Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

15 posts from October 2008

How to B.E.A.T. hunger? Represent!

On Oct 13th, I went to Castle Rock on my lunch hour for a blue meet & greet.  I'm from the 6th district and had a chance to meet Hank Eng personally for a few minutes before Mark Udall arrived.  Hank lived in Africa for 11 yrs as part of the Peace Corps and USAID.  He’s seen hunger.  And during our brief chat he told me that he knows hunger contributes to issues with national security.  He also said that he knows that hunger is a problem that can be solved.  I must admit, I was excited to hear this!  Those who don't understand hunger & poverty don't realize they are solveable problems.  If elected, Hank could be a great advocate for the hungry and impoverished.

I was able to ask the last question of Mark Udall during Q&A.  I told him that before the recent increase in food prices, 1 in 8 Coloradans was considered food insecure.  Given this, how would he ensure Coloradans have enough to eat?  He responded by saying that hunger and poverty are demoralizing issues.  He talked about what the 2008 version of the Farm Bill did right with regard to nutrition assistance/food stamps.  He said his job would be to ensure the bill is adequately funded.  I was told we could count on him to be a proponent of hunger issues!  

On Oct 17th I attended a meet & greet and candidate forum for several districts and senatorial candidates.  During the meet & greet, I talked to Hank Eng again, telling him more about who Bread is and how I would work with him, if elected, on legislative issues that pertain to hunger and poverty.  He was warm and receptive and even talked about "fumigating" Congress so that critical issues could be considered and acted upon!

I was able to talk with Mike Coffman as well.  I introduced myself and Bread.  He was honest and said he isn’t up-to-speed on hunger/poverty issues and legislation, but is interested, and he suggested that we meet before the end of the year, if he is elected, so that he can understand more about who we are.

Don't underestimate the impact you can have by attending these events in the last few days!  The only time the question is too late is if it isn't asked at all.  Asking questions of these candidates in front of their constituents is a powerful way to let them know that their community cares about these issues and that we're holding them accountable.  Hunger & poverty don't stop and neither can we! 

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Tamela Walhof is the Senior Regional Organizer based in Minneapolis, MN. This is her first post on Bread Blog.  Welcome, Tamela!

Nearly every day brings dire news about the economy.  The late night talk shows attempt jokes about bank collapses and deepening economic gloom.  Maybe for relief we laugh with them, because it hurts to consider the consequences.  But we know the economic crisis is no laughing matter, and we know that those who are hurt the most are those who are most vulnerable, both in our country and around the world.

Mud_cookies Today is World Food Day.  Many events and activities are planned across our nation and world today and this weekend.  How do you plan to “celebrate”? Whether you have a lot planned or just a little, consider carving out some time to fast and pray.

Pray for families in this country who are struggling to make ends meet.  Pray for our Haitian brothers and sisters who have been through four hurricanes in about as many weeks, and who may have been surviving on mud cookies to fill their stomachs even before the disasters.  Pray for all those around the world impacted by rising food prices and the current hunger crisis.

As you fast, consider the place of food in your life and reflect on what it would be like to experience hunger on a regular basis.  Think about the abundance of resources, including food, which God has provided.  Examine the causes of the global food crisis, repent for ways in which you see that you personally or our country and government may have contributed to the problem, and plan ways to work at making things right, seeking God’s guidance for those plans.

If this weekend turns out not to be the right time for this action, plan to make space for fasting and prayer on another day or weekend soon.  Or consider doing what the Presbyterian Church (USA) is doing, and fast each month, using each month to reflect on a different country or different cause related to the hunger crisis. Check out their plans and the story of its proposal by Iowa Hunger Action Enabler (and Bread for the World member), Nancy Lister-Settle.

If you are inclined to share your experience, send me a note. Thanks!

May God bless our fasts and hear our prayers!

Tamela K. Walhof
Email: breadmn@bread.org

photo by Arian Cubillos/AP


Today is Blog Action Day - Poverty. Around the world, thousands of bloggers have united to discuss a single issue - poverty. Through this effort, event organizers aim to raise awareness, initiate action and to shake the web!

There are hundreds of ways to play a personal role in ending poverty, from volunteering, to donating to charities, to supporting socially conscious businesses. Bread for the World encourages our members to engage in these kinds of activities, but also recognizes that ending hunger and poverty requires political engagement as well. By changing policies, programs and conditions that allow hunger and poverty to persist, we provide help and opportunity far beyond the communities in which we live.

Every year, Bread for the World invites churches across the country to take up a nationwide Offering of Letters to Congress on an issue that is important to hungry people. Year after year, Bread members have won far-reaching changes for hungry and poor people.

Bread for the World Institute provides policy analysis on hunger and strategies to end it. The Institute educates its advocacy network, opinion leaders, policy makers and the public about hunger in the United States and abroad. In recognition of Blog Action Day, Bread for the World Institute has posted a basic primer on domestic and international hunger and poverty issues.

What's art got to do with poverty?

Christbreadlines Thursday, October 16 is World Food Day and this weekend many groups around the world are putting together events as part of the international campaign Stand Up Against Poverty (October 17-19). 

Stand Up is a global mobilization to end poverty and inequality and to raise awareness for the Millennium Development Goals.  The ongoing hunger crisis and economic downturn brings new challenges to progress on achieving these goals.  Every day, 50,000 people die as a result of extreme poverty and the gap between rich and poor people is increasing.  Nearly half the world’s population live in poverty, 70% are women.  We have the power to change this.

Here in Portland, Oregon we are using art as a form of advocacy to mobilize and educate our community about the realities of hunger in the developing world.  Portland State University students have been rallied together by one passionate student, Carrie Stiles, who believes people can and must make a difference.  The event she is directing has pulled together politicians, anti-hunger advocates, global poverty experts and artists.  Artists are not usually the main attraction at a hunger awareness event, but Carrie is one of those people who can think outside the box.

Who better can tell a visual or auditory story through pictures, dance or music that connects us to our compassion but artists?  Artists live in the heart often more than the mind.  Art is a compelling form of advocacy that has been used throughout the ages.  Think of the wood engravings of Fritz Eichenberg during the depression that portrayed the long soup lines (see above image).  Eichenberg used his gift to call for peace and justice in this world throughout his life.

Web_of_advocacy_2 Last Friday, the PSU Stand Up artists gathered together in a local studio and created a web of advocacy by passing around a ball of yarn.  We looked at how advocating for one issue is connected to another.  For example advocating for orphans was connected to nearly every MDG.  Without help to care for themselves, orphans are connected to extreme poverty and often malnourished.  Further, lack of a proper education for an orphan in the developing world (where few get an education with meager government funds to invest in schools) limits their resources later in life.  Many orphans also find themselves in their precarious situation in areas like Sub-Sahara Africa because they lost their parents to HIV/AIDS.  The list can go on and on.

As we have lately seen, our world economies are interconnected.  Our world food system is also interconnected.   Our simple exercise in passing a ball of yarn showed us the connections between each of the Millennium Development Goals.  The root causes of global poverty are complex, but the MDGs are a comprehensive road map to at least cut extreme hunger in half by the year 2015. We just need the political will to follow the path.   I’m excited to see what our artists will come up with outside the usual box of advocacy on Friday.

Live Blogging from the Idaho Hunger Summit: Closing session

Each breakout session came up with a list of their top three priorities of what they’d like to work on in the upcoming year. The Idaho Hunger Relief Task Force and IIRAH will take these recommendations and turn them into advocacy priorities for next year. Here were the top two (there were 5 but they advanced the PowerPoint faster than I could type. Sorry):

1) Remove asset tests for food stamp eligibility (would require a statewide fix)
2) Reauthorization of Child Nutrition Programs

Why do I love being around anti-hunger advocates? Because no where else in the world can the announcer say “eliminate the asset test for Food Stamps SNAP” and have the crowd go absolutely bonkers wild. The “woot” quote was deafening.

Today was a great day. Lots of positive energy and a lot of good momentum as we approach the 2009 sessions in Congress and the Idaho legislature. Lots of folks affiliated with churches told me they plan to deepen their own church’s commitment to educate their congregations and to advocate.

Of course, making progress on these issues next year will not be without resistance. As Jim reminded us at lunch, the economic situation will undoubtedly be a strain on federal and state budgets next year. No one would dispute the political reality that new investments for anti-hunger programs (or any programs for that matter) will be easy to come by. But it’s also true that when Congress needs to find money, they do. If we can find dollars measured in trillions for wars or bailout packages, why not a few billion to make sure that kids don’t go hungry. There’s simply no reason we can’t do it, and we look forward to making this case to legislators next year.

Way too many people to recognize for the success of this conference, but a particular shout out to Kathy Gardner from the Idaho Hunger Relief Task Force and Vivian Parrish from IIRAH. Y'all are the best!

Well, I’m signing off and headed back to Portland tonight to see my beautiful wife and chickens. Thanks for reading, and Go Broncos!

Live Blogging from the Idaho Hunger Summit: Part 4

Bread for the World will be working on the reauthorization of the nation’s child nutrition programs – these include school lunch, school breakfast, the WIC program, and much more. It was last reauthorized in 2004, and current law expires on September 30 of 2009. So I decided to stop on by the workshop on child hunger…

The workshop on child hunger is being led by Dr. Patricia Crawford, DrPH, RD, and she’s the Co-director of the Center for Weight and Health at U.C. Berkeley. About 50 people are sitting in.

She’s using a cool interactive tactic... Each attendee has a green card and a red card in front of them. She asks a “fact or fiction” question and then if you think it’s true, you raise the green. If you think it’s false, you raise a red card. (kind of like soccer without the aggressive fouling)

Here’s an example – you can play at home:

Today for the first time, there are almost as many overweight children as there are overweight adults. Fact or Fiction?

A: Fiction. There are over 4 times as many overweight adults as there are overweight children.

Most of the news we hear about kids as it relates to nutrition is about obesity. And there's some good reason for this. According to research at U.C. Berkeley, overweight has replaced malnutrition as the most prevalent nutritional problem among poor kids. Pediatric overweight has increased by 300% in the last 30 years!

Nevertheless, more than one in five kids in Idaho lives in a household that struggles to put food on the table. And there’s strong evidence that food from food banks, WIC, Food Stamps SNAP, childcare, school and after school programs can mediate the relationship between poverty and disease.

Bottom line: whether your goal is reducing obesity or preventing hunger, the impact of good nutrition can't be understated.

Dr. Crawford posed an interesting question:

Q: How do we convince policy makers of the importance of preventing malnutrition, promoting health and preventing obesity?

A: Simple. We give them the data to show them that preventing hunger, obesity, and disease are cost effective (and the right thing to do)

Let’s see… what’s more expensive?...

(a) Modest nutritious meals for kids; or
(b) Treatments and health care for kids with type II diabetes, loss of revenue for schools due to low test scores because hungry kids can’t learn, productivity loss of parents taking time off to take care of kids with malnutrition-related disease… The list goes on.

It’s estimated that overweight and inactivity are estimated to cost Idaho $1.13 BILLION per year in health and employment costs. Wow! This doesn’t even count costs associated with hunger associated with losses in productivity and human capital. (not to mention that child hunger is simply morally unacceptable)

Dear Congress:

When you consider child nutrition reauthorization next year, how ‘bout an ounce of prevention?

Your BFF in Boise,

Dr. Crawford has recently co-authored a book: Obesity: Dietary and Development Influences.

Live Blogging from the Idaho Hunger Summit: Random Musing

Dear Doubletree Hotel Garden City,

Please make wireless available in your entire hotel and conference area so I don't have to skip out to the lobby to make blog posts. Much appreciated! :)

Matt Newell-Ching

Okay, off to the Child Nutrition workshop...

Live Blogging from the Idaho Hunger Summit: Part 3

The lunch keynote speaker is Jim Weill, the executive director of FRAC. He’s been a lifelong advocate (both legal and legislative) for low-income people - before he was at FRAC he spent 16 years at the Children's Defense Fund. Needless to say, the elephant in the room today is what’s happening in our economy, and that’s precisely what he’s talking about.

Some key points of his talk (paraphrasing):

  • Inflation for the thrifty food plan (the food plan that USDA says is the bare minimum to ensure healthy meals) from August 2007 to August 2008 is a staggering 10.5%.

  • Congress passed a $700 billion bailout to attempt to get the economy back on track. At the same time, President Bush threatened a veto and the Senate could not beat a filibuster to pass a $56 billion stimulus package that included increases for Food Stamps SNAP, unemployment insurance, and construction projects. Economists agree that if you want to stimulate the economy quickly, there’s nothing better you can do to increase SNAP. Why? Because low-income families will spend this money immediately. A version of a “second stimulus” bill will hopefully be re-considered when Congress re-convenes next year, and we need to advocate strongly for that.

  • A recent study showed that half of U.S. children will be in a household that will receive SNAP benefits at some time before age 18. Wow.

  • Elections: over the next three weeks, show up at candidate events. Despite a weakening economy, neither party is talking too much about hunger and poverty. Ask them what they plan to do not only about middle class families slipping into poverty, but also what they’re doing about the millions of families in America who experienced hunger and poverty even before this crisis.

  • The American economy will survive in the long term. But in the short term, we need to re-double our efforts to advocate for policies that will make sure that low-income families survive and can lead healthy, productive lives.

An audience member in her mid 20s just asked, “What can someone of my generation do in the next 10-20 years to clean up the mess of the last 10-20 years.”

Pause… awkward silence… laughter…

Jim responded that the best thing to do is commit yourself… Become service provider, a lobbyist, a community organizer… the list goes on.

Live Blogging from the Idaho Hunger Summit: Part 2

Just popped by Nancy Amidei’s workshop on Advocacy. Nancy is a truly amazing advocate. She worked with former Senator George McGovern when there was a Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs and was part of the hunger listening sessions they conducted across America. She was also the director of the Food Research Action Center (FRAC), and is currently a senior lecturer at the University of Washington Social Work.

I LOVE Nancy’s enthusiasm, and the crowd is getting into it. She has a contagious laugh and a very warm presence. She started out the session talking about what it means to be an advocate. Sometimes simple is better:

Advocacy just means speaking up.

So true.

Nancy started the session with a flashback to “7th grade social studies.” Fear and repression of adolescent angst notwithstanding, it was a very nice refresher course. She talked about “Capitol Math:” effective legislative advocacy means you have to always be thinking about getting 51% of legislators onboard (I know, wonks, you usually need 60 in the Senate – got it covered).

She told an anecdote about working with state representatives. She once asked a state representative about how many phone calls it takes to really get their attention. The answer

About 10-15. Maybe a dozen.

IIRAH is doing a lot of work on a statewide level to advocate for initiatives such as eliminating the state’s grocery tax. They are also working on expanding access to a wide range of nutrition programs like Food Stamps SNAP. On a statewide advocacy level, many of the committees of jurisdiction for these measures only have five members. FIVE! Nancy did some quick Capitol Math… You need 3 votes on the Committee to pass something out… So if you need a dozen calls to get a legislator’s attention, and you need 3 votes, how hard would it be to organize 36 calls from these key districts to these legislators?

One (big) caveat: she was talking to a state legislator in Texas who she described as a “big, burly guy.” I’m paraphrasing Nancy imitating aforementioned legislator:

You gotta understand something… [a dozen calls] isn’t gonna buy my vote. But it will get my attention.

Nancy’s lesson:

Good advocates never stop advocating.

One more, from Mark Twain:

When you need a friend, it’s too late to make one.

Great food for thought… Best part, Nancy didn’t send me back to the seventh grade. Whew!

Live Blogging from the Idaho Hunger Summit

I'm live blogging today from the Idaho Hunger Summit at the Doubletree hotel here in Boise, Idaho. Over 260 service providers, church leaders, advocates, nutritionists, and citizens are gathered to learn about hunger issues in Idaho and organize our voices together. Organizers of the summit include the Idaho Interfaith Roundtable Against Hunger (IIRAH) and the newly-formed Idaho Hunger Relief Task Force. (Special thanks to IIRAH convener Gayle Woods and family for hosting me during my time in Boise!)

This morning Governor Butch Otter welcomed an excited crowd and signed a proclamation to declare October "Hunger Awareness Month" in Idaho. Gov. Otter’s proclamation was followed by an address from Kate Houston, the Deputy Under Secretary for Nood, Nutrition, and Consumer Services at USDA.

It's hard to communicate this across a blog entry, but there’s a fantastic energy in the air, and it's amazing to see so many committed people join together in the movement to end hunger. Roughly one in seven families in Idaho are hungry or at risk of Hunger according to USDA, so there is much work to be done.

Today’s workshops are focusing on everything from improving how state and federal programs are administered on a local level, bolstering public-private partnerships, and becoming effective advocates.

I'll be updating throughout the day.

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