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Hundreds Attend National Gathering 2011

Frank Thomas

Rev. Dr. Frank Thomas, pastor of Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, Memphis, TN, preached at the opening plenary session of Bread for the World's National Gathering 2011, Saturday, June 11, at American University. View more photos from the National Gathering on Flickr »

They came from across the country and around the world. New York high school students and nutrition professors from Ghana. Grassroots activists and policy wonks. Faith leaders and the president of the World Bank. More than 600 participants attended events in conjunction with Bread for the World’s National Gathering 2011, Lobby Day, and the meeting “1,000 Days to Scale Up Nutrition for Mothers & Children: Building Political Commitment.”

Over four days, attendees worshiped together, heard from experts and fellow activists, told their own stories and those of Bread, and organized to change the politics of hunger.

On Monday, June 13, Bread joined forces with Concern Worldwide, the Irish development organization, to sponsor the 1,000 Days meeting to build energy and commitment toward improving maternal and child nutrition worldwide. At the opening plenary, video welcome addresses were shown from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Melinda French Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, addressed the afternoon session, and New York Times columnist and food activist Mark Bittman delivered the dinner keynote address.

Representatives of Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Zambia, Ghana, Niger, Bangladesh, and Guatemala filled the meeting rooms.

Events culminated on Tuesday with Lobby Day, when participants traveled to Capitol Hill to ask their members of Congress to form a circle of protection around funding for programs that help hungry and poor people. The difficult budget environment right now made these visits vitally important.

“If we can maintain U.S. efforts to reduce poverty and hunger in this tough economy and political environment, we could see substantial progress against hunger and poverty in our country and worldwide in the years ahead,” said David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. “But with Congress focused on cutting the deficit, it’s crucial that we protect funding for programs focused on hunger and poor people and make sure our government dollars are used effectively.”

Many participants attended these events for the first time. Diane Clarke of Davis, CA, was one.

“For years, I’ve had a conviction that, of all the issues Christians should care about, hunger is the one we can all get behind,” said Clarke. “Bread for the World had been in my conscience. I went to the website to learn more. I didn’t know it was an advocacy organization.”

She quickly signed up to attend National Gathering 2011 to learn just what an advocacy organization does.

Others are repeat attendees. Carlos Navarro, from Albuquerque, NM, has attended 10-12 National Gatherings—he can’t quite remember the exact number.

“I’m really committed to Bread and believe we can make a difference in this work,” he said. “I come to the Gathering to reconnect with other activists.”

Navarro was also excited to see so many new activists from a new generation attending this year’s events, including Bread’s Hunger Justice Leaders. After a dozen such Gatherings and in tough economic and political times, he still finds reasons to hope.

“In the face of everything that feels so difficult, we have people coming together in a circle of protection,” he said. “That’s a powerful symbolic statement. We’re sending out a positive message, not just a lament.”

National Gathering 2011 photo

Rebekah Richey of Altamonte Springs, FL, and Jenny Millkey of Palmetto, GA, celebrate during Bread for the World's National Gathering 2011, Saturday, June 11, at American University. view more photos from the National Gathering on Flickr »

 

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