The power of a personal story is hard to overstate. The Center for Hunger-Free Communities at Drexel University has taken an innovative approach to empower those who are dealing with hunger to tell their own story. “Witnesses to Hunger” engages mothers struggling day-to-day with poverty and documents their experience to educate others on the human implications of food insecurity. Through photography, Witnesses recognize that these women are true experts when examining the real-world consequences of maternal and child health policies on kids and their communities. This Champion Non-Profit is working in concert with other organizations to help break the cycle of hunger, homelessness, and poverty for the next generation.
This is how the leaders of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities describe the organization and their work:
Witnesses to Hunger is a multi-city network of mothers of young children committed to ending childhood hunger and to breaking the cycle of poverty. Through the use of Photovoice, which includes photographs, video and oral commentary, the mothers share their personal experiences of poverty and hunger with policymakers, advocates, media, and the community-at-large to ensure that those who are directly affected by government assistance programs have a say in how public assistance programs are designed and implemented. The photographs, along with the women's life stories, have been exhibited at the US Senate Russell Rotunda, the Capital Rotunda, Harrisburg, PA, and have displayed in Philadelphia, Providence, Rhode Island, and Martha’s Vineyard. In two weeks, the Boston Witnesses photos will be exhibited at the State House in Boston, MA, March 12-16. Their photos offer living testimony to the need for legislation that comprehensively addresses poverty and hunger in the United States. Their photos can be found here: http://www.centerforhungerfreecommunities.org/our-projects/witnesses-hunger/meet-the-real-experts.
The women also work to encourage more civic engagement in their own communities and in neighborhoods across the country. The women of Witnesses have developed a toolkit which will soon be available to other organizations and community members looking to replicate this model of community advocacy and engagement. The Toolkit emphasizes the community-based participatory approach of the program with the goal of ending generational poverty through civic participation, public education, self-empowerment and community-engagement. The women of Witnesses have launched a peer mentoring program to assist other low income women in getting assistance with housing, SNAP benefits, and child care assistance, and to help women who are experiencing domestic violence. In addition, they offer trauma-informed peer support groups that help women and girls heal from their exposure to violence and trauma, with the hope of breaking the cycle of poverty.
Witnesses to Hunger participated in the Philadelphia White House Community Partnerships summit to help organize an effort to end child hunger. Philadelphia has some of the highest rates of hunger in America, where between 30-50% of families with children experience food hardship. Knowing that their children are among over 9 million young children under age six who are struggling with food insecurity and its negative health consequences, the women of Witnesses are committed to encouraging other low-income families to speak up and to take the lead in helping their communities and the White House craft a national strategy to end childhood hunger. Mariana Chilton, Angela Sutton and Nadja Brickle were in attendance.
Witnesses to Hunger is the signature program of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities at Drexel University School of Public Health.
Paul Monteiro is an Associate Director in the Office of Public Engagement.