Hunger in Connecticut is described as a pervasive problem: one in seven Connecticut residents struggle with hunger; 14.3 percent of Connecticut families do not have adequate resources to purchase enough food; 68 percent of Connecticut food pantry and soup kitchen clients at one point had to choose between food and medical care. Those stark statistics come alive through the firsthand accounts of individuals in Witnesses to Hunger CT, a photovoice exhibit showcasing firsthand accounts of hunger in Connecticut, which has opened in the lower level concourse of the Legislative Office Building in Hartford and will run through Thursday, February 11.
“Connecticut is one of the wealthiest states in the nation but there are many who struggle every day to put food on the table,” Lucy Nolan, Executive Director, End Hunger Connecticut!, said. “The Witnesses recruited to participate in this project have been faced with choices that are hard to fathom – whether to eat low cost foods that could be harmful to their medical conditions or not eat at all, whether to pay for prescriptions or put food on the table, and whether to feed themselves or give extra food to their children. We hope this exhibit can serve as a reminder that many among us, often hidden, need the state’s support.”
The 15 Witnesses to Hunger CT come from Connecticut’s cities, suburbs and rural communities. Kimberly’s picture told the story of her teenage son who while grateful to have something to eat wished there was meat on the plate. Randy from Westport had a good job until struck by cancer and now gets many meals from the soup kitchen and pantry. In his photo he holds a grocery bag in his hands and says while he is grateful for that safety net he wishes there were more fresh foods available. The photos tell a story of everyday choices that must be made to survive.
The project is a collaboration of Connecticut nonprofit organizations, anti-hunger and anti-poverty advocates, and state agencies inspired by Witnesses to Hunger, a project of the Center for Hunger Free Communities at the Drexel University Dornsife School of Public Health. Advocates point out that limited access to food leads to poor health outcomes, including stress, obesity, and inability to succeed in work or school.
“There are four main themes that emerged from this project and tell me a compelling story,” said State Senator Marilyn Moore, Bridgeport. “The Witnesses to Hunger CT show everyday struggles with health and wellness, food and nutrition, transportation and adequate shelter. If we want people to succeed we need to make sure we support them. I appreciate their bravery in shining a light on these themes.”
Connecticut is the last in the nation for the number of schools with a school breakfast program, according to End Hunger Connecticut! officials. They point out that 64.6 percent of schools participate, and 45 percent students participate in free and reduced price breakfast for every 100 in lunch. Connecticut would receive an additional $9.6 million federal dollars if the participation rate of school breakfast reached 70 percent.
Connecticut’s SNAP (formerly Food Stamps) participation rate is 72 percent and 53 percent of the eligible working poor participate in the SNAP program. Many go to food pantries instead for food, organization officials said. They indicated that for every $1 spent on WIC funding, Connecticut saves $1.77-$3.13 on future medical costs.
“The members of Witnesses to Hunger are the real experts on hunger and poverty,” said Dr. Mariana Chilton, an associate professor at Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health and founder of Witnesses to Hunger. “Too many decisions today are made without consulting with the people that are affected most by policies made in Washington. We are thrilled to have families from Connecticut join in the national movement of families speaking from first hand experiences to inform policy makers and the public about the true realities of America’s struggles and how to solve them.”
They noted that 11.9 percent of Connecticut residents are food insecure and 4.7 percent are very food insecure — a slight increase from 2008.
“Data shows the food insecurity rate among those living with a severe mental illness is 475 percent higher than those who are not battling mental illness,” said Billy Bromage, MSW, Director of Community Organizing, Yale Program for Recovery and Community Health. “We know that good nutrition plays a key role in mental health and that’s why the mental health community is here today to support the Witnesses.”
Witnesses to Hunger CT is the second exhibit of its kind in the state. The first took place in New Haven in 2014 and was championed by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro. Witnesses to Hunger CT is a collaboration of: Advocacy Unlimited, Connecticut Association for Basic Human Needs (CABHN), Center for Hunger Free Communities at the Drexel University Dornsife School of Public Health, Connecticut State Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS), Connecticut Food Bank, End Hunger Connecticut!, Foodshare, Immanuel Congregational Church/UCC, Hispanic Health Council, New Haven Food Policy Council, and the Yale Program for Recovery and Community Health.
The exhibit will be in the lower concourse of the Legislative Office Building (LOB) through February 11th. A booklet prepared for the exhibit can be found at http://www.endhungerct.org. The LOB is located at 300 Capitol Avenue, Hartford and is open weekdays 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. Free parking is available (first come first served) at the LOB Garage, which is located directly behind the LOB.