Book Review: The rising of Bread for the World by Arthur Simon
By Mike Hiland
I have been involved with Bread for the World for 25 years now. The organization has helped shape a lot about who I am and what I believe. Arthur Simon is the founder of Bread for the World and its first president. This book is the story of the founding of Bread for the World, and a couple of things jumped out at me and made me want to write a review.
- It's fascinating to me how a Lutheran pastor who grew up in Oregon came to found an anti-hunger organization. He lists important things in his life that led him along this path. But it's amazing to see all the little things and realize how easily this never could have happened. There are so many forks in the road of life.
- The fundamental humility of Arthur Simon comes out in the book. He mentions that this is not a "warts and all' book, but he does go through his shortcomings and setbacks. It's a lesson that would serve all of us well. Life tends to make you humble over time if you pay attention to it; a little more humility might help us understand our shortcomings better and live a more successful life.
The key insights behind Bread are:
- Christians have for years done good work with private aid, but to be effective we must become public policy advocates as well. Hunger is too big an issue to be tackled by private aid or public programs alone.
- Bread is rooted in the Christian faith and the churches. Christians have a calling to help the poor and take action relying on their faith. It adds a unique, sincere, and powerful voice to the effort.
- Getting legislative action around hunger depends on letters and calls from constituents. It is the only power Bread has, and the history of the organization shows the powerful results it can achieve.
Art chronicles some of Bread's successes over the years. Bread always works together with other partner organizations, but with these initiatives in particular, Bread has played a leading role:
- Emergency and farmer-owned grain reserve (1977 & 1978). Faster response to famine. Has saved millions of lives over the years, distributing enough food to feed 100 million for nearly half a year.
- Child Survival (1980s). U.S. funding for UNICEF's five low-cost child survival measures: promoting breast feeding, growth charts, immunization, oral rehydration, micro nutrients (vitamins). Saves $5 million per year. Has helped reduce the global daily death rate of children from 40,000 to 26,000 (still too high).
- Jubilee debt relief (1999). Joined the global campaign for debt relief. Achieved the first real US commitment for debt relief, allowing poor countries to divert their resources from debt payment, to spending in education and health.
- Reversed the long-term decline in foreign aid. We are starting to see steady yearly increases in poverty focused development assistance (Helped found the ONE organization, which promoted a 1% increase in Foreign aid. The Jubilee campaign started the momentum that led to this).
- WIC program, started in 1974, provides nutritious food to 8 million mothers and children in the U.S. It increases the health of children in their most vulnerable years. More work to do; only 60% of eligible are covered.
- Support for the EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit). The increases in the early 1990s moved 4 million out of poverty in the U.S.
- Defended food stamps from deeper cuts and block granting to the states. The program still suffered deep cuts during the 1980s and 1995 during welfare reform. Slowly it has regained some of this lost ground. The monthly benefit is still too small to meet a families need. $0.60/meal/day.
Bread also faced some long term challenges and many obstacles:
- Fighting long-term decline in foreign aid. especially agricultural development (which is just now being reversed). Decline started in 1970s, continued through 1980s and 1990s. The 1980's in particular was a lost decade: US military aid doubled, poor country spending in health declined 25%, in education 50%.
- Defensive battles of Reagan years: Increase in tax cuts and military led to increased deficits and cuts to programs. They sought a 40% reduction in child nutrition programs, 1 million forced off food stamps in early years. A lot of defensive work needed to limit the impact of cuts. Overall inflation adjusted funding for food prgrams dropped 5%, childhood poverty increased 21%. But their were successes in funding for WIC and the EITC.
- Harvest of Peace - The hope was that the end of the Cold War would produce a peace dividend that could be partly used for development assistance. The first Gulf War reversed this hope
- Welfare reform of the mid 1990s. Produced some greater self sufficiency, but drastic cuts to food stamps and lack of investment in education and training meant that most remained trapped in poverty.
- Food crisis and global recession. 100 million more people are poor around the world due to the current global recession.
- Emerging poor & sustainability. Need to find ways for countries emerging from poverty to develop in a sustainable manner that doesnt overload resources and produce huge gaps in income.
- Continuing the current president of Bread for the Worlds (David Beckmann) commitment to change the politics of hunger and create a broader, larger movement that can lead us to a world where large scale hunger is a thing of the past.
Art Simon founded an organization that over the years contributed to the saving of millions of lives. It's quite a legacy and achievement. We are slowly moving to an exodus from hunger. We need to continue the progress until we reach the promise land where freedom from hunger is the norm.
(The author is a Bread for the World activist in Portland, Ore.)
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