Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

My Chat with the President

What would you say if you had the chance to speak to the President? I pondered this question as I stood by the elevator yesterday morning, directing Fortune 500 members, government officials, and various NGO leaders up to the VIP reception. President Bush would be delivering a speech at 10:10 AM to introduce his proposal to double AIDS money for developing countries, and I was a lucky volunteer who would get a seat at the conference as a reward for my ushering efforts. “Mezzanine level,” I repeated dozens of times that morning, as my mind wandered over towards that hypothetical conversation.

“Mr. President,” I would say confidently, “Thank you for your initiatives to combat hunger and disease in the developing world. I appreciate your compassion for those suffering in the developing world, and urge you to show that same concern to Americans who are food-insecure or cannot afford adequate health care.” I would not bring up controversial issues, since even my most compelling two-sentence argument would be unlikely to change his mind.

“Are you looking for the VIP reception, sir? Yes, you’re going the right way. Take this elevator up to the mezzanine level,” I said aloud, still wondering how I could best impress upon our President the importance of caring for our own nation’s poor.

After two hours of directing very important people to their reception, I tiptoed into the main conference room with the other volunteer ushers. “Take any empty seat available,” our coordinator whispered. Two empty seats in the second row seemed to beckon. Diana Smith, a Government Relations intern at Bread, and I scooted forward and plopped down.

Against a backdrop of 17 (!) flags, President George W. Bush delivered a 30-minute speech on how to help African nations lift themselves out of poverty. “The eagerness of children to learn, the desire of individuals to provide for themselves and their families, and the longing of mothers to see their babies grow up healthy are universal,” he said. “Yet poverty, a lack of education, and diseases have kept millions from around the world from fulfilling these fundamental desires. Today the governments and citizens of many countries are working to overcome these crises. And the American people are proud to stand with them.”

Mr. Bush discussed forgiving the debts of developing countries, promoting the use of malaria nets, and providing prenatal care to reduce mother-to-child AIDS transmission. He stressed the responsibility of our government to address crises in the developing world, reminding the audience of Luke 12:48: “To whom much is given, much is required.”

I found myself nodding at these proposals. Doubling AIDS money to developing countries could save many lives. I would love to see our government do more to help impoverished nations invest in education and health care systems instead of spending millions on debt interest. Mr. Bush even promoted the U.S. taking a leadership role in addressing climate change. Then, all of a sudden, I had my moment. After the speech, the President mingled around the front rows, shaking hands and posing for pictures. Diana and I were busy trying to guess who the Secret Service agents, when all of a sudden there was a hand in my face. “How are ya?” asked the President as he shook my hand heartily.

“Hi!” I replied automatically.

“Bread for the World,” he read from Diana’s name tag, as he shook her hand. “Thanks for serving.”

“You’re welcome!” she said brightly.

And that was our conversation with the President.


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