NEW HAVEN – “I suffered food insecurity ever since I was a little girl,” says Wanda Perez, noting that this started when she came to the United States from Puerto Rico. “My mother was too embarrassed to walk into a food pantry and get food for us, so, by me seeing her doing that, I did the same thing growing up.”

Over the years, Perez worked at factories, bars and restaurants, while struggling from depression and addiction. Now, at 54, she’s clean…a mother and grandmother on disability, still struggling.

“I was tired of being silent,” she says. “It’s time for me to use my voice and help people in the community.”

So, she’s become a member of Witnesses to Hunger, a group of community members with lived experience of poverty, advocating for food security.

“We know that in order to affect change we have to affect policy,” says community organizer Kim Hart, a single mom on SNAP, who says the group is working with legislators to help a problem that has worsened during the pandemic.

“I love this quote – ‘the people closest to the problem should be closest to the solution,'” says Hart.

Connecticut Food Bank – Foodshare reports that its drive-through food distribution sites – in places like East Hartford, Norwich and Torrington, have served more than 41,000 people this summer.

And, Feeding America estimates that across Connecticut, 545,000 people, including 164,000 children – are at risk for hunger.

“Can you imagine the children who are supposed to be in school learning and all they can hear is their stomach growling?” says Hart.

“The richest state! Then why are so many people going to bed hungry?” asks Perez.

Perez is taking this opportunity to invite a legislator to spend 24 hours with her so that they really know what she – and many others – experience.

“Put your shoes on my shoes and see how it’s gonna feel,” she says. “No one should be hungry. No one.”

Whether you’re food insecure or not, anyone is invited to join Witnesses to Hunger and your voice and opinion be heard. Click here for more information.