Brooklyn Heights

‘Portraits of Hunger in NYC’ exhibited at Brooklyn Historical Society

November 17, 2015 Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn and Queens: It was a long day for Gregory and Shamar, 12 and 14 years old. Along with their uncle Otto Starzman, the boys helped set up and break down two food pantries in two different boroughs since their alarms went off at 4:30 a.m. Each Week, a typical pantry will distribute thousands of pounds of food to New Yorkers in need. Much of the heavy lifting is done by volunteers, many of whom depend of the pantries to feed their own families. Photos by Joey O’Loughlin
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Food Bank for New York City and the Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS) are presenting a joint exhibition, “Hidden in Plain Sight: Portraits of Hunger in NYC,” which opened on Nov. 6 at the BHS (128 Pierrepont St. in Brooklyn Heights).

The exhibition features the photographs of Brooklyn-based photojournalist Joey O’Loughlin. It reflects the extraordinary diversity of location, population and experience in food pantries throughout New York City, where hundreds line up to receive free groceries. The exhibit is designed to raise awareness of the causes and impact of food poverty as a devastating reality of contemporary urban life.  

For nearly three years, O’Loughlin documented the people behind the statistics by photographing and interviewing clients at Food Bank for New York City’s citywide network of food pantries — the last line of defense against hunger for New Yorkers in need — to reveal the people who run them and the people who wait on their lines.  Through these images, O’Loughlin asks the question, “What would you be willing to do if you couldn’t afford to feed your children?” 


“People are always shocked to learn that one in five people on our pantry lines has a job,” said Margarette Purvis, president and CEO of Food Bank for New York City.  “No one wants to believe that you can work your entire life and still not be able to afford food.  We hope that this exhibit and related programming will foster empathy and awareness among New Yorkers and inspire them to advocate for hunger-relief resources and opportunities that so many of us now need to survive in this challenging economy.”    

The exhibit takes viewers from the food pantry line to the home pantry.  While most food pantries work hard to ease the experience, lining up for food can be dehumanizing. On the line, you’re both on display and socially invisible, but at home, you’re like everyone else. By juxtaposing images of food lines with those taken inside people’s homes, this exhibit puts a face on the everyday New Yorkers — often strong mothers and grandmothers — who must participate in the complicated economic balancing act that allows them to stay in their homes and retain their family dignity.


As family dinner is a universal point of connection, the exhibit will also feature images of home-cooked meals made from pantry groceries. Family history and personality are revealed in images of meals and around the table.  

“O’Loughlin’s photo essay continues the mission of BHS to tell stories which have been overlooked, yet are part of our collective experience and living history,” said Deborah Schwartz, president of BHS. “Our hope is that this exhibition sparks a conversation about the inequalities in food access that affect us all, and the solutions we can work on together to overcome them.”  


The photos in this exhibit are meant to foster connections between the people standing on the lines and the people who walk by them, unaware,” said O’Loughlin.  “The intimate details of family life that were shared with me by generous pantry users are an invitation to consider what we all have in common and what, as a society, we should be invested in preserving.  Our hope is that this exhibit, and the powerful public programing that will be offered over the next year, will encourage conversation and civil action that will move us towards a brighter future for those in need.”  

Four Miles

Public programming around the exhibition will include panel discussions featuring historians and food justice advocates, among others. Programs will engage visitors in questions about hunger and poverty, raising awareness about this increasingly pervasive issue. The exhibition will be on view at BHS through Nov. 13, 2016.  

Living with the Wage

Nearly one in five New Yorkers relies on Food Bank for New York City’s programs and services.  During the past year, the organization has seen the need for emergency food in our city increase while the resources required to combat hunger and poverty have decreased.  The number of meals that vulnerable New Yorkers are missing due to lack of sufficient resources tops a staggering 241 million, representing an enormous Meal Gap. 

The Meal Gap, adapted as the city’s official measure of food insecurity, has now been geographically mapped to reveal where hunger lives — enabling Food Bank to allocate resources to areas with the highest need across New York City. 

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