The faces of hunger in Alameda County
on August 25, 2011
A line of children wearing sweatshirts and tired looks wait for their families to collect food in Hayward. An elderly woman reaches into a box from a food pantry to grab vegetables to take home in West Oakland. A girl with fruit in her arms looks up at a woman examining another bag of fruit in East Oakland.
These are the faces behind the statistics: One in six Alameda County residents receives food from the Alameda County Food Bank, according to the food bank’s 2010 hunger study.
“Poverty cuts across society, and hunger is a reflection of poverty,” said photographer David Bacon, who has documented the effects of hunger, and Alameda County’s response to hunger for ten years for the food bank.
Bacon took photos of what he calls “the faces of hunger”—people from around Alameda County who receive food from the food bank—and the photos accompany the 2010 hunger study. From August 22 to September 2, 15 photos from the 2010 study, the Faces of Hunger exhibit, are being displayed at the Oakland City Hall Rotunda Building. The black-framed images hang outside of the City Council chambers and down the hallways. At a reception Thursday evening from 5:30-7:00 p.m. at City Hall, Bacon will talk about the photos and his experience working on the project.
The photos were taken during the summer of 2009, while the hunger study was being researched. The hunger study surveyed the county’s charitable response to hunger, and helps the food bank measure how many county residents need food assistance. Allison Pratt, the Alameda County Food Bank’s Director of Policy, who worked on the 2010 hunger study, said the photos are important because they show that “there’s no one face of hunger.”
“It’s probably your neighbor, or your grandmother standing in line for that hot meal or that bag of food,” Pratt said. “I think people will see a lot more familiarity, they’ll see their community reflected back at them when they go and see these pictures.”
Bacon said he wanted to hang the photos at City Hall to draw attention to the problem of hunger in the county, since they are displayed in an area where people who work in local government walk by every day. “It doesn’t hurt for public officials to see face of hungry people here,” he said.
Bacon said he wants to take the photos to Sacramento next, and place the photos in front of the governor’s office, to show officials the real life cost of cutting money for food programs, and to “remind our legislators what our social reality is,” he said.
That reality, Pratt said, is a growing need for food in the county. July was a record-setting month for the food bank, as the number of people needing emergency food assistance—what the food bank calls “same day referrals”—jumped nine percent over the previous year’s average.
From 2007 to 2009, the number of emergency calls doubled, due to the bad economy and high unemployment in the Bay Area. “We kind of expected to see things level off at some point, but that’s not what we’ve seen at all,” Pratt said. “We’ve continued to see pretty big increases of people calling us for the very first time needing help with food.”
Bacon said he hopes his work draws attention to the problem of hunger. Much of Bacon’s other work focuses on immigration—what causes migration and what happens to migrant communities—and he’s written three books on the subject. He has also documented labor movements and unions. But he’s spent the past decade documenting what the food bank’s programs and the people they serve, as well as the people who run them.
While the statistics are dire, the faces behind them give him hope. “I’ve gotten to know the whole network of organizations that help distribute food, and in a way, it’s makes me feel pretty optimistic about our world,” Bacon said. “Our communities are full of people that care about each other, and so this is proof of that.”
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