Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

7 posts from July 2011

Shining Our Lights Toward Congress


More than 20 worshippers in the Abrahamic faiths stood side by side on a street corner in the noontime heat. The group leader faced the U.S. Capitol as he prayed for poor and hungry people.

Services and support to our nation’s most vulnerable people are at risk as Congress continues to wrangle over how to resolve the budget impasse. The daily prayer gathering is an inspiration from Ecumenical Advocacy Days. Faith-based organizations take turns leading the short program.

Ecumenical Advocacy Days Director Douglas Grace relishes the fellowship with other faith-based groups working for social justice. He says they’ll keep praying together until Congress passes a budget.

As drops of perspiration dribbled down their skin from the brutal heat wave, Bread for the World staff bowed their heads to ask for God’s protection for the most vulnerable. Before parting to tackle the afternoon’s challenges, they sang: “This little light of ours, we’re gonna let it shine.”

Let’s flip the switch together.


Alisa Booze Troetschel is a multimedia intern at Bread for the World.

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

Christian leaders met in Bread for the World's office before heading to the White House

Bread for the World President David Beckmann and other Christian leaders had a chance to bring our Circle of Protection message in person to President Obama today. Since the budget debates began several months ago, we have been urging Congress and the president to form a circle of protection around federal programs that help poor and hungry people. The president endorsed this message today.

Bus sign

Making sure everyone is on the bus

Walking to the White House

Putting a Spotlight on Relieving Hunger; Fast Brings Home Difficulty Many People Face

By Leota Ester
© Postcresent.com

For four Mondays before Easter, I joined about 30,000 others, including 28 of our congressmen and women who pledged to fast for 24 hours.


Make a gift today and I – along with other Bread members – will match your gift, dollar for dollar, up to $100,000 through August 1. Bread for the World needs your financial support now to ensure that Congress protects sound programs that prevent hunger.

Donate today and make a life-changing difference for hungry people.

I'd never fasted before. I've thought about it. A friend of mine used to fast every Monday just because it made him feel better. I'd heard over the years that when one fasts, one thinks more clearly, is focused and alert. But I like to eat and had never seriously considered doing it.

David Beckmann, World Food Prize laureate, is president of Bread for the World, a nonprofit faith organization dedicated to ending hunger in our country and around the world by influencing decisions made by our Congress. He and leaders from 40 faiths — including Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, evangelical and others — led a fast for four weeks. Their stated purpose was to discern how to influence our representatives to provide for the poorest among us in the budget decisions and to draw attention to our moral priorities.

They also wanted to call attention to what it means to be hungry. While Beckmann and the others fasted for four weeks from sunrise to sunset, they invited all of us to join them in some type of fasting, be it by missing lunches for the four weeks, fasting one day a week (my choice), or fasting from a desired habit such as watching television.

So when they invited us to join them, I did.

I didn't enjoy it. All of us have at one time or another been too busy to stop for meals, had things on our minds that made us forget to eat, but we snatched a bite, forced ourselves to "get some nourishment" and ate whether we thought about it or not. We were not forced into hunger, nor were we fasting.

Going without any food for 24 hours is hard. They became long days. I cleaned bookshelves, read bits and pieces from any number of books, watched the clock, wrote e-mails, phoned friends, looked at the clock and vacuumed, but the day dragged on.

I looked at the refrigerator, again noted the time and how slowly it passed, tried to justify eating just a little to "carry me over." It seemed endless.

During those times, I thought a lot about how those who are hungry can function day after day. How, I wondered, could they concentrate or learn anything if they were sitting in a classroom hungry?

How could anyone function well at a job, not make mistakes, if gnawing hunger were always with them? How could parents teach their kids manners, how to pay attention, to get along with others, when the family is hungry? How could they not fight with one another?

We know that babies' brains can't develop well without proper nourishment from birth through their early years. They often become the slow learners, trouble-makers, difficult adults. The costs of later issues far outweigh providing basic food through programs such as WIC and SANE, known to us as food for pregnant moms and babies and food stamps.

When Congress suggests a cap at present levels, it fails to allow for those who newly fall into difficulty feeding their families and themselves through loss of jobs, aging, illness.

Our national budget for hunger programs is a tiny portion of the overall budget for the military, Social Security and Medicare programs. Those of us in our 80s and above think little about the cost of a hip replacement, heart repair, shoulder surgery, etc., and while we shouldn't have to suffer pain in our later years, we might want to consider how much money goes to us compared to the money spent on those, young and old, who are hungry.

We, above all, should urge our congressmen and women to support those needs as well as ours.

I grew up poor on a farm in Kansas during both the depression and the drought and dust storms of the '20s. We wore underwear made of feed sacks, had only a couple of dresses, often hand-me-downs, and no radio or television. But we were never hungry.

We ate garden vegetables, canned fruit, eggs, chickens we grew, and topped this off with homemade bread and applesauce, maybe a pie. Those days are gone, but not our parents' knowledge that the first basic need is for healthy food.

And while needs abound from all directions, none is more basic nor essential than regular nourishment from vegetables and fruits, milk, grains and protein.

From a healthy beginning, we become the citizens our country and world needs — those who contribute, solve problems and serve.

We must tell our congressmen and women this is so and insist they support the sound programs that prevent hunger.

Leota Ester
Bread for the World Member and Activist
Appleton, WI




Cutting WIC Won’t Solve Our Fiscal Crisis

The House recently passed the agriculture appropriations bill for fiscal year 2012, which determines how much the government can spend on agriculture, nutrition, and food aid programs. Because the budget plan passed by the House this spring contained deep spending cuts, the House was forced to make similarly deep cuts in these programs.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) was targeted for even deeper cuts—even though this program is incredibly valuable for our most vulnerable populations and has no relationship to our rising deficits.

WIC is a highly effective, short-term intervention program that targets low-income women, infants, and children up to age 5 who are at risk nutritionally. Recipients receive a package of highly nutritious food and essential supplies, in addition to information about healthy eating and referrals to health care. Still, as the chart shows, the program isn’t serving the entire eligible population—on average, just 56-61 percent of eligible women and children participate.

Research shows that women who do participate in WIC give birth to healthier babies, and their children receive higher test scores than children of non-participants. Instead of targeting cuts in benefits when they are needed most—particularly now in the wake of the recession—Congress should look at the budget in its entirety to address deficit reduction.

The cuts made and proposed to WIC in the appropriations bill were sold as cuts targeting waste, fraud, and abuse. These cuts will actually do little to deal with those issues. While real improvements always can and should be made, across-the-board cuts with no changes in the program itself won’t address the problems and will only result in fewer services for needy families.

For example, Congress took the opportunity to improve WIC in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act last year. Program changes to curb documented waste, fraud, or abuse should be addressed during these reauthorization periods and not as an attempt to make cuts to this valuable program.

Finally, only 9 percent of WIC funds go to administrative costs, with the remainder providing valuable resources and food to families, as shown in this chart from the Center on Budget and Policy priorities.

WIC administrative costs

The return on investment for WIC is huge and provides great bang for the taxpayer’s buck. By cutting WIC, Congress would be losing the savings the program brings by ensuring mothers and their children remain healthy. Research shows that preterm births cost the country $26 billion a year; for every dollar spent on women in WIC, Medicaid saves $1.92 to $4.21.

Critics often call for nutrition programs such as WIC, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), and child nutrition to be combined into one big program, yet one of WIC’s strongest assets is its ability to tailor its benefits to the women and children it serves.

Congress must take responsible action on our nation’s deficits, but looking to cut programs that serve vulnerable families is irresponsible. Domestic programs that address poverty only take up 14 percent of the budget and have recently grown in response to increased need because of the recession. Congress must create a circle of protection around programs such as WIC, which help struggling families put food on the table.

Ben D'Avanzo is Mimi Meehan fellow at Bread for the World.

The Challenges of Buying Local Food

An NPR story aired this morning about the town of Hardwick, VT, which is deep into the local food movement. There are lots of organic farms, a farmers market, a food co-op, and a restaurant that serves food from the area.

Fresh mustard greens for sale at the Abingdon Farmers Market in Abingdon, VA

But there's one big issue in the local food movement, said Derek Demers, a senior at Hazel Union, Hardwick's local high school. And that issue is affordability. It's a point that has surfaced in other corners of the United States (as this story from Missouri by Harvest Public Media shows).

"There's the side of the town that's for the local food movement, but I think there's an even greater side of the town, with more people, that can't afford the local food," said Demers. "I work at our local supermarket grocery store, and I see most of the people in town there."

As the NPR story states, some local farmers are becoming more efficient so their produce will be less expensive. Some farmers markets are accepting SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, and WIC and then doubling their value. What is your local community doing to make fresh, local food more accessible to low-income consumers?


VIDEO: The Last Kankan of Nahkchivan

We've written before about water being one of two critical factors in ending hunger. Solving the problem of water scarcity is one of the world's greatest challenges. Australia's former governor general recently said the world faces looming food and water shortages for which governments aren't prepared. But what happens when you have water but no way to get to it?

The former Soviet Union brought electricity and a pipe water system to Nahkhchivan, Azerbaijan, but that system has fallen into complete disrepair due to lack of funds for maintenance. People have migrated and stopped growing food.

"If there was enough water, no one would have left the villages and people would have continued working on their land," said Alverdi Ismailov, the president of a water users group.

So the people of Nahkhchivan are looking to their past for a way to access fresh water: a man-made tunnel and well system called kahriz that uses gravity to distribute water. But they need a kankan--an expert in ancient construction skills--to help them. Enter 71-year-old Yunis Ibragimov.

"I heard that they were looking for kankans. One day someone knocked on my door. He said that they needed my help to fix a kahriz," said Ibragimov. "When we discussed my salary, I said that I would do it for any amount of money."

Now, with the support of the International Organization for Migration, 100 more kankans have been trained and 70 kahrizs have been rehabilitated at a cost of $12,000 each--cheap compared to rehabbing and maintaining a fuel-run pipe water system.

This story is part of our Wednesday ViewChange video series.

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