By Taylor Nappi
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
An interactive art exhibit titled “This Is Hunger” came to Baltimore last week to inform and engage the community about the large number of hungry people in America.
MAZON, a non-profit Jewish organization, created the exhibit that showcased the stories of individuals in America that experience hunger every day. The exhibit was built on an 18-wheeler truck and is currently on a tour around America.
“We want people to know that hunger is more of a problem in our country than people think,” said Maya Joshua, the tour facilitator. “It’s an invisible issue that affects our neighbors, kids in our schools and so many more.”
There are 44.2 million Americans of all ages and backgrounds that struggle with hunger, Joshua said. That is approximately 1 in 8 people in America.
SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, is a federal government program that provides low income families with meals. However, Joshua said that the new Trump administration may change how the program is constructed – so she urged exhibit attendees to sign a petition to help keep the program intact.
“Hunger defies stereotypes, and it isn’t immediately recognizable just by looking at someone,” said Michelle Stuffmann, the director of outreach & communications for MAZON.
She said charity alone can’t meet the high demand of hunger in America. The nation’s largest hunger organization can only provide 31 meals per person yearly, Stuffmann said.
“The struggle is very real for so many people in this country, but because it so pervasive and persistent, it doesn’t engender the sense of urgency that natural disasters often do,” Stuffmann said.
The exhibit took place inside the 18-wheeler truck parked at the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation around a large dinner table during the last week in February. There was then a display of photos of real people struggling with hunger projected on screens at the foot of the table. Along with these photos, visitors heard the actual voices of the people telling their stories about their struggles with hunger.
Attendees were encouraged to roam the exhibit to read infographics, view more photos of real people, challenge themselves by planning meals using SNAP restrictions, sign the SNAP petition, donate and take photos with props that contained statistics to voice support and spread awareness on social media.
“I didn’t know all of the statistics about hunger in America and it really opened my eyes to an issue that I don’t usually think about,” said Amy Bopp, an exhibit attendee.
MAZON has worked to raise awareness as well as funds to help with hunger in America for over 30 years. The group works with grantees, policymakers, advocacy programs, students, teachers, synagogues and targeted communities to do so.
“MAZON wants people to feel inspired and motivated to act – to understand that they can help us create the political will to end hunger here at home by getting involved in the democratic process, raising their voices and holding our policymakers accountable for their actions,” Stuffmann said.
The exhibit was created after photojournalist Barbara Grover traveled around America to take photos of individuals struggling with hunger. After MAZON saw how moving the photos were it commissioned Marni Gittleman, an exhibit developer, to make an exhibit that would help to showcase this issue.
“We have received an overwhelming amount of people feeling touched and motivated to take action after experiencing the exhibit and that is fulfilling what we set out to accomplish,” Joshua said.
The exhibit has two main purposes: to inform and engage. MAZON believes it is not only important to know the issue but to get involved.
To get more information, sign the petition and/or help visit mazon.org.