"Hunger is hard to recognize in America," CBS's Charles Kuralt intones gravely over images of malnourished children. "We know of it in other places, like Asia or Africa. But these children, all of them, are Americans. And all of them are hungry." That was the message of the landmark 1968 report "Hunger In America," which broadcast images of food shortages and outright starvation into millions of living rooms in the Land of the Free. The special, along with mounting concern over Americans living in poverty, prompted President Richard Nixon and Congress to overhaul the government's food-assistance programs the next year.
Filmmakers Lori Silverbush (On the Outs) and Kristi Jacobson (Toots) hope to ignite similar outrage over the dismal state of nutrition and hunger in America today with their new documentary, A Place at the Table.
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To document the reality of hunger in America, Silverbush and Jacobson visited the Mississippi Delta and inner-city Philadelphia, along with a place they call "a microcosm of America": Collbran, Colorado, a small ranching community an hour out of Grand Junction in Mesa County. "I just felt that when we'd arrived there, we'd found this town that felt really representative of what I believed to be America...hardworking, independent, helping each other," Jacobson says.
While the filmmakers were working with food-assistance programs across the country, Kathy Underhill, executive director of Hunger Free Colorado, directed them to the Food Bank of the Rockies in Grand Junction. There they met a few of Table's future stars, including Pastor Bob Wilson, who takes donated food to his congregation in Collbran twice a week, and Leslie Nichols, a fifth-grade teacher who drops off food for families in need -- and makes sure she's not seen.
"I was one of those kids that was hungry," she says in the film. "Growing up, it was difficult because I could see how difficult it was for my mother when she would return from the food bank. What I've tried to do is get an understanding of their schedules and then drop it off and leave it, so it's not that added pressure. And I know that they're thankful. because it's gone when I come back."
One in seven Colorado households are food-insecure, according to a 2011 United States Department of Agriculture survey, and 31 percent of children in Denver County live in poverty. A Place at the Table may help to alert Coloradans to the crisis not far from our dinner tables.
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A Place at the Table premieres March 1 at the Landmark Chez Artiste; watch Cafe Society blog for a full interview with Jacobson and Nichols.