Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

22 posts from February 2010

Training for Change

For many of us, the desire to make a positive difference in our communities starts early, but we often get stuck on how to do it. That’s where Bread for the World’s Hunger Justice Leaders training comes in.

Two years ago, 75 young activists came to Washington, DC, for intensive training in the nuts and bolts of advocacy work. Then they returned home to lead anti-hunger efforts in their communities -- with marvelous results.

Bread will hold an identical training June 12-15 in Washington, DC, and we’re looking for the best and brightest 20- to 30-year-olds to apply. Participants will learn about community organizing, explore the biblical foundations of faith and justice, visit their members of Congress, and meet other like-minded activists from around the country.

And did we mention this is free? If you’re selected, Bread will cover your expenses.

You can learn more about the program from Vanessa Martinez, a Hunger Justice Leader from Santa Ana, CA, on this short video, or apply directly to the program. And if you know someone who would be a perfect Hunger Justice Leader, send them to www.bread.org/bealeader.

The application deadline is March 12, so don’t wait!

Take a Short Shower for Lent

For many of us, Lent is a time to pursue more sustainable ways of living -- spiritually and physically. If you’re looking for a resource that helps you do both, check out “Lenten Carbon Fast 2010,” a 40-day calendar produced by the Archdiocese of Washington.

Each day contains a suggestion that’s aimed at checking our consumption habits. Tomorrow, for example, consider turning down your thermostat by one degree. And next Tuesday, take a shower that’s half as long as usual.

Lent is a good time to begin -- or strengthen -- habits that improve our care for God’s great gift of creation. This calendar provides concrete, manageable ways of doing just that. You can also sign a pledge to reduce your carbon footprint.

Ash Wednesday: Be Reconciled to God

Each of us is made in the image of God and beloved by God, but we also fall short of God’s dream for us. So the church invites us to use the season of Lent to remind ourselves of the gift of God’s love for us, as well as the gift of God’s grace, and to look at our lives in light of those gifts.

In 2 Corinthians 5:20, Paul begs the early Christians in Corinth -- and all of us -- to be “reconciled to God.” The lesson reminds us that through Christ, we can become the “righteousness” of God. Righteousness in our culture might sound like “self-righteousness” or arrogance, but Paul used it to mean “right-wise with” or “right relationship” with God.

So how is your relationship with God? Can you imagine being the “righteousness” of God?

The Greek word Paul used for “righteousness” is the same as the word for “justice.” “Righteousness” and “justice” are the same in many languages. In Spanish, the word is “justicia.” And so, in Christ, we may become the “justice” of God.

Active agents of God.

One phrase from Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” has become something of a bumper-sticker sound bite: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” But we don’t hear the sentence that follows nearly as often, perhaps because it can be hard to face.

King wrote: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

  • Your and my destiny depends on Haiti getting more than emergency assistance. Haiti needs rebuilding as a strong, healthy, just nation.  
  • Our destiny also rests on all children having access to adequate food and to health care.
  • Our “inescapable network of mutuality” includes being in “right relationship” with whatever people we just want to ignore -- whether they are out on the street, in our families, overseas, or in the office next door.

In the midst of a culture that encourages us to “have it our way,” we are caught, needing each other. And despite products that would have us believe we can control our lives, we know “right relationship” is only possible through God.

So we will have ashes put on our foreheads, in recognition that we cannot do it ourselves.

  • Ashes are a biblical sign of mourning and repentance;
  • Ashes symbolize our mortality -- we don’t know how much time we get;
  • Ashes remind us of loved ones we have buried.
  • Today’s ashes were made from palms distributed last year on Palm Sunday -- when we remembered how Jesus rode into Jerusalem and people thought he might be a worldly king after all.
  • Ashes because to get to Easter we need to go through Good Friday and the cross; something must die for a new thing to be born.

But also, the ashes on our foreheads are made in the sign of the cross -- to symbolize that through Christ we find right relationship with God.

Perhaps you already know ways you are falling short of God’s dream for you, and so you will give up something that isn’t so good for you, or instead add something new to your routine. Or maybe you feel out of touch with God or confused about your next steps and need to spend Lent seeking, or discerning.

Right relationship with God isn’t ours to earn, but it’s ours to accept.

In Lent we don’t practice our “piety before others in order to be seen by them” (Matthew 6:1). Nor do we look dismal or disfigure our faces “in order to show others” that we are fasting.

But many of us today will carry a smudge on our forehead, as a sign that, however it's going, we value our relationship with God.

R. Carter Echols is senior local church outreach associate at Bread for the World. This is excerpted from a sermon she delivered today at Church of the Epiphany in Washington, DC. Download or order a free copy of Bread's Lenten Prayers for Hungry People.

Secretary Vilsack Hears from Bread Member

As a registered dietitian for South Carolina’s Greenville County schools, Bread member Jennifer Sharp sees too many hungry children – especially during the summers. That’s why she participated in a conference call last week with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. She’s concerned about the “summer hunger gap,” when millions of kids who receive food assistance during the school year aren’t able to access summer food sites.

“In South Carolina, we had 50 summer feeding sites last year and could only serve 3,000 meals in a district of 70,000 students,” Sharp told Vilsack. She asked him to provide information about USDA’s efforts to study new ways to feed kids during the summer, and how the USDA plans to build on these efforts when the child nutrition programs come up for reauthorization this year.

Forty-six percent of the students in Greenville County receive free or reduced-price meals, Sharp says, and she hears regularly from school officials about the dire situations many kids experience.

“The Berea Elementary School manager called to tell me they have a student we feed daily whose family was living in a tent behind the BI-LO grocery store in Berea,” Sharp says. “Our kids are unwilling victims of the financial crisis. We need to be able to provide meals to more students through changes in the reauthorization act.”

Nationally, 19.4 million low-income children receive food assistance at lunch on an average school day, but only 11 percent access summer food program sites. The “summer hunger gap” that Sharp raised with Secretary Vilsack leaves more than 17 million vulnerable children without access to food in the summer. Finding better ways to connect hungry children with food in the summer is a priority of Bread’s work on child nutrition reauthorization.

Sharp’s participation in the call shows how important it is that government leaders hear directly from members about what’s going on in their communities.

“Jennifer’s asking a question on the call with Secretary Vilsack was incredibly helpful to our efforts, both in effecting good policy and in strengthening the efficacy of Bread’s work,” said Sophie Milam, Bread’s senior domestic policy analyst. “On policy, it elevates the summer child hunger gap as an important issue for the administration and raises awareness about the limitations of the summer food program among call participants. For Bread, it affirms Bread’s engagement in child nutrition reauthorization, which only amplifies our ability to be effective advocates.”

For more information about child nutrition, including how you can influence the reauthorization of child nutrition programs, see www.bread.org/childnutrition.


Unity of Purpose

Bourlog photo Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, stands as a monument to how one determined individual can make a huge difference in the fight against hunger. But he often stressed that it took an army of individuals, with a unity of purpose, to win the war.

“I cannot emphasize too strongly the fact that further progress depends on intelligent, integrated and persistent effort by government leaders, statesmen, tradesmen, scientists, educators and communication agencies,” Borlaug, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, said while exhorting the world to carry on the agriculture revolution throughout the developing world.

Forty years later, Sen. Richard Lugar repeated those words as he concluded a speech on American foreign assistance and development aid. It is time once again, he said, to summon a unity of purpose in the war against hunger.

“We need to be unified around common purposes for which we can marshal the appropriate level of resources and variety of approaches,” Sen. Lugar told his audience at the Society for International Development two weeks ago. He called for a “focus on the big issues – food scarcity, poverty, disease, environmental degradation – that prevent economic growth in a large swath of the world’s countries.” Those objectives, he said, “require that strategies reflect the needs of the countries we are helping rather than the vagaries of our own budget process, which often allocates funds in response to lobbying pressures, media interest or political favoritism.”

The Global Food Security Act, which Sen. Lugar has co-authored with Sen. Robert Casey, attempts to forge a unity of purpose, particularly between Congress and the White House, over ending chronic hunger in the world by reversing decades of neglect of agriculture development. It is a neglect that was prophesied by Borlaug in 1970 when he warned that the world mustn’t lose its unity of purpose in carrying the Green Revolution beyond Asia to Africa and other hungry parts of the world:

“Man can and must prevent the tragedy of famine in the future instead of merely trying with pious regret to salvage the human wreckage of the famine, as he has so often done in the past. We will be guilty of criminal negligence, without extenuation, if we permit future famines. Humanity cannot tolerate that guilt.”

Certainly we have reached that point; the neglect can no longer be tolerated. Making agriculture development a top priority of governments around the world has become a moral imperative with more than 1 billion people now going to bed hungry every night. And it is a security imperative as population growth combined with rising prosperity and greater demand for food in countries once plagued by famine, like China and India, is driving projections that the world will need to double food production by 2050.

The food crisis of 2008, when rising prices and dwindling surpluses triggered rioting in dozens of countries, was “a wakeup call for the development community, for international donors and for policy makers worldwide,” Lugar reminded his audience.

We can see the unity of purpose emerging on various fronts. Business leaders, humanitarian agencies, international lenders, and philanthropists are embracing the need to create the conditions for the small farmers of the developing world, particularly in Africa, to be as productive as possible so they can feed their families and their countries. They are reaching the same conclusion that Bill Gates declared at the World Food Prize:

“Poor farmers are not a problem to be solved,” Gates said in his first major address on agriculture. “They are the solution – the best answer for a world that is fighting hunger and poverty, and trying to feed a growing population.”

And, most important, a unity of purpose is building in Africa, as well. Last week, Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika became chairman of the African Union and immediately pledged to champion greater investment in agriculture to end chronic hunger on the continent.

“Five years from now, no African child should die of hunger,” he proclaimed. “Africa must feed Africa.”

It is lofty rhetoric, reminiscent of so many hollow commitments on ending hunger that have come from western capitals down through the decades. But Mutharika has been leading by example. Five years ago he was elected president while Malawian children were dying during a severe hunger crisis. One of his early official acts was to formally declare a state of emergency so the United Nations could launch a special appeal for food aid. The country held out its begging bowl and $110 million worth of emergency food rushed in to fill it. Countless lives were saved, but Mutharika felt humiliated that he couldn’t feed his own people.

He gathered his cabinet and said, “As long as I’m president, I don’t ever want to go begging for food.” And then his government developed a plan – a unity of purpose - to subsidize fertilizer and seed for Malawi’s small farmers. The World Bank and other international development agencies howled in protest, claiming that such subsidies ran counter to the prevailing development practice of the previous two decades that stressed fiscal discipline and government withdrawal from the farming sector (even though the U.S. and Europe were escalating government subsidies to their farmers). But Mutharika pressed ahead, declaring, “These are Malawi’s children who are starving, not the World Bank’s.”

The subsidy program, combined with good weather, has reversed Malawi’s agriculture fortunes; its farmers have produced surpluses the past couple of years. And instead of holding out a begging bowl, it is helping to feed other countries; Malawi is now a contributor to the U.N. World Food Program rather than a recipient.

The unity of purpose to tackle hunger was on display in the rush to get food to Haiti after the devastating earthquake. The WFP last week reported an unprecedented outpouring of aid, almost $230 million in cash. The donors included a host of governments both rich and poor; Malawi offered 150 metric tons of rice. Corporations such as Yum! Brands, Unilever, TNT and ADM provided cash and logistics. Individuals, from the famous to the anonymous, raised millions. Online gamers playing games such as FarmVille contributed $1.5 million in just five days, says the WFP.

Emergencies often inspire a unity of purpose.

So too should the chronic, everyday hunger of a billion.

  *  *  *  *  *

MOMENT TO CELEBRATE: Twenty years ago yesterday, Feb. 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela walked out of a South African prison. I was in Cape Town that day as he uttered his first public words in 26 years. One enduring memory is of a larger-than-life leader who boldly repeated many of the positions that had landed him in prison. His message to his supporters in the African National Congress, and to the white government as well, was clear: He was a man of his convictions, unshakable. But he was also without bitterness; instead of calling for revenge against apartheid’s masters, he championed reconciliation and doing what would be best to move the country forward in peace and prosperity. Mandela knew what the long-divided country needed if it was to achieve success for all its people: Unity of purpose.

Roger Thurow’s blog post appears courtesy of the Global Food for Thought blog. Thurow, a former Wall Street Journal correspondent, is a senior fellow for Global Agriculture and Food Policy at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.


Inspiring Gratitude

It's always interesting to see how people respond when we post a new item on Bread's Facebook fan page. Sometimes something we think is really fascinating gets almost no response. And occasionally a random question sparks a long conversation among our fans.

One of our posts yesterday reminded us of something we already knew, but certainly enjoyed remembering: Bread supporters are some of the most awesome people in the world.

We asked, “What are you grateful for?” The responses poured in quickly and reminded us of your caring, compassion, and values. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Winter has been harsh on so many people -- I am grateful for the many helping hands that reach out to those hardest hit by snow, cold temps ... those without adequate heat, food, shelter, health care, transportation.
  • I'm grateful for so many things. Fulfilling and meaningful work comes to mind. I'm thankful for a G-d who is faithful, even when I am not.
  • I am grateful to also have a warm home, food, my friends and family, to have health insurance, and for unemployment benefits.
  • I am grateful that I have a job and that it is meaningful employment. But especially, I am thankful for a family and faith community that brought me up to share what I have with those that have nothing.

No one was thankful for an awesome car, an upcoming luxury vacation, or the latest high-tech gadget. Instead, folks expressed appreciation for the true gifts in life: family, shelter, food, faith, helping others, and being of service.

Thank you all for who you are.

If you aren’t already a Bread fan on Facebook, come on over and join the conversation at www.bread.org/facebook.

And if Facebook just isn’t for you, tell us here: What are YOU grateful for?

Hunger Has a Face

Feeding America cover It’s easy to forget that behind every statistic on hunger lies a human being. What’s great about “Hunger in America 2010,” a report released recently from Feeding America -- one of Bread’s partners -- is that their study is based in part on personal interviews with more than 61,000 of their clients. These are people who have come through Feeding America’s vast network of food pantries, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters – the largest in the country.


They are people like Shonda, a mother of two who lost her teaching job because of budget cuts, and Adriana, a college-educated woman who is struggling to get back on her feet while also caring for her elderly mother.


Shonda and Adriana are two of the 37 million people Feeding America served last year -- a number that's up 46 percent from 2006. It’s a shocking increase, as Roger Thurow wrote here last Friday, and one that demands action.


Volunteers are crucial to the work of emergency feeding centers, the study also found. According to an editiorial in The New York Times, 88 percent of food pantries and 92 percent of soup kitchens on Long Island rely on volunteers. But even some of these volunteers have recently lost their jobs and are having difficulty securing food. It's a powerful reminder that ending hunger requires the hearts and hands of all of us.

Food for Thought

Dive Courtesy of Bread's own "Green Team," staff members recently watched the documentary Dive: Living Off America’s Waste, which showed filmmaker Jeremy Seifert and his friends plunging into dumpsters across Los Angeles. They scored thousands of dollars of completely edible food. Why? It’s easier for grocery stores to throw it away, rather than get it to hungry people. Yet a mere 1 percent of the discarded food would have supplied L.A. food banks with all they needed to make up their deficits for the year.


If you haven't seen the film, check it out and tell us what you think.


Next up in Bread’s Green Film Festival: Dirt! The Movie: A Story with Heart and Soil, which includes interviews with environmental activist Vandana Shiva and Wangari Maathai, Nobel laureate and founder of the Green Belt Movement.

Can’t Lead Abroad While Losing at Home

by Roger Thurow

In 2003, while reporting in the famine fields of Africa, I met an American aid worker who suggested I expand my research on global hunger: “You should look into hunger in America, too,” she suggested.

I moved back to the U.S. in 2005, based in Chicago for The Wall Street Journal. Not far from our bureau was the headquarters of America’s Second Harvest, the nation’s food banking network. It was one of my first reporting stops.

Second Harvest (now called Feeding America) was finishing up a report on hunger in America. Its findings, compiled from surveys with its member food banks, were shocking even for veterans of the domestic hunger battle: More than 25 million Americans were dependent on food banks and soup kitchens in 2005, including more than 9 million children.

Four years later, the depth of hunger in America has dramatically worsened, according to the newest survey.

Feeding America, through its network of food banks and the agencies they serve, is now providing emergency food assistance to 37 million people each year, including nearly 14 million children. That’s a whopping 46% increase over four years ago. It means that one in eight Americans receives food assistance from the nation’s charitable food distribution system at some time during the year.

The survey provides anecdotal backing to the report of the U.S. Department of Agriculture late last year that estimated that 49 million Americans, or 16% of the population, lived in food insecure households in 2008, meaning that they couldn’t afford enough food at some time during the year. That included 16.7 million children. Read together, these sets of numbers indicate that not even the extensive food bank network is reaching all the hungry in the U.S.

These findings also mirror the global reality of rapidly rising hunger. In the past 18 months, since the food crisis of 2008 exploded with soaring prices and shrinking surpluses, the roll call of the world’s hungry swelled from about 850 million to more than 1 billion.

Attacking global hunger through agriculture development, particularly in Africa, has become a top foreign policy priority of the Obama administration. But winning that fight requires conquering hunger domestically as well.

For you can’t be a leader in the global war on hunger while losing the battle at home.

At the moment, we’re losing ground on both fronts. The community of nations kicked off the new millennium pledging to cut global hunger in half by 2015. And President Obama came into office last year determined to end childhood hunger in America also by 2015.

Alas, those two goals have become more distant. We’re marching in reverse at home and abroad.

The nature of hunger in Africa and America is vastly different. Most of the hunger in the developing world is a chronic everyday grind that leads to 25,000 deaths a day. In most cases, there simply isn’t enough food available to eat. Starving children, if they survive, are forever stunted mentally and physically.

In America, hunger is measured by an inability to afford the next meal sometime during the year. In America, few go totally without; the wide network of food pantries and soup kitchens enables many people in times of economic trouble to cut back on food in order to pay for housing, heating and medical treatment. Feeding America distributes more than 2.6 billion pounds of food and grocery products to 61,000 agencies nationwide every year. Many family budgets allow only the purchase of the cheapest, high-calorie/low nutrition food, which is why so many bodies are both obese and malnourished at the same time.

While the hunger is different, the solutions are similar: increasing incomes of the poorest. To conquer the chronic hunger in Africa, that means elevating the productivity of small farmers. The emphasis needs to be on food production with proper nutrition rather than food distribution, helping farmers feed their families (and growing surpluses to sell on the markets) rather than relying on food aid. Reversing years of neglect of agriculture development and creating the conditions for African farmers to grow as much food as possible is the aim of the President’s Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative, which the administration now calls Feeding the Future. The president’s 2011 budget calls for $1.8 billion for this program; it is part of his commitment of at least $3.5 billion over three years, which, in turn, is part of a larger $20 billion-plus pledge from the world’s richest countries to boost agriculture development. The targeted African countries will also be making their own substantial financial commitments to agriculture.

In the U.S., a land of plenty, availability of food is sometimes trumped by affordability. Feeding America notes that growing unemployment has been the main reason for the 46% jump in the number of people it is serving. Its survey showed that about two-thirds of the households it serves are without work, and even those with jobs sometimes don’t make enough to assure a reliable supply of food. Nearly 80% of the households served had annual incomes below the federal poverty level.

With these dire findings in hand, Feeding America is urging Congress to authorize the administration’s plans to increase investment in government child nutrition programs. It is also calling for a doubling of USDA’s $250 million annual budget for buying surplus commodities for emergency food assistance programs.

Coming up with the funding, and the political will, for America to lead the hunger fight abroad and at home shouldn’t be difficult. After all, Congress quickly conjured up $3 billion last year for its “cash for clunkers” program. If there’s money for broken down cars, surely there’s money for hungry people.

Roger Thurow’s blog post appears courtesy of the Global Food for Thought blog. Thurow, a former Wall Street Journal correspondent, is a senior fellow for Global Agriculture and Food Policy at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

For more information about hunger and food insecurity in America, please see Feeding America's "Hunger in America 2010" report, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "Household Food Security in the United States, 2008" report.

Rick Steves: What Accounts for Haiti's Chronic Poverty?

Check out the editorial by Rick Steves, travel writer and author of Travel as a Political Act, in today's USA Today. In "Haiti: Behind Door No. 3, Difficult Questions Await," he writes that Americans need to take a deeper look at why Haiti is so poor -- and has been for generations. A big part of the problem lies with unequal trade partnerships between Haiti and more powerful countries, such as the United States. Tariffs and subsidies protect U.S. businesses, Steves writes, but hamper development in Haiti. "In Haiti, fields that once grew rice sit unplanted. And across the street, a shack sells rice grown in the USA." Steves cites Bread's lobbying efforts to bring about more fair trade policies.

Addressing the structural roots of poverty is challenging, but it is ultimately more effective, he writes. Systemic change is what will help Haiti rebuild in the long term.

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