When you think of the “typical” person who is hungry in DC, do you picture a man standing on a street corner with a cardboard sign asking for change as commuters rush by?
At Legal Aid, hunger and poverty are often very much a part of our clients’ lives, but those things by no means define them. They all have different stories to tell, and they have diverse backgrounds in terms of race, ethnicity, age, gender, and work history. In particular, the lives of our clients challenge the stereotype that everyone living in poverty and receiving public benefits – such as food stamps – is unemployed or chooses not to work.
“Hunger Through My Lens,” a photography project sponsored by Hunger Free Colorado and recently featured in a PBS news segment, also questions these stereotypes, with eye-opening results. The project gave people living in hunger digital cameras to document their experiences, and fifteen women from all different backgrounds took the challenge. They now display their art at exhibits across Colorado. The photos – from images of disparities in food quality at stores in wealthy versus poor neighborhoods, to pictures of “please wait” signs, to an artistically-inspired photo of a bent fork – capture the details of life in hunger and poverty that, masked by social stereotypes, may otherwise go unnoticed.
The women’s stories zoom in even further. From a wife and mother of two forced to quit working as a doctor after she suffered a stroke, to a woman who lost her job as a medical assistant, the segment shows that hunger can cut across all backgrounds, leaving even once gainfully employed and highly-educated individuals and families in need of food stamps or other forms of public assistance.
The two-fold mission of the project is to “empower people who are living in poverty and to promote awareness about hunger issues,” but there is a larger lesson for anyone who learns about this project. Anyone – you, your neighbor, your relative, or your colleague at work – might one day be in need of public assistance, experience hunger, or slip into poverty. Bad luck doesn’t discriminate.