Juell F., a Boston member of Witnesses to Hunger, with her daughter
Mothers caring for young children on limited incomes, who are part of the groundbreaking “Witnesses to Hunger” program, will reunite for a photo exhibit and events at Boston’s City Hall this May. They will participate in vital discussions addressing the health impacts of poverty and on critical issues affecting mothers and children in commemoration of Mother’s Day.
The “Witnesses to Hunger” program, which began in Philadelphia as a public health research program in 2008, equips parents and caregivers of young children with digital cameras to document and describe their experiences with hunger and poverty – bringing true experts into the conversation. Eight women in Boston joined the program in 2011, taking more than 700 photos and videos; they formed one of the first of several national sites beyond Philadelphia. There are now more than 80 participants in total – sparking dialogue, engaging and informing policy makers and inspiring change.
Since they first displayed their photos at the Massachusetts State House in March 2012, the Boston participants in Witnesses to Hunger have remained active advocates for change in policies that affect low-income families who struggle with food insecurity.
Meeting with legislators is a part of that process: Most recently, in April 2014 Boston participants Tamara and Bonita met with members of Congress during a national photo exhibit of Witnesses to Hunger on Capitol Hill; during that visit, Tamara also met with Senator Elizabeth Warren and talked about the importance of good wages. Juell and Quanda met with Congressional staffers during a Witnesses to Hunger “Day of Action” last fall and met with staff from the Boston mayor’s office and in the Massachusetts State House in 2014.
“In this 50th anniversary year of America’s War on Poverty, families are still struggling to get by,” said Mariana Chilton, PhD, an associate professor and director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities at Drexel University School of Public Health, and founder of Witnesses to Hunger. “But too many important decisions today still fail to include the perspectives and knowledge of people who have experienced poverty and food insecurity.”
Simply telling their stories, whether directly to legislators or to media and the public, Witnesses to Hunger help illustrate how policies affect their everyday lives. For example, Juell relates the story that she had to drop out of college because the state welfare agency required her to attend a job readiness program to earn slim welfare support to keep her family afloat – even though college was her path to a better job. “It’s all good, but I don’t need a career readiness program. I have business cards, resumes, references,” Juell told ThinkProgress.
Each of the Witnesses has stories to share – from trying to get a better education, to raising children, using food stamps, making a budget stretch, dealing with community violence, fighting for affordable housing, breaking the cycle of poverty and much more. The stories and photos they relate from these first-hand experiences illustrate that hunger is about much more than just food, and provide a platform for Witnesses to speak out about the need for improved policies to help their families grow and thrive.
Boston Event Details
An exhibit of photographs taken by members of Witnesses to Hunger will be on display at Boston’s City Hall from May 1 through May 13. The display will be open to the public during the building’s open hours, Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
The exhibit and the following events are free and located at Boston City Hall, 3rd floor mezzanine:
- Opening Reception, Thursday, May 1, from noon to 2 p.m. Participants in the program will be on hand to discuss their photos and give remarks. A light lunch will be provided. RSVP at http://www.eventbrite.com/e/witnesses-to-hunger-boston-exhibit-reception-tickets-11259117323.
- Health Impacts of Poverty panel discussion, Friday, May 2, at 10 a.m. The panel discussion among members of Witnesses to Hunger and local advocates will look broadly at poverty and its impact on health, with a particular emphasis on issues surrounding housing and cash welfare. RSVP at http://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-health-impacts-of-poverty-a-witnesses-to-hunger-panel-event-tickets-11345373317
- Mom Knows Best: A Discussion of Policies Impacting Mothers & Children, Monday, May 12, at 2 p.m. To commemorate Mother’s Day, this panel of members of Witnesses to Hunger and local advocates will take a look at issues that particularly impact mothers including affordable child care, equal pay and paid family leave and sick days. RSVP at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/mom-knows-best-a-discussion-of-policies-impacting-mothers-children-tickets-11345740415
Selected photos from the Boston Witnesses to Hunger can be viewed on the Center for Hunger-Free Communities website, here.
The Witnesses to Hunger photo exhibit at Boston’s City Hall was made possible by the invitation of Mayor Walsh’s office, and support of the partner program Children’s HealthWatch and the Massachusetts Public Health Association. Children’s HealthWatch is a research program on the impact of food insecurity on children’s health and development. The program’s six national sites include Boston (based at Boston Medical Center and Boston University) and Philadelphia (based at Drexel; Mariana Chilton, founder of Witnesses to Hunger, is co-principal investigator for the Philadelphia site).