Five years ago, Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger commissioned photojournalist Barbara Grover to travel the country and document the reality of hunger in America. In that time, Grover collected 70 stories of people in various states of food insecurity and hunger. Her photographs revealed a new face of hunger—a face that resembles too many Americans. Grover provided sobering evidence that hunger affects the young, the old, whites, blacks, Latinos and Native Americans in equal measure. That proof is on stark display in a new interactive mobile exhibit called “This Is Hunger.”

This past year Grover’s photographs have been on exhibit in a 53-foot trailer that opens to 1,000 square feet of gallery space. The self-contained trailer has traveled to Jewish Community Centers and synagogues from California to Massachusetts, bringing an immersive experience of hunger into backyards and neighborhoods. The trailer will be parked at the JCC Greater Boston in Newton from Friday, May 12, to Tuesday, May 16.


Michelle Stuffmann, Mazon’s director of outreach and communications, recently told JewishBoston that once Grover’s photographs were catalogued, Mazon recognized that the work had to be brought to the public. “We decided to create this traveling exhibit, and we recruited people who could help us convey the stories the photographs were telling by making them more interactive and tactile,” she said.

Engaging with “This Is Hunger” begins as soon as you step inside the trailer and are invited to sit down at a long communal table that has 20 seated places. Projected on the table from above are round circles meant to denote a place setting. As the lights dim and the presentation begins, the plates fade away and on either end of the table are screens that show various people telling their stories of hunger. “The idea,” said Stuffmann, “is to sit there with these people and hear their stories. We alternate among people in a way that hearing these stories builds into a deeper understanding that these are real lives at stake.”

One in eight people struggle with food insecurity in the United States. Of the 42.2 million people who are hungry, 13.1 million are children and 5.7 million are senior citizens. Given those staggering statistics, over its 30-plus years in operation Mazon has changed its not-for-profit business model from solely a grant-making organization to one that has a strong advocacy component. “We’re still making significant grants,” noted Stuffmann, “but we had to be involved in advocacy. To do that effectively we built a strong network of organizations that have never done that kind of work before, such as soup kitchens, food pantries and food banks. While immediate charitable food assistance is very important, charity in and of itself will not end hunger in our country. The solution for hunger in America is better policies that prevent people from needing charity and a safety net program.”

Back in the “This Is Hunger” truck, participants are encouraged to forge ahead with their own advocacy at the end of the 14-minute presentation. To jumpstart their social action journey, participants see walls that were stark white upon entering the truck light up with more images of people who are struggling with hunger. Their voices build upon each other and their portraits are interspersed with infographics that speak to the key issues on which Mazon is focusing. They include hunger among military families, hunger in our senior population and protecting the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, known as SNAP.

Post-show, one of the interactive activities that drives home the experience of hunger challenges participants to stretch the $1.40 that each SNAP recipient receives per meal. The goal is to be able to plan out a meal that is nutritious, appetizing and within that austere budget.

“We have petitions in the corner of the trailer urging Congress not to block funding for SNAP,” Stuffmann said. “People can also take a selfie holding campaign messages to raise awareness of hunger in America through their social media networks.”

Stuffmann and her colleagues at Mazon hope “This Is Hunger” will lead everyone who sees the exhibit to recognize how pervasive hunger in this country is and to galvanize them into action. “We spend a lot of time as a nation moving from crisis to crisis around the world,” observed Stuffmann. “We don’t recognize that there is a crisis right here at home. ‘This Is Hunger’ shows people there is a vital, devastating issue that is happening right now all around them.”

Find information and tickets for “This Is Hunger” here.

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