J., Witnesses to Hunger exhibit held at a local gallery on Sept. 19, 2013. Of the work, photographer and Witnesses advocate, Nia T writes, "'Hunger lives here and so does hope.' I like that saying. That’s something. That’s deep. It means that they’re helping. They’re helping the environment. They’re helping the community." Photo by Nia T/Witnesses to Hunger.