The Center for Hunger-Free Communities

Solutions Based on Science and the Human Experience


What is the meaning of “hunger-free” community?

A hunger-free community is a place where there is no discrimination – where people are connected, even interconnected, across the usual social boundaries of race and ethnicity, class, social status, disability, age, block or neighborhood.
It’s a place where no one, no matter what their age or social standing, is worried or anxious about having enough money for healthy food.
It’s a place where compassion and deep understanding are the highest ideals—not making more profit, growing a reputation or fame, punishing others, or elbowing for more power.
A hunger-free community is a place where someone who is suffering knows they can get help.  Where there is no shame in asking for help, and no judgment or coercion in providing help.
A hunger-free community can be a place, a group of people, a workplace, a neighborhood, a network of people, a university, a hospital, a city.  It can be any group of people that commits to living mindfully in the service and care of others.


What does science have to do with ending hunger?

Our research shows how hunger affects the body, brain, and development of a child.  Nutritional deprivation can cause lifelong harm in children by stunting their growth, especially during their early development in ages zero to three. Based in scientific inquiry and research, we know that children who experience food insecurity at a very young age are more likely to have increased hospitalizations, health problems, impaired development, behavioral and emotional problems, and to have trouble in school and in the workforce.  The pictures at left, from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, show developing neuron connections in the brain and illustrate the devastating impact of hunger and its associated stresses on brain development in very young children.

For more information about the science as it relates to ending hunger, visit our Children’s HealthWatch research.


What do you mean by the “human experience” and how is it relevant to ending hunger?

Witnesses to Hunger shares the voice of those who experience poverty and hunger first-hand. We tell our stories from our experiences and our own points of view. We are the people behind the numbers and statistics. While it is important to have the scientific understanding of how hunger affects the health and development of children, it is essential to remember that we are talking about real live children that have so much potential and are experiencing this stress day-to-day. These are children who could grow up to be the President, to be a lawyer, to be a surgeon, or to be your child’s second grade teacher, but the toxic stress that they experience due to poverty and food insecurity can limit them for life. Now is the time for everyone to get involved to change these children’s future for the better. To learn more about toxic stress, see our research for Children's HealthWatch and the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University.

How is the Center for Hunger-Free Communities different from other anti-hunger and anti-poverty organizations?

The Center for Hunger-Free Communities is unique in that we seek to identify solutions to hunger and poverty based on the active involvement of community members who know the experience of poverty and hunger first-hand and academic research supported through our university-based research center. We make our policy recommendations and interventions based on science and wisdom from people with lived experiences of poverty and hunger.


What solutions do you have for ending hunger in the U.S.?

While initially it may seem that hunger is simply a matter of individuals lacking necessary food resources, our research has found that hunger is related to many other aspects of poverty—access to health care, lack of access to quality childcare, low literacy and educational opportunity, under-employment or unemployment, access to technology, financial literacy and security, trauma, and housing, energy and environmental security. Ending hunger in the  U.S. will require an approach that effectively addresses these issues while ensuring all people have adequate access to healthy, nutritious foods. The solutions and interventions of our Center address these issues and seek to ensure that entitlement programs are available to all families who are eligible. We are also looking at new interventions including peer support groups,  micro-lending, and community-engaged accountability.


How can we afford to end hunger in the U.S.?

We cannot afford not to end hunger in the U.S. According to the report, “The Economic Cost of Domestic Hunger,” hunger costs the United States over $90 billion dollars annually. This is money lost through illness, decreased productivity, and decreased educational attainment, as well as money spent to provide families with food through charity by food banks and other resources, which do not provide long term solutions to the problem.   While many of the safety-net entitlement programs require significant financial support through budget appropriations from our federal and state governments, these costs are far less. Increasing spending on safety-net programs could cost at most $12 billion dollars and nearly end hunger in the U.S. This represents approximately one sixth of the total cost of failing to act and continuing to let our fellow citizens go hungry.


If people get food stamps, don’t they have enough to feed a family?

Our research has shown that the average food stamp allotment for a family in a given month is not enough for the family to eat, let alone eat healthfully. In our research on the “Real Cost of a Healthy Diet,” we found that:

  • Families receiving the maximum allotment of $542 per month in 2008 were unable to purchase foods recommended by the US Department of Agriculture Thrifty Food Plan, which is the national standard for a “nutritious diet at a minimal cost”
  • Families who received the maximum benefit would have to spend an additional $210 per month in Philadelphia and $263 per month in Boston in order to meet the recommended, lowest cost diet
  • Food stamps are based on average costs of food across the nation and do not account for variation in cost based on region and environment (urban, suburban and rural)
  • Generally, the cost of food in urban areas is higher which means the food stamp benefit does not go as far in the quantity and quality of items purchased. 

Please see our full brief, Coming Up Short: the Real Cost of a Healthy Diet, for more information.

To learn more about these issues, please see our Food and Health Policy Issue page and learn more from the Witnesses stories at Meet the Real Experts.


If people living in poverty can’t afford enough food, why are so many of them overweight?

The relationship between hunger (or "food insecurity") and obesity is something that is not fully-understood and is still being researched.

 A preliminary summary of research shows that:

  • Women who were food insecure were more likely to be overweight, especially women of color
  • Men who are food-insecure are more likely to be underweight.
  • To date, no research has shown a causal link between a family using food stamps and childhood obesity.

To read more see the Institute of Medicine report: Hunger and Obesity: Understanding a Food Insecurity Paradigm

In low-income families dealing with the hardship of food insecurity, little research has looked at the nutritional quality of foods, and the tradeoffs families may make in quantity over quality or price over quality.

  • Parents in low-income families with limited food budgets may purchase foods dense in calories that are often heavily processed and sweetened but of limited nutritional value.
  • These foods help to fill the bellies of family members but are high in carbohydrates, sodium and fats that can adversely affect a family members health and weight.
  • These families often forgo the purchasing of more healthy and often expensive foods including fresh produce, whole grains, lean meats, fish and low-fat dairy.

Please see our briefs, Food Stamps as Medicine and the Real Cost of a Healthy Diet for more information.


Why do people who are poor have children that "they can't feed"?

Choosing whether or not to have a child is a very personal choice, and half of all pregnancies in this country are unplanned.  We would argue that in many ways this question is beside the point—these children are here now, so what are we going to do to make sure they are able to reach their fullest potential?

The responses of the Witnesses to the question of why they had children are varied—while some say they became pregnant due to birth control failure (or failure to use birth control), many planned their families. Some were in foster care or abused and felt moved to start loving families by having their own children, because they didn’t feel love from anyone else. Others reached their late twenties and thirties and, accepting the fact that they may never be financially secure, chose to have children now rather than wait for a more secure income. Some of the Witnesses are with the father of their children, others left an abusive relationship, or had a boyfriend leave because he couldn’t handle the stress of taking care of a sick child. No one’s financial or relationship circumstances are guaranteed, so while preventing unwanted pregnancies is a component to ending the cycle of poverty, we cannot judge those who are struggling to feed their children.


Is hunger associated with child abuse and neglect?

No. Hunger is not a reason for that type of treatment to a child. Most people who live in poverty love their children and try to do better.

Hunger is only an indication of economic hardship. It is not about abuse and neglect. It is about societal neglect of people born into poverty with little if any chance of getting out. We need new solutions and new ways to leverage the love, the care and the nurturing that all of the mothers of hungry children have. We need to help them to assert and assume their powers and to translate their love for their children into positive actions and a better life for themselves and their children. Our future and the future of our country depends on it.


What can I do to help the Center for Hunger-Free Communities end hunger in the U.S.?

There are many ways in which you can make an effort to help the Center end hunger in the  U.S.:

1) Connect with your leaders.

Take part in holding our legislators and ourselves accountable for ending hunger in our city, region and country and beyond, and learn more about the programs, challenges and solutions to help your community end hunger.

2) Learn more about the issues and policies that affect hunger and poverty.

See our research and policy papers on hunger and poverty. Educate your family, friends, community, and write to your leaders about what you learn and what concerns you.

3) Meet the member of Witnesses to Hunger

Look at their pictures, read their testimonies, and learn from their experiences with hunger and poverty.  

4) Share your talents and your time. 

If you have the time, volunteer with a local agency to help augment their workforce.  Offer your skills to help others by providing job training, teaching literacy, staffing a pantry, or teaching computer skills. 

5) Share your resources.  

If you are interested in donating to the Center or one of our programs, please see our Donation page for further information.

6)  Contact us with your ideas for change. 

There are so many different ways that we can contribute to bringing an end to hunger in the United States. We look forward to hearing from you.


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