Though millions of Americans struggle to find enough food for themselves and their children each day, that struggle is often invisible, even to their health care providers.
The silence and stigma surrounding hunger are being upended by 15 courageous women who are using cameras and a method called photovoice to share their personal stories. The women are participants in Hunger Through My Lens, launched by a nonprofit called Hunger Free Colorado that was co-founded by Kaiser Permanente Colorado in 2010.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been exposed to the project thanks in part to a recent PBS NewsHour report that has circulated widely in social media.
Robin Dickinson, MD, a family practice physician, struggled to feed her family after two strokes left her unable to work and she and her husband tried to live off their savings. Dr. Dickinson chose to participate in Hunger Though My Lens because she wants to persuade others that food stamps exist because each of us is vulnerable, no matter how hardworking we may be.
Behind the pain and resiliency brought to light in the photographs is a strategy to expand access to affordable, nutritious foods in the state with the fastest growing rate of childhood poverty.
As a key collaborator in Hunger Free Colorado’s efforts, Kaiser Permanente Colorado set out to get a handle on hunger in the community through a better understanding of its impact on Kaiser Permanente members. Through a partnership that includes Kaiser Permanente physicians Sarah VanScoy, MD, Sandra Stenmark, MD, and Bruce Doenecke, MD, and administrators and medical office staff at two clinics, a screening question was incorporated to query members about their personal food insecurity. The results were sobering.
“Even in the relatively affluent area of Smoky Hill, more than 12 percent of members screened positive,” reports Carmen Martin, a senior community health specialist for Kaiser Permanente Colorado.
As a result, more than 300 Kaiser Permanente members were referred to Hunger Free Colorado in 2013. Since 2011, the organization has helped more than 21,000 Coloradans with food assistance resources.
“This partnership has become an important one to accomplish clinic-to-community integration — connecting our members with a local resource they can trust,” explains Martin.
Last year, Kaiser Permanente Colorado’s community benefit program provided public health and public policy expertise to develop Breakfast After the Bell legislation, now in place, to significantly expand children’s daily access to breakfast.
As Hunger Through My Lens expands to communities throughout the state, as is planned, Coloradans and their policymakers will have the opportunity to see hunger more clearly. And as they do, Hunger Free Colorado and Kaiser Permanente Colorado will continue to warn of the health impacts of food insecurity, and to make it easier and more efficient for people who need food to request assistance and get it.