Joanna Cruz works the late shift at a deli in the Salem County community of Penns Grove, making just enough money to support herself and two children. The 32-year-old Cruz once lived in a Philadelphia home with no functional plumbing and worked a seasonal $10-an-hour job at the city’s zoo.
“I kind of grew up that way,” she said. “It’s what I knew all my life.”
Cruz is one of more than 100 members of Witnesses to Hunger, part of Drexel University’s Center for Hunger-Free Communities. Those “witnesses” are mothers and caregivers of children who speak openly about their experiences with poverty and hunger to foster social change and reduce the stigma of poverty.
“They’re putting a human face on poverty with their own words and experiences,” said Michelle Taylor, program manager for Witnesses to Hunger. “Nobody is (currently) speaking for them. Nobody is trying to construct a narrative. Sometimes they say things that are making people uncomfortable, and that’s what we want.”
Cruz said she’ll keep talking about the plight of the impoverished as long as she can.
“I’m not doing the greatest, but I’m stable,” Cruz said. “I shouldn’t feel ashamed because I’m down on my luck.”