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‘This Is Hunger’ designed to promote awareness, action

More than 42 million people in the United States struggle to provide for themselves or their families. ‘This is Hunger,” a national, interactive exhibit designed to foster awareness of hunger and efforts to alleviate it will, will be in Overland Park. It is sponsored by Congregation Beth Shalom, Jewish Family Services and Episcopal Community Services and will be at Beth Shalom.

 

A national, interactive exhibit designed to foster awareness of hunger and efforts to alleviate it will come to Congregation Beth Shalom in Overland Park July 9-11 and July 13. 

The free exhibit, titled “This Is Hunger,” is sponsored by MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, a Los Angeles-based organization founded in 1985 whose mission is to end hunger in the United States and Israel among people of all faiths and backgrounds.

Beth Shalom, Jewish Family Services (JFS) and Episcopal Community Services (ECS) are supporting the exhibit, which will be set up in Beth Shalom’s parking lot. It will include a 45-minute multimedia exhibit housed in a 53-foot-long trailer, which provides nearly 1,000 square feet of exhibit space.

“This Is Hunger” started its tour in November 2016 and will run through February 2018, said Michelle Stuffmann, MAZON’s director of outreach and communication and the exhibit’s project director. It’s scheduled to stop in about 30 cities, and its visit to Beth Shalom will be its only stop in Kansas. More than 9,000 people have visited the exhibit.

“We’re trying to hit major metropolitan areas all over the country,” Stuffmann said. “Our goal is to engage the American Jewish community, and Kansas City has an active and engaged Jewish community.”

MAZON joined forces with JFS, ECS and Beth Shalom to publicize the exhibit, she said. MAZON encourages the exhibit’s hosts in each city on the tour to build coalitions with other organizations in their communities, including Jewish service groups, synagogues and interfaith organizations.

“We do in fact want to engage the Jewish community, but also the whole community,” she said. “We’re looking to create change, and it’s going to take all of us to make that change possible.”

Most people envision a starving child in a third-world country when they think about what hunger looks like, Stuffmann said, but more than 42 million people in the United States struggle to provide for themselves or their families. 

“We need everyone to understand the realities and then take that knowledge and do something with it,” she said. “Hunger is a problem that we can solve. We just need the political will to do so. The first step is to raise awareness.”

The exhibit’s interactive elements include videos featuring six people and their struggles with hunger, written stories of other peoples’ struggles with hunger and an exercise in which visitors plan a meal based on a typical budget of a recipient of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, which equates to $1.40 per person per meal.

“The idea is to get people to think about the meal they can put together and whether it’s adequate,” Stuffmann said.

Visitors to the exhibit also are encouraged to sign an online petition to Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan urging him not to fund SNAP with block grants because it would undermine the federal guarantee that everyone who needs the help can get it, she said. Visitors also are encouraged to take photos of themselves holding placards at the exhibit and then post them on social media.

Beth Shalom and MAZON have an ongoing relationship, said Farah Udell, the congregation’s enrichment coordinator. A MAZON representative has spoken to the congregation from the pulpit during the High Holidays and during a Shabbat service, met with the rabbi and taught about MAZON and the Jewish teachings behind the organization. 

Beth Shalom supports the exhibit because it represents Jewish values, Udell said.

“You have to go at it from both ways of helping people in need right now and the system of support coming from the government,” she said. “I was on a conference call with MAZON recently, and they said if you had 20 apples representing all the food aid in America, 19 come from the government and one comes from the nonprofit world. ‘This Is Hunger’ is trying to reach out to everyone and teach laypeople how to advocate.”

The local interfaith effort to support the exhibit started when Beth Shalom contacted JFS and asked them to participate, Udell said. JFS also works closely with ECS.

JFS started taking a leadership role in the production of the exhibit about six months ago by recruiting people to attend, including local elected officials, said Jo Hickey, food pantry director for JFS. The interfaith effort to create and promote the exhibit grew from the nature of hunger.

“Our mission at JFS is nondenominational,” Hickey said. “Hunger is nondenominational. Anybody can be hungry at any time.”

ECS President and CEO Beau Heyen chose to support the exhibit in part because of his former work in Brooklyn, New York, providing kosher meals to New Yorkers and his resulting connections with the Jewish community, and because ECS runs the Kansas City Community Kitchen in Kansas City, Missouri.

“This traveling exhibit is an opportunity to explain what hunger actually looks like,” Heyen said. “Overland Park and Johnson County is an area that many people assume doesn’t have a great need, but it does. The exhibit helps us look at hunger in a new way, a respectful way, so we can solve hunger as a community. For us, it’s about getting the word out.”

Reservations are required to visit the exhibit and can be made at thisishunger.org and the thisishunger-overlandpark.eventbrite.com. The exhibit is open to all ages, but organizers recommend it for those 12 and older.

For information on registration, large group reservations or questions about the schedule, contact Udell at 913-647-7282 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..