Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

20 posts from June 2007

Write to Burger King Today!

This is not about cheeseburgers – it’s a matter of justice. “Do you think those tomatoes jump from the fields onto your burger?” Lucas Benitez asked the National Gathering audience. Of course not; that tasty garnish was picked by a farm worker, who earns about 45 cents on each 32-lb bucket of tomatoes. These workers make around $10,000 a year. I can’t imagine supporting myself on that salary, let alone supporting a family!

Benitez is the co-founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a coalition of primarily Latino, Haitian, and Mayan immigrants who are working in low-wage jobs throughout Florida. This community-based organization fights for fair wages, enforcement of workers’ rights, respect, better and cheaper housing, and the right to organize.

In 2001, Taco Bell was refusing to acknowledge or address human rights abuses that occurred in fields where their produce was picked. The Coalition’s fight to change this, which included a 10-day hunger strike and inspired student campaigns to “Boot the Bell” from school cafeterias, lasted four years. In 2005, the Coalition triumphed, and Taco Bell agreed to improve wages and working conditions for Florida farm workers.

Today, Benitez implores his Bread audience to focus their attention on Burger King. If this fast-food giant would pay farm workers an additional penny per bucket of tomatoes, the average farm worker’s income would nearly double. If you would like to add your voice to the struggle, write a letter to your local Burger King manager, asking him to support fair wages for farm workers. You can drop it off at the restaurant.

For more information, visit the website: http://www.ciw-online.org/index.html

Be the Change

I went to the community dinner called "Be the Change."  The founder of Bread for the World - Art Simon - facilitated the session along with three other speakers.  I was moved by their passion for individual and communal change. 

Maryada Vallet
shared about her experience with No More Death and the Tucson Catholic Worker.  I met Maryada about two years ago in California during her senior year of college.  It was awesome to reconnect and hear her words of wisdom.  It is by working with people on the border, serving people daily at the soup kitchen that Maryada is sustained in the work for justice.  She said, "Lots of people like to go around talking about justice, but there aren't a lot of people in touch with the masses."  Preach it, sister!  In closing, she quoted one of my favorite hip-hop artists - Lauryn Hill.  "Wake up, Rebel!"
We need to learn together to visualize alternatives and wake up to rebel.

Chris Haw
from Camden Community House rocked the house with his words about questioning the "system" and what actually causes poverty:

What we need to ask about these make poverty history movements is: what makes people poor?  [Beacuse] we are the ones riding the wave on what makes people poor.  Make affluence history needs to be on the other side of the argument. When we start to criticize what makes people rich, that’s what makes it messy.  Make our way of life history.  Our liberation is tied up with [poor] people.

Practically, they encouraged the group to ask questions and take small steps towards simplicity and solidarity:

  • What makes people poor?
  • How does my lifestyle contribute to the cycle of poverty?
  • What lifestyle choices can I make to live more simply?
  • Do you think people in this country feel that sort of deep unhappiness from benefiting from people’s misery?

Thank you Art, Maryada, Chris for your prophetic words.  I'm grateful for your witness, your challenge to rebel, to have faith and to make radical personal decisions to follow the way of Jesus.

Generation Change

Today I helped moderate the Conversation Space, Generation Change: Opening the Door for Young Leaders and New Energy.  It was inspiring and stimulating.  Dave Suetholz, a union lawyer from Kentucky, talked about the power you have to make change happen when you bring people together.  He witnessed during his days as a campus activist at Villanova University how Bread for the World helped to awaken and empower people.  Tim King, working for Public Action for Change (PACT) in Chicago emphasized the importance of young leaders having good mentors to guide them.  Liz Harstad, Chief of Staff at the Hip Hop Caucus, echoed Tim's thoughts on mentorship and the need for young leaders to be mentored from those that have done social justice work before.  Having institutional support and buy-in was another insight she shared with the group.  Finally, Dr. Sue Toton, a professor of religion at Villanova University, talked about the crucial role of organizing.  She see's teaching as a form of organizing and encourages young leaders to learn how to organize.

Everyone stressed how important relationship building was in organizing.  Internet organizing and flyers are great tools, but without personal relationships change will not happen.  This message warmed my heart as a see people at this conference building new and old relationships.  Movement building is happening at this conference and I am so excited to be a part of it and so grateful for the wisdom of people of all ages!

God is moving in our midst

We opened our morning session with songs of praise.  It was a wonderful way to start the day.  Rev. David Beckmann, President of Bread for the World, passionately spoke about God calling us to participate in the work of liberation.  He said, "Our gracious God is asking us to play a central role in this process of liberation.  We need to get serious about overcoming poverty in our communities and also all over the world."

Then, Mr. Salil Shetty - the Director of the UN Millennium Campaign - delivered a powerful message about the Millennium Development Goals.  This year marks the half-way point to achieving the MDGs by 2015.  We are at a crucial point.  He likened this moment in history to that of a sports game - it's halftime and the game could go either way.  As citizen's of the United States, we have a powerful role.  We can influence our nation's leaders to increase funding and work in partnership for global development. 

It is a matter of political will.  You must hold your leaders to account on promises they’ve made...We must remove seeds of doubts.  And, plant seeds of hope. - Mr. Salil Shetty

Hope is here

A gospel choir opened our first session tonight - it was the best version of Amazing Grace that I've ever heard!  We listened to three powerful speakers who emphasized the power of each individual to make a difference. 

Rev. Dr. Delores Carpenter addressed the theme of HOPE!  She spoke of her travels throughout Africa and the difference a pair of shoes can make in the life of one child.  By the end of her sermon, the theme of hope resonated in the hearts of all - Hope was here.  Hope is here. Hope is coming!

Do not be weary in well doing.  Rise up and say 'Yes there is another way.' A way that feeds, gives light and announces justice!  Hope was, is and always coming.  Hope does not disappoint.  It springs eternal. - Rev. Dr. Delores Carpenter

Live photos from The Gathering

Check out our photos on Flickr

What are your hopes?

Welcome to The Gathering 2007!!

I'm at the session for first-time attendees.  There are about 100 people here and we just finished meeting in small groups.  There, we shared our hopes and expectations for the conference.  In my small group, I heard from a few people.... 

Amara from Texas is looking forward to finding a place to start for political advocacy - she's anxious to work on addressing hunger from a political aspect.  Rev. Stephan from Kenya learned about Bread for the World through his work with the Food Resource Bank.  He's hoping to learn more about the mission and challenges of Bread for the World, so that he can pray for us!  It's great to meet everyone!

Right now, Erin is telling the story of Bread and how we got started and what we do now. It's exciting to know that after 33 years our mission is still gathering people together around the goal of ending hunger. 

Are you ready for The Gathering 2007?!?

We're gearing up for our national conference - Sowing Seeds: Growing a Movement.  I can't wait to see Bread activists new and old. 

If you're unable to attend, be sure to check back to our blog  We are live blogging from conference sessions, conversation spaces and other events throughout the weekend.  Subscribe to our feed and receive up to date blog posts. 

You don't want to miss The Interfaith Convocation on Hunger - June 11 6pm at the National Cathedral. It will be an incredible night of worship and praise to a God who cares for poor and hungry people.  Thanks to USA Today for the awesome article about the Convocation.

See you soon!

The Price of Hunger

Thirty-five million Americans are hungry or food-insecure.  This is incredibly sad – and expensive, according to a recent study commissioned by the Sodexho Foundation. Domestic hunger costs our country $90 billion a year, the study found, through lost economic productivity, diseases, and donations to charities that serve hungry people.

“Hunger is an economic issue,” said Soxdeho President Steven J. Brady. “As such, it is everyone’s responsibility to end hunger.” While many would argue that we have a responsibility to end hunger whether or not we can give it a price tag, this study nevertheless shows many concrete ways in which hunger hurts our society.

Most of the hunger’s cost comes from health issues, such as iron deficiency, frequent colds, and depression. Brandeis health economist Donald Shepard, who directed the study’s economic analysis, noted that hunger also lowers cognitive functioning. “What was unusual about hunger was the ride range of problems associated with it,” he said (1).

Researchers found that our government could eliminate hunger by expanding our nutrition programs. Their report noted that the cost of $12 billion cost of this expansion is only 13% of what hunger is currently costing the American economy (2).

Congress will re-authorize the Food Stamp Program this year. One way that you can raise awareness about hunger is to write a letter to the editor of your local or school newspaper.

For more information on media activism, visit: http://www.bread.org/get-involved/in-the-media/. For more information on domestic hunger, see: http://www.bread.org/learn/us-hunger-issues/.
1.    “Economic Impact of Hunger Affects All Americans.” EurekAlert. http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2007-06/bu-eio060507.php
2.    “The Economic Cost of Domestic Hunger.” Brown, J. Larry et al. http://www.helpstophunger.org/pdfs/Economic_Cost_of_Domestic_Hunger.pdf

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.

Stay Connected

Bread for the World