More than 41 million people face hunger in the U.S. today. In fact, people face hunger in every community across the U.S., which means someone you know might be struggling to get enough to eat. It can be easy to ignore the crisis of hunger that’s happening all around you if you’ve always had enough. Sometimes it takes emergencies, like the hurricanes that swept the country last year, to shed a light on the hidden problem of hunger.
In 2018, StoryCorps partnered with Feeding America — the nation’s leading hunger-relief organization — to share the stories of people facing hunger in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas. As part of the partnership, our facilitators traveled to two food pantries supported by the Houston Food Bank, the food bank’s own Emergency Food Pantry, and West Houston Assistance Ministries to record conversations with the people they serve. We heard stories both from folks who have leaned on the pantries since before the hurricane and from folks who only needed help post-Harvey.
The conversations we heard centered around themes of fear, loss, and displacement and family, friendship, and resilience. Participants described food pantries as a vital form of assistance during illness or periods of unemployment. They emphasized that when you lose everything — either after a layoff or a catastrophe that displaces you from your home — finding food is a first priority. Accordingly, food pantries are a helping hand and a source of hope during bleak times.
Universally, participants reflected on the challenge of accepting assistance given America’s emphasis on personal responsibility and independence. Even though circumstances outside their control led them to seek help from food pantries, many people described feeling ashamed to visit a pantry for the first time. They felt discouraged because being able to provide for their loved ones on their own was central to their identity. Given their role as caretakers, parents in particular discussed the challenge of swallowing their pride and asking for help to support their children, even in the face of displacement and extreme loss.
Below, watch animations based on a few of the conversations we recorded with Feeding America.
Mother and son Mary and Jaylon Colon talk about struggling with hunger even before Harvey. The Colons depended on the Emergency Food Pantry at the Houston Food Bank when Mary got fibromyalgia and couldn’t work.
Beverly and Key Dauterive lost their home and jobs in the wake of Harvey. They discuss the destruction which forced them to travel from place to place after the storm and the sacrifices they made to make sure their family had food.
Feeding America is the largest hunger-relief organization in the United States. Through a network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs, it provides meals to more than 46 million people each year.