Sharing stories of hunger, homelessness

  • Firelight Theatre Workshop presented "Tiny Friendship Stories" at The Thing in The Spring in Peterborough in June. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Firelight Theatre Workshop presented "Tiny Friendship Stories" at The Thing in The Spring in Peterborough in June. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 10/28/2019 9:21:57 PM

Organizers from the Monadnock Area Transitional Shelter and the Firelight Theatre Workshop are soliciting community members’ stories about personal experiences with hunger or housing insecurity.

The stories will feature in a performance at the Peterborough Town Library next month, the first of a week-long series of events marking National Hunger and Homelessness Week.

At the event, actors from Firelight Theatre and ConVal High School plan to perform the stories, submitted by the community, of 100 words or less on the theme “Hunger & Homelessness: Stories of Hope.”

Kathy Boss of the Peterborough Food Pantry coordinated the performance in hopes of humanizing the ubiquitous but frequently hidden subject.

“So often we get stuck in the facts and statistics of hunger and homelessness,” she said, and forgo telling detailed or personal stories in order to protect the anonymity of affected community members.

Boss was inspired by Firelight Theatre Workshop’s “Tiny Friendship Stories” performance this spring, where actors distributed throughout a crowd performed short stories about friendship.

“Hunger and homelessness touches so many lives, and we’re excited to hear what the community has to say on this theme,” said Firelight Theatre Workshop co-founder Nora Fiffer.

She said that writers took “great liberties with the form” in their submissions of stories on friendship, which ranged from funny to very dark.

“It’s surprisingly challenging to write a nugget of a story in one hundred words or less,” she said, and the word limitation creates a sense of mystery, as well as an intriguing discrepancy since the person reading the story was not the person who wrote it.

Boss said the overall effect is like overhearing a snippet of conversation, and the shortness allows for multiple perspectives of “this is what happened to me.”

Library director Corinne Chronopoulos said the actors will perform the short stories in the library’s meeting hall during the opening of an art installation featuring about 20 pieces on canvas by ConVal students based on the theme “What does it mean to feel at home?” Chronopoulous said the performances will be recorded, and visitors will be able hear the stories whenever the installation is open through Dec. 1.

Lisa Rogers, the homeless outreach worker for the ConVal school system and a coordinator for the week’s events, found out about National Hunger and Homelessness Week while brainstorming solutions for the region’s lack of housing for the homeless. She said she saw its potential as an umbrella for events that she and other community members wanted to see, and quickly filled a week’s worth of events with representatives from MATS, the Peterborough Food Pantry, and other community members.

Rogers’ hope is that the events raise awareness for housing, hunger and homelessness issues in the community. She said the local focus on homelessness might take some by surprise, when some community members don’t even know there’s a shelter in Peterborough.

Rogers said that 25 students in the ConVal School District are currently experiencing homelessness, and there were 31 at the end of the last school year.

“Our food pantry serves 300 households (6,300 meals) a month, and End 68 Hours of Hunger is sending home 140-180 bags of food home with children in our school district,” she said.

She said that in the Monadnock Region, homelessness looks different than what some people expect to see. In one case, she said a family of six with two working adults were unable to find suitable accommodations when their landlord decided to sell their rented home, and are now “doubled up” with thirteen people under one roof. Another family was camping in a local state park during the summer after being unable to find an affordable place to live. Rogers said that some of the people she’s worked with have experienced housing insecurity after an arrangement to stay with family following a natural disaster fell through, or after coming down with a major illness, she said.

“Nationally, the working poor class is growing,” said Rogers. “Nobody’s moving up and out.”

One consequence Rogers has observed is that families trying to move up and out of the Monadnock Area Transitional Shelter don’t have a place to go. She said that this year was the first time in six years on the job that she’s had no options to offer: long-time affordable go-to’s like Peterborough’s Heatherbrook, Pine Street and Riverview apartments have no vacancies.

“I can’t do my job as the homeless outreach worker because there is no housing,” she said.

Rogers said that to her, the most exciting part of the local events lineup for National Hunger and Homelessness Week are the collaborations between organizations as diverse as art groups, schools, churches, and the library.

“The food pantry and MATS were both started in the early 1990s from a conversation and collaboration between the town administration, the local clergy, and the townspeople when it became apparent that there was a need,” she said. “Perhaps history will repeat itself, and this week of events will inspire a conversation and collaboration to actualize solutions to meet our present needs.”

“We want your story to be heard. It is important these stories are heard,” Rogers  said, and said that all submissions, recordings, and readings will be listed anonymously. Stories can be submitted to hungerhomelessnesshope@gmail.com until Nov. 8.

The Pop-Up Stories event will run from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Peterborough Library on Nov. 15. A full listing of Hunger and Homelessness Week events,  which run through Nov. 25, can be found at matsnh.org/hhaw/.


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