Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the White House

 Or perhaps the funny thing was that I even had the opportunity to go to the White House. Talk about being in the right place, at the right time, for the right cause. Yesterday, David Beckmann, president of Bread, and a dozen other Christian leaders who are part of the Circle of Protection took a trip to the Roosevelt Room to meet with the Commander in Chief himself. The Circle of Protection is a nonpartisan movement that insists poor and vulnerable people should be protected—not targeted—in efforts to reduce long-term deficits.

As Bread’s media relations specialist (said in my executive business voice), I accompanied the group to the meeting to take notes, answer questions, and help with logistics. I planned to take photos of myself with the president to document this momentous occasion, but we were required to store our phones in a wooden cubby prior to stepping into the meeting room.

My attempts to take pictures with my Canon Power Shot were also an exercise in futility. Of course this means I have no proof I was actually there until we receive the photos taken by the official White House photographer, so let me describe the feeling.

Circle of Protection group to White House

Galen Carey of the National Association of Evangelicals (left), Tony Hall of the Alliance to End Hunger, and other religious leaders attended a White House meeting yesterday with President Obama and his staff.

Have you ever seen The West Wing? It looked nothing like that. But there was an air of “official business” about the whole scene. From the 15-minute wait for the group to pass through security, to the 10-inch-thick crown molding that adorned every room we entered, it felt like we were there for business. What made it feel most official was the caliber of our group, all there to urge President Obama to protect hungry and poor people as he engages in debates about the budget and the debt ceiling.

With us were leaders from the National Association of Evangelicals, the National Council of Churches, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Sojourners, and other major Christian groups. We met at Bread’s offices for a briefing, traveled by bus to the White House, and stepped into the Roosevelt Room at 1:30 p.m. to meet with President Obama and several of his staffers.

The meeting’s agenda? Programs for hungry and poor people. In the current congressional debate over budget and deficit-reduction proposals, these programs face huge funding cuts—programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), WIC, Medicaid, and others. These are critical programs—especially now, when so many people are struggling with the ongoing impact of the recession.

But a ray of sunshine appeared in the windowless Roosevelt Room. The shared sentiment among meeting participants was that we can get our fiscal house in order without doing it on the backs of the most vulnerable people.

White House staffers present included Joshua Dubois, executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and special assistant to President Obama; Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to the president and chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls; Melody Barnes, domestic policy adviser and director of the Domestic Policy Council; and Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council.

They encouraged Christian leaders to continue to use their voices to represent the most vulnerable in the press and to put a face to the complicated numbers that Congress and the administration refer to in the budget debates. President Obama agreed that the sacrifices needed in reducing the deficit must not be borne by the “least of these.” We can all say amen to that.

Kristen Youngblood is media relations specialist at Bread for the World.

More on the Circle of Protection:

David Beckmann appears on NPR's Tell Me More

View the Circle of Protection statement and signers

Kristen Youngblood is media relations specialist at Bread for the World.


« Anti-Hunger Leaders Meet With President Obama on Hunger Programs in the Budget Shining Our Lights Toward Congress »


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