For Some Kids, Hunger All Too Real

Seth Doane and Lewis Roman CBS

Some moments best forgotten are frozen in time.

In a photographic exhibit called "Witnesses to Hunger" the message is stunningly simple, reports CBS News correspondent Seth Doane.

One picture shows Imani Sullivan's son begging for food because she can't always afford to feed her kids.

"I am a witness to hunger every day," Imani, who lives in Philadelphia, says.

Her 9-year-old son De-Mire know what it's like to go without food.

"I cry … because I'm hungry," he tells Doane.

An estimated 15.5 million American kids don't have enough food - that's 3 million more than just two years ago.

Another picture shows Marinette Roman's youngest trying to get out of the house - back when they had one.

Home now is a single room in a Philadelphia shelter for Roman and her 13-year-old son Lewis.

Lewis, who's been losing weight, says he doesn't tell his friends about not having enough food.

"I just don't like … letting … nobody know that I'm hungry," he says.

But letting people know is the point of this exhibit.

It was Mariana Chilton's idea to give cameras to 42 lower-income Philadelphia mothers.

"It's a way of saying, 'My child is hungry. I've struggled and this is what my child looks like,'" says Chilton, of the Drexel University School of Public Health.

Their senator, Robert Casey, D-Pa., brought the women and their photographs to Capitol Hill and keeps a book of the pictures in his office.

"Is there anything that seems removed for you? Sitting in Washington looking at this book?" asks Doane. "It seems like two different worlds."

"Oh it is, sure," says Casey. "You could sit in a hearing for hours and you could read every statistic that would tell the story. But there's nothing like a picture and a witness."

Like a picture of Imani's pay stub. She's a full-time janitor but has an empty fridge. She photographed that too.

"How is it as a mom to realize that at points you can't really afford to feed your own kids?" asks Doane.

"Wow, that's a good question. It's heartbreaking," she says.

It is for Marinette too. Besides losing her house last summer, she lost both of her jobs. Already living at the edge, the recession pushed her over.

"To hear your kids say they're hungry, how does it make you feel?" asks Doane

"Horrible," she says, starting to cry. "Horrible because I always try to do my best … and it hurts that I have to put my kids in this situation."

That situation is six people sharing one room. Lewis says his stomach gets so empty he feels like throwing up.

Read Seth Doane's Blog Post On Story
"Children Of The Recession" Section
But sometimes he just tries not to think about it.

"You just fall asleep," he says.

Chilton wants Americans to wake up and realize that a lack of nutrition at an early age can stunt both physical and mental growth.

"When regular American people think about hunger, they're thinking about a kid that has a swollen belly and flies in his eyes. That is when … that's like the point of no return. How bad does hunger have to be before we pay attention to it?"

The Obama administration vowed to end childhood hunger in America by 2015 and has proposed an additional $7 billion on food stamps next year.

Imani already receives $414 a month in food stamps now, but says a hundred dollars a week doesn't feed a family of four. Every penny of her paycheck goes to rent and utilities.

"This is a disaster," says Chilton. "So the economic downturn is affecting everyone and it's especially affecting the poor because they're already having to make more trade-offs."

Trade-offs like buying food stamps or paying the rent.

At 13, Lewis says he wants a job to help his mother out.

"I know, he's been telling me that," Marinette says as she starts to tear up. "He's been telling me he wants to help me."

Lewis didn't choose this life and is looking for a way out … just like so many other children of the recession.
  • Seth Doane

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