Unlike homelessness or abject poverty, food insecurity is not often explicitly apparent. And it’s not an issue that gets much lip service, especially in the most wealthy, prosperous country on the planet. Nationally, however, it’s estimated that 20 percent of America’s children are food insecure — that is to say, without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. Locally, it’s estimated that more than 117,000 people experience food insecurity, among the highest rates in all of Florida.
Local advertising agency Brunet-García is known regionally and nationally for its creative campaigns in support of public organizations and nonprofit companies like Mental Health America of Northeast Florida (MHA), the USDA, the Bureau of Immunization and FEMA. Each year, the company uses its formidable creative might to raise awareness for a worthy local cause. This year, in collaboration with the Castaño Group, creatives from Brunet-García developed an immersive installation to tell the story of Jimmy, a child whose family struggles with hunger and food insecurity.
The finished product — called 100 Plates — is currently on display on the first floor of the Jessie Ball duPont Center in Downtown Jacksonville. The installation is anchored by a large wooden rectangular box, which hosts an engaging display of pen-and-ink characters, kitschy, mid-century lettering and interactive buttons, each playing a role in weaving together a story with an educational impetus. The beautifully designed installation is only enhanced by the digital, interactive experience, which also allows viewers to make an immediate, impactful donation, by way of a touch-screen and credit-card reader. Tying it all together in a way that’s both literal and eye-catching, 100 actual plates hang in a floor-to-ceiling window looking out onto Adams Street.
A donation of just $10, according to research done by the project’s creators in collaboration with local nonprofit Feeding Northeast Florida, can provide up to 100 meals for a family in need.
“In our community, families often must choose between buying food or paying their bills,” said Diane Brunet-García, agency owner and vice president. “Feeding America estimates that providing 100 meals a month would help a food-insecure family make ends meet. It takes only $10 for Feeding America to bridge this gap through its network of regional food banks.”
Utilizing that network of food pantries and distribution centers, Feeding Northeast Florida provides food assistance to 281,040 people across Duval and surrounding counties.
“Although there is plenty of food, access is the central challenge,” says Brunet-García’s Denise Reagan (onetime Folio Weekly editor and former MOCAJax director of communications), who is handling public relations for the 100 Plates project. “The reason we did 100 meals is that, when you’re dealing with food insecurity, the research shows that 100 meals — which is basically a month of meals — makes the difference for a family,” says Reagan. “It bridges the gap. That’s big.”
“And a $10 donation, especially if you’re able to do it, digitally, or immediately, that feels really attainable for people,” Reagan continues. “And if a person can afford $20, they can do twice that much. That feels pretty good.”
The 100 Plates installation provides, in illustrative detail, outlines of the depth of the issue of food insecurity in Northeast Florida. When activated by a corresponding button, a map of Jacksonville, front and center on the project’s main façade, lights up portions the areas of the city deemed “food deserts” and areas known to be “at risk” (or nearly food deserts).
“Even when there’s enough money, there are few healthy options where Jimmy’s family lives,” according to the graphic titled “The Food Desert Ripple Effect.” “[Jimmy’s family] must purchase cheaper, less-nutritious food.
“One of the facts that really shocked me was that it’s easier to get a beer in many of these areas than a banana,” says Brunet-García’s Katy Garrison who spearheaded the illustrations on the 100 Plates project. “Most of the time, people living in these areas are having to walk to get food. Transportation is an issue. A lot of the time, there’ll be convenience stores or fast-food chains in closer proximity, so that’s what is consumed.”
Agency work is nearly always collaborative. And in animating the plight of the food insecure in Jacksonville, aside from working with fellow Brunet-García illustrators Cassie Deogracia and Bianca Borghi, Garrison had research and writing help from local writer Jack Twachtman. Kedgar Volta of the Castaño Group developed the video animations.
“Jack had a lot of knowledge about [the issue of food insecurity],” Garrison says. “Jorge [Brunet-Garcia] was really passionate about it. I think their excitement kind drove us to dive into the subject matter. Combined with Kedgar’s enthusiasm to do something interactive and my passion for illustration, I think those four things gave us a template.”
“It was way too much to tackle in the short time we had,” Garrison laughs. “But because everybody was so hyped about it, we didn’t mind working nights and weekends on it.”
The 100 Plates initiative came together in just three weeks, from inception to completion. The project, unveiled during Art Walk, was well-received. The installation has collected more than $2,500 already and, according to Reagan, will have a life after the holidays.
“As we were getting this ready for Art Walk, we realized this installation has legs,” she says. “Just because the holidays are over doesn’t mean this has to end. We’ve had interest for several locations and it’ll definitely have a second, if not a third generation in the near future.”
For more information on the 100 Plates project, visit feedingnefl.org/100plates.