A vivid look at issues affecting America's most vulnerable, through the lens of one Brooklyn family trying to keep everyone fed.
As stories with impact go, this one stands out: The lead subject of the piece, struggling to feed her family during the pandemic, was tracked down on social media and hired by a reader for a job.
The all-formats package by reporter Luis Andres Henao and visual journalist Jessie Wardarski, both of AP’s religion team, chronicled the struggle of Sharawn Vinson and her Brooklyn family as they battled food shortages and myriad other crises, taking readers into the lives of a family that has little but manages to help others – even as they worry about their next meal. In addition to pandemic-driven money woes and food insecurity, the story addressed other issues confronting Americans, including racial inequality and conflict with police.
To fully understand the issue of hunger in New York City, Henao and Wardarski spent weeks speaking to everyone from people in food pantry lines to officials in charge of the crisis response. But a major challenge was finding the right subject, and the delicate task of convincing that family to give up-close access to journalists.
After several days of back and forth with a mutual source, the AP pair gained the trust of the Vinson family, shadowing them as they volunteered to distribute meals, celebrated a remote school graduation and worked out during a football practice. The family was forced to send their 11-year-old twins to spend much of the summer with their father, six states to the south, where they’d at least be fed. The personal details shared by the family gave readers a better understanding of the breadth of issues facing a vulnerable segment of the population – people disproportionately affected during the pandemic.
The package attracted attention and wide play. It was featured by The Los Angeles Times and highlighted in one of its newsletters. Rachel Maddow shared it in her blog to more than one million followers. And the story was published by hundreds of AP members and customers. The AP Images blog also gave the piece prominent display.
One reader for whom the story resonated was Gina Herrera, who hired Sharawn Vinson to answer phones and take food orders: “I read the article and I felt that I was in a position to help her and her family,” said Herrera. “I felt that she’s a strong woman, sweet, but strong, and that she'd be a good fit because she’s a fighter.”
For a rare, intimate look at a family on the front lines of food insecurity during the pandemic, featuring riveting photos and video, Henao and Wardarski share this week’s Best of the States award.