42.2 Million Americans Are Hungry, Not Lazy

The Mazon Table: You are invited to join. Tickers are free.

Hunger in America is pervasive. Anyone can fall through life’s cracks. Through traveling art MAZON is crashing myths and stereotypes.

One of the ways to thrive is to take care of oneself. Another is to reach out to others. I write to tell you of a riveting experience that can motivate you to thrive by doing the latter.

Yes, I knew of the millions in ravaged countries who are hungry. But in this experience, I did not see the heartbreaking distended bellies and frail legs of children. Instead, I was introduced to several of our country’s 42.2 million citizens — more than 1 in 8, including 13.1 million children and 5.7 million seniors — who go to bed longing for food. Or if not, fill themselves up with the kinds of foods that ease hunger pangs, but have zilch nutritional value.

How was I just recently educated about this shocking reality? MAZON (the Hebrew word for “food” or “sustenance”): A Jewish Response to Hunger, is an American nonprofit working to end hunger among those of all faiths and backgrounds in the United States and in Israel. The organization, conceived by former Moment Magazine publisher, Leonard Fein, was created to serve as a bridge between those of his faith and the millions who are hungry in our troubled world. In this determination, he followed Jewish tradition: Rabbis did not allow celebrations to begin until the poor and needy of their communities were seated and fed.

Before Thanksgiving, MAZON launched their one-of-a-kind free exhibit, “This Is Hunger,” which, as I write continues to bring Americans face to face with the stark and painful realities of pervasive hunger experienced by American men, women, and children. The “This is Hunger” mobile installation that recently left Philadelphia is now on the road engaging thousands more. To accomplish this amazing feat, MAZON hired internationally renowned photojournalist Barbara Grover, who for three years traveled to homes, soup kitchens, and government offices throughout America to locate her subjects and then spent countless hours interviewing and photographing them in order to tell their stories.

This past Sunday, I met Grover’s subjects by entering a 53 foot long double expandable semi-trailer, which when parked and opened on both sides provides nearly 1,000 square feet of exhibit space. Ruth Laibson, who has been a MAZON board member for 15 years, welcomed my group. Well acquainted with the pervasive nature of hunger in American, and how unaware most of us are about those who suffer, Laibson’s eyes misted as she shared sobering statistics, and introduced us to the living commitment to educate that we were now all part of.

About 30 guests sat around a long table, where lighting from above creates empty plates, which would vanish. As we heard the stories of Americans who have lost all when the bottom fell out of their lives, we realized that the voices we heard and faces we saw could be those of any of us. Through Grover’s artistry, we met those experiencing the deepest shame possible. The lost homes, jobs, and businesses — all semblances of security — and their children were hungry. Interspersed with these stories were true statements about hunger, which appeared in light on our empty table where the illusion of plates had once been. When the lights went on, I sat stunned.

But the experience was not over. Still at the table, we were given placemats listing food items and their cost and asked to balance a meal using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamp) on the government allotment of $1.40 per person per meal. Black beans were the only way I could find to provide protein within budget. Abby Leibman, MAZON’s president and CEO since 2011, speaks the painful truth about her organization’s extraordinary appeal for awareness and involvement: “With this initiative, we’re humanizing food insecurity in a way that no anti-hunger organization has done before. By making the compelling life stories of food insecure Americans accessible and immediate, we hope to break down stereotypes and dispel pervasive myths about those who struggle, and in so doing, create the political will to end hunger in America.”

Surrounding our table were infographics explaining hunger in the military, hunger among seniors, etc. — as well as more stories and photographs. I-Pads were provided where guests could petition for Congressional change in food budget allowance and engage in activities calling for policy makers to bring much needed systemic change. Requests to engage our personal civic and faith communities in this effort were made. Do consider your involvement in this urgent cause. To sign the petition to protect SNAP from being block granted, click here. To follow the destinations of the “This is Hunger” trailer, and sign up for your free ticket, go to thisishunger.org/the-tour.

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