Community & Society / Health & Medicine

Meet Camden’s Witnesses to Hunger: Photographing Hope Amid Desolation

This week, a photo exhibit at the headquarters of the Campbell Soup Company marked the debut of the Camden, N.J. site of Drexel’s “Witnesses to Hunger” program.

Photos from 10 low-income Camden women were on display to raise issues and challenges associated with food insecurity, as experienced by those who have lived with them. “Witnesses to Hunger,” a community-based participatory research and advocacy project was developed in Drexel’s School of Public Health in Philadelphia in 2008, and previously expanded to Boston and Baltimore last year. More background information about “Witnesses” and the Camden debut are available in the press release.

Here is a closer look at some of the Camden Witnesses, with their photos. (For photos presented in mini galleries, click through to view larger with full “voice” captions from the Witness, transcribed from interviews.) The Witnesses highlighted here have expressed willingness to be interviewed for news stories about their experiences with food insecurity, poverty and related issues, and about their participation in the project.

The Fridge When It’s Empty; I Would Change the Abandoned Buildings

Christie I. is a young mother of a four-year-old girl. She works nearly full time at a fast food restaurant, but doesn’t earn enough to support herself and her daughter. She is passionate about improving Camden and believes there needs to be more of an effort to fix up abandoned buildings and create housing for people with low incomes. To make a change, she says, “I need the voices from out in the world to help me make this possible.”

Christie on housing in Camden, and making it to the end of the month when food starts to run out:

 

The [Affordable Housing] Search Continues

Kathy is a mother of two children, a five-year-old and an infant, and she recently moved into an apartment after having lived in a shelter for several months. She moved into the shelter after a fire destroyed the home she was living in, and she is now eager to give her children the stability they haven’t had. She joined Witnesses to Hunger because she experienced hunger as a child and wants to ensure that her children, and other families, do not have to struggle like she did.

Kathy on the struggle for affordable housing:

I spent three and a half months in a shelter with my two children and then I got my apartment.  The crazy thing about it is that I still have to do house searches and job searches to qualify for welfare, even though I have a job and an apartment. My caseworker says that I have to look for something that I can afford, I guess because $850 is too much. I don’t know where I’m going to find a two bedroom for a lower price. All the housing that’s low-income is like a year waiting list or more. I’m on the list through Section 8 and I went over there today and they told me that I might not get called for three years, maybe five. - Photo and Voice by Kathy, Camden

I spent three and a half months in a shelter with my two children and then I got my apartment. The crazy thing about it is that I still have to do house searches and job searches to qualify for welfare, even though I have a job and an apartment. My caseworker says that I have to look for something that I can afford, I guess because $850 is too much. I don’t know where I’m going to find a two bedroom for a lower price. All the housing that’s low-income is like a year waiting list or more. I’m on the list through Section 8 and I went over there today and they told me that I might not get called for three years, maybe five.
- Photo and Voice by Kathy, Camden

Life in Tent City; Oodles of Noodles

Tanya is the mother of five adult children and grandmother of four. She had been living in Cape May County for the last several years, but recently moved to Camden to be closer to her children and grandchildren. As someone who has lived on a tight budget for several years, she frequents food pantries and works to stretch the household’s food to make sure the children have enough. She worries about the violence in Camden, and the number of people who are struggling with addiction and homelessness in the city. She would like to see more recovery centers and homeless shelters in Camden.

Tanya on making food stretch, and on hope for homelessness:

 

Getting them Off the Streets; I’m Trying; Violence is Everywhere

Anisa D. is a resident of the Fairview neighborhood of Camden, and is the mother of four children and grandmother of a 3 year-old. She is helping to raise her grandson while her daughter works two jobs, and is also supporting her oldest son, a full-time college student. A long-time resident of Camden, she joined Witnesses to Hunger because she wants to support and encourage other parents who are struggling to raise their children on a limited income.

Anisa on violence, keeping kids off the streets and in school, in Camden:

 

Little By Little

Tiffany J. is a proud mother of seven, college graduate and lifelong resident of Camden, New Jersey. She has seen Camden at its best and at its worst and she is very troubled by the violence. She feels something must be done to make Camden streets better. She joined the Witnesses to Hunger Program so she could share her story ideas for how to make the city better.

Tiffany J. on making too much money for food stamps, but not enough to afford good food:

As far as food stamps go, I have applied, but because of the income that I receive they say I don’t qualify. They say they take your bills into account, but it seems like they don’t, because I still don’t get anything. We are not struggling for meals, but I when I shop I cannot fill the refrigerator. I’m used to filling up everything in my house and at this time I can’t do that. I have to get little by little by little as I can afford it. -Photo and Voice by Tiffany J., Camden

As far as food stamps go, I have applied, but because of the income that I receive they say I don’t qualify. They say they take your bills into account, but it seems like they don’t, because I still don’t get anything. We are not struggling for meals, but I when I shop I cannot fill the refrigerator. I’m used to filling up everything in my house and at this time I can’t do that. I have to get little by little by little as I can afford it.
-Photo and Voice by Tiffany J., Camden

Camden’s Future

Beatrize C. is a working mother with one young son. She is a part of Witnesses to Hunger because she feels that people need to know the positive aspects of Camden and that people need encouragement to make a positive change in their community. She is a proud life-long resident of Camden, and plans to return to college this fall to get a degree in surgical technology.

Beatrize on raising kids well in Camden:

Just because he is in Camden do not mean a child won’t come out being happy. Just because this is not the American dream or the American-looking family, that does not mean a child won’t come up all right. I want that image to change, because there’s some good stuff in Camden. It’s not all bad stuff. Kids do grow up happy in Camden. I did. I came out fine.  -Photo and Voice by Beatrize, Camden

Just because he is in Camden do not mean a child won’t come out being happy. Just because this is not the American dream or the American-looking family, that does not mean a child won’t come up all right. I want that image to change, because there’s some good stuff in Camden. It’s not all bad stuff. Kids do grow up happy in Camden. I did. I came out fine.
-Photo and Voice by Beatrize, Camden

Note to news media: To interview any of the Witnesses to Hunger featured above, or to interview Dr. Mariana Chilton about the Witnesses to Hunger program and research on hunger and poverty, please contact Rachel Ewing in the Drexel University Office of University Communications at raewing@drexel.edu, 215-895-2614 (office), or 215-298-4600 (cell). In addition to the Witnesses profiled above, Witness Tiffany F. is also willing to participate in interviews with the news media but opted not to have her bio posted online.

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