‘This Is Hunger,’ coming to Tucson J, challenges stereotypes

“This is Hunger,” a multimedia touring exhibit created by MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger and housed in a 53-foot double trailer, reveals the diverse faces of people facing food insecurity in America.

“This Is Hunger,” a multimedia traveling exhibition created by MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, will be at the Tucson Jewish Community Center Jan. 5-8.

The free exhibit, housed in a 53-foot trailer that opens to reveal almost 1,000 square feet of exhibit space, uses state-of-the-art storytelling techniques and interactive elements to bring Americans face to face with the stark realities of hunger. Tickets can be reserved at thisishunger.org/the-tour/.

“We often think of hunger in stereotypes, such as the homeless person walking down the street, but the reality of hunger in Tucson is much more complex,” says Todd Rockoff, president and CEO of the Tucson J. “This exhibit gives us an opportunity to engage the whole community with an incredible experience that will change the way you look at hunger. We want to help everyone understand that those who are hungry can be your neighbor who just lost her job or the teenager at school who can’t concentrate properly because he isn’t eating enough nutritious food at home.”

Participants view a "This Is Hunger" display. (Courtesy MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger)
Participants view a “This Is Hunger” display. (Courtesy MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger)

In Arizona, one in six people struggle with hunger, according to Feeding America, a nationwide network of food banks. At the national level, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s annual report on food security found that nearly 13 percent of American households had difficulty at some point last year in providing enough food for their families.

“This is Hunger” features black and white portraits and stories of dozens of Americans who have had difficulty putting enough nutritious food on the table each day. Digital and hands-on activities – such as composing a wholesome meal for a person who relies on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (food stamps) without spending more than $1.40 – are designed to deepen participants’ awareness about who in America struggles with hunger and why.

Liz Kanter Groskind, a Tucsonan who serves on the board of MAZON, a national nonprofit that works to end hunger among people of all faiths in the United States and Israel, got to see the exhibit in Los Angeles, where the tour was launched last month.

“It so far exceeded my expectations … it was just an amazing experience,” Kanter Groskind says, explaining that the board had commissioned a photojournalist three years ago to travel across America, speaking to people who were suffering with food insecurity.

“The way this exhibit works, you get to see the actual people and hear their voices, talking about how they got to be where they were and how they’re not very different from you or me. It can happen to anyone. … Then you also learn about food insecurity and about things you can do to help those who are food insecure,” says Kanter Groskind, who has been a food bank volunteer for three decades in Boston, Detroit and Tucson.

“Considering that Southern Arizona is, I think, the sixth highest level of poverty in the country, this is something that’s really relevant to our community,” she says. “Unfortunately, because of the way Tucson is spread out, a lot of folks don’t see it and they don’t know about it. They don’t know who the hungry folks are.”

Josh Protas is MAZON’s Washington-based vice president of public policy. He’s also a former director of Tucson’s Jewish Community Relation’s Council, the public affairs and social action arm of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona.

“From my time in Tucson, I engaged a lot around issues of hunger and poverty with fantastic people in the Jewish community, from participating in Operation Deep Freeze with Jonathan Rothschild to Project Isaiah, collecting food for the Community Food Bank, to working with the TIHAN network to provide meals for people impacted by HIV and AIDS,” Protas recalls. “And the Jewish community in Tucson has such a tremendous heart and they give so much around these issues.”

But through his work at MAZON, he recognizes “that charity alone will never be enough.”

“We are fortunate to have amazing institutions like the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, but they were never set up to meet the full extent of the needs that are out there,” he explains. “They were designed for emergency situations and to complement safety net programs.

“We saw during the recession that such agencies were strained tremendously as many more millions of Americans struggled. It is all the more reason why programs like SNAP and WIC (a federal grant program that helps states supplement nutrition for women, infants, and children) … are tremendously important,” says Protas, who notes that in Southern Arizona, military families, seniors and new Americans are particularly vulnerable.

“We’re finding ourselves at a time, politically, when there are renewed serious threats to programs like SNAP. So raising awareness about the impact of hunger, at a personal level, at a collective level, is really important,” he says. “And ‘This is Hunger’ is a very powerful and personal way to drive home the message.”

Kanter Groskind adds that what she loves about MAZON’s work “is that we are a Jewish response to everyone’s hunger. So it’s the Jewish heart, Jewish menschlichkeit (compassion).”