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A Philadelphia Witness to Hunger Takes the Spotlight in a Documentary Film on Hunger in America

February 19 2013

Barbie Izquierdo and her two children cooking at home, as seen in A Place at the Table
Barbie Izquierdo and her children cooking at home

Some days, Barbie Izquierdo said she read pizza menus and looked at the pictures of food to distract herself from hunger pains while she went without eating so her two young children could have enough. Izquierdo, a young single mother in Philadelphia, earned too little to put healthy food on the table, even with the help of assistance programs such as food stamps.

Izquierdo is a protagonist in a new documentary film, A Place at the Table, which chronicles three individuals’ stories to bring to light the often-hidden realities of hunger in America.

The film, premiering March 1, 2013 in theaters, on iTunes and On Demand, interweaves these personal stories with insights from experts, ordinary citizens and anti-hunger activists.

Izquierdo’s story begins with her challenges feeding her children, dealing with health problems and trying to build a better life for her family. Her story goes beyond the day-to-day struggles, however, because Izquierdo is a participant in “Witnesses to Hunger,” a community-based participatory research and advocacy project developed by Dr. Mariana Chilton at Drexel University’s School of Public Health to document the complex issues surrounding food insecurity, poverty and children’s health.

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Above: Film trailer video for A Place at the Table

Izquierdo was one of the initial 40 women to join “Witnesses” at its launch in Philadelphia in 2008. Chilton formed this group to encourage participation of people who have experienced food insecurity and hunger first-hand. These mothers use digital cameras to frame the issues most important to them and their children. They use photographs and testimony to inform policymakers and make changes in their communities.

The film documents Izquierdo’s trip in 2009 with Chilton and a group of Witnesses to Washington, D.C., where they testified before legislators and displayed their photos at the nation’s capital.

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Above: Witnesses to Hunger 2009 Congressional briefing

Chilton, an associate professor and director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities in the Drexel University School of Public Health, also provided expert commentary in A Place at the Table and consulted with the film’s producers as an expert during its development.

“Chilton’s vision to give cameras, and a voice, to the women of Witnesses to Hunger inspired us in our own effort to give those families a voice in the national dialogue,” said co-director/producer Kristi Jacobson in press materials prepared for A Place at the Table.

Chilton acted as a conduit for the filmmakers to connect with many women struggling with food insecurity, including Izquierdo. Jacobson added that a key moment for the filmmakers was when one of the associate producers, Julie Kohn, watched footage of Izquierdo and began to cry. “They were the same age,” said Jacobson. “And Julie was so moved by Barbie’s struggle. She related to her, despite their different backgrounds. It helped us to see how relatable Barbie was as a young person facing daunting obstacles.”

The film also features Chilton’s research as the principal investigator of the Philadelphia site of Children’s HealthWatch, a multi-site surveillance study that monitors the health and well-being of young children under the age of four. In this age range, children are in a period of rapid brain growth and development. Therefore, even mild-to-moderate under-nutrition can have long term negative consequences.

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Above: Barbie Izquierdo talks about participating in the film, at the White House in 2012

Through stories like Izquierdo’s, and those of Rosie, a fifth-grade student in Colorado, and Tremonica, a second-grade student in Mississippi, the film reveals the serious economic, social and cultural implications hunger poses in the United States and the systemic issues that cause inequality of access to healthy food. Moreover, the film shows that this is a problem that America has solved in the past, and can solve again.

A Place at the Table was co-directed and produced by Jacobson and Lori Silverbush. The film’s executive producers are Tom Colicchio (TV’s Top Chef), Participant Media’s Jeff Skoll and Diane Weyermann and Christina Weiss Lurie and Jeffrey Lurie (owners of the Philadelphia Eagles).

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