Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

34 posts from September 2011

President Bush Steps Out for Global Health

A lab technician interning at St. Francis Helathcare Services in Jinja, Uganda, tests for diseases. Former President Bush's global health plans would provide medical care for women and children in developing countries. (Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl)

You can’t live in Washington, DC, and not be interested in politics. I hear people talking politics everywhere I go: on the bus, at a restaurant, in the grocery line. In fact, I once sat through nine innings of a Nationals baseball game listening to two gentlemen behind me in heated discussion over the Republican National Convention. You just can’t escape it.

The conversation du jour? The Republican presidential race, of course. Everyone is talking about who said what at this debate and that interview; who has a chance to beat Obama; who has no chance at all, etc. etc. After a while, it just becomes another form of celebrity gossip, except in this situation, we’re not just voting who wore it best, we’re voting on the best person to hold the world's most powerful office. The gravity of the situation juxtaposed with the superficiality of much of the conversation – among people and in the media – can be infuriating.

I wish, instead, people would focus on news like this: On September 12, former President George W.  Bush urged Congress and the private sector to continue U.S. leadership against AIDS, malaria, and other health issues in poor countries. In this new initiative, President Bush is asking Congress to place a circle of protection around poor and vulnerable women abroad by using the infrastructure of doctors, nurses, and clinics that he created during his presidency for the purpose of combatting AIDS, to now screen and treat women for cervical and breast cancer. Politics aside, many people in both parties have lauded President Bush for his efforts to fight global health issues during his presidency and beyond.

It’s not scintillating news: It doesn’t reveal a politician’s character flaws, or hidden skeletons, or anything of that sort. It doesn’t even pit the two parties against one another (President Bush and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are working together in this effort). There is nothing vaguely controversial in this story. But to me, this is something to talk about. So share it with your friends and let’s change the national conversation.

Read more about the effort here.

Let's Talk About Food

110914_stonewirzbaFresh vegetables are for sale at David Mann's farmers market in Fort Blackmore, VA. (Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl)

For as much as we talk about food-related issues on the Bread Blog, it’s surprising how little we actually talk about eating. It might please you to know that we have a good number of foodies on our staff—folks who celebrate the joy of cooking and eating as much as they advocate for a just world.

I was delighted to read an interview between Rachel Stone, a Christian food blogger, and Norman Wirzba, a research professor at Duke Divinity School. Their thoughtful conversation gets into how Christians should think about the food industry and eating, as well as the importance of having a theology of food and body. This excerpt, in particular, caught my attention:

How would you advise people who want to eat in a way that glorifies God but cannot afford healthier options, such as free-range meat?

Industrial food has been especially destructive for poor people; it makes lots of unhealthy calories available cheaply. Good eating should not be elitist. I recommend that people try to grow some of their own food. You don’t need lots of land and it’s not very expensive to do, though it takes time. I also recommend that people join community gardens and that churches start to grow food on their grounds. Some interesting studies are now being done showing that the total costs associated with healthy food are actually less than the supposedly cheap food we buy. Good food does often (but not always) cost more up front, but it is more nutritious and satisfying. It also results in fewer (often very expensive) trips to the doctor.

Indeed, with increased food insecurity and the highest recorded poverty rates in the nation since 1959how people eat and what they eat are important issues that we should all be tracking as people of faith. Read the full interview between Rachel Stone and Norman Wirzba on Her.meneutics.

Nepal Village Finds a Safe Energy Source

When we think of deforestation, we often think of bald mountaintops and animals' lost habitats. But deforestation threatens more than the environment: It imperils peoples' health, food security, and livelihoods. Experts recently said the destruction of forests in Kenya and the Horn of Africa contributed to the famine in the region, because without trees, soil erodes, crops wash away, and people aren't able to feed themselves. Also, when people chop down trees and burn them as fuel, they can inadvertently create health problems for people breathing in the smoke.

In Nepal, one community is abandoning wood as an energy source in favor of briquettes made from wild grass. The briquettes -- which look like small, black beehives -- are inexpensive and smoke-free. Watch the video above to see how this alternative energy source is changing a small Nepali village.

This story is part of our Wednesday ViewChange video series.

New U.S. Census Numbers: Poverty Keeps Rising

Today, the U.S. Census Bureau released poverty numbers that paint a dire portrait of a nation that has been hit hard by a bad economy. Folks are using every last resort to survive: scrambling for low-paying jobs, doubling up households, moving in with parents, and foregoing health insurance after losing their jobs.

The report states that in 2010, the poverty rate increased to 15.1 percent, up from 14.3 percent in 2009, with 46.2 million people living in poverty—nearly one out of every six Americans. That’s the highest rate since the Census began tracking poverty data in 1959.

Also noted in the study:

  • Since 2007, the number of men working full time, year-round with earnings decreased by 6.6 million, and the number of corresponding women declined by 2.8 million.
  • The poverty rate increased for children younger than 18 from 20.7 percent in 2009 to 22 percent in 2010.
  • The number of people in poverty ages 18 to 64 also increased from 24.7 million in 2009 to 26.3 million in 2010.
  • By spring 2011, the number of doubled-up households increased by 2 million to 21.8 million.
  • 5.9 million young adults age 25-34 lived with their parents. Before the recession, that number was 4.7 million.

I wanted to see how my town of Washington, DC, was faring, so I called up Mark Anderson, co-director of We Are Family, a grocery delivery service in Northwest DC. We Are Family focuses on serving the elderly, but Mark has been receiving calls lately from people outside of his target demographic. “You’re starting to see more folks who are younger who are being forced to take advantage of services they historically have not had to utilize,” Anderson says. “I got a call from someone who is going to university, and they needed groceries, and another person who was younger than 40 years old, who had been employed, but lost his job. The shame of asking for help was palpable in the person’s voice.”

Nonprofit direct-service organizations like We Are Family are doing their best, but they are also struggling financially, as foundations are no longer able to provide as much funding. The poverty rate, therefore, could be worse were it not for federally funded safety net programs such as WIC and SNAP (formerly food stamps).

Interestingly enough, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction—or “Super Committee”—had its second meeting today. If you remember, this is the bipartisan group of 12 members of Congress who are charged with identifying $1.5 trillion in federal deficit reductions. Everything is on the table for the Super Committee to dissect and eliminate, including the very programs that help keep people out of poverty.

It’s time for us – you, me, and everyone we know—to make it clear to Congress that poverty-focused federal assistance cannot be cut when poverty rates have climbed for the third year in a row. These programs are not wasteful spending—they are keeping real, industrious Americans and their kids off the streets and on a pathway to self-sufficiency.

We can’t let them fall through the cracks at a time like this.

+Take Action: Ask Congress to form a circle of protection around funding for programs for poor and hungry people in the U.S. and abroad.

Bread Activist Tara Marks is Invited to the White House

Tara Marks, a Bread activist from Pittsburgh, once used WIC and SNAP benefits. She was invited to the White House on Sept. 12, 2011 to attend President Obama's Rose Garden address on the American Jobs Act. (Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl)

This past Friday, Bread activist Tara Marks received the call of a lifetime: The White House invited her to attend a Rose Garden event where President Obama was to speak about the American Jobs Act. Without a second thought, Marks made plans to drive to Washington, DC, from her home in Pittsburgh, PA, and this morning, Marks was standing in the Rose Garden with around 100 people listening to the president.

As he spoke about his American Jobs Act—which he first revealed during a rousing speech to Congress last Thursday, Sept. 8—Tara Marks listened with new hope. As the co-director of Just Harvest, an anti-hunger nonprofit organization in Pittsburgh, and as a former recipient of public benefits, Marks understands the razor thin line between survival and poverty that many people are straddling in this tough economy.

"I hear the phone calls of folks saying, 'I never thought in a million years I would be using food stamps,' and these calls are coming from people who were once gainfully employed," Marks says. "And public welfare programs are really vital in giving people an avenue out from being poor."

Marks does her best to advocate for those who need food, shelter, and jobs, but she also knows that her efforts are not enough – she needs the support of Congress and the president. As she heard the president pledging to support Americans struggling through this difficult economy, she felt as if she'd just received her "marching orders."

"Finally he stood up and said, 'let’s get this done!' I felt energized when I was there. I’m one of the people who have been waiting for the president to stand up and fight," Marks says. And it seems that after today, she is all the more ready to stay in the fight as well.

+Find out how you can become a Bread activist.

Remembering 9/11

'prayer candles.JPG' photo (c) 2006, Mark Barkaway - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

At Bread for the World, God’s grace moves us to help our neighbors, whether they live in the next house, the next state, or the next continent. This is why we act to provide food for those who do not have any.

As we observe the 10th anniversary of 9/11, we pray that this same grace from God will bring peace, reconciliation, and healing to all of those affected by the tragic events that occurred on that day. We also want to reach out to our Bread for the World community and invite each of you to share reflections in the comments section below.

Finally, please join us in praying this prayer for peace.

A Prayer for Peace

Eternal wellspring of peace—
May we be drenched with the longing for peace
That we may give ourselves over to peace
Until the earth overflows with peace
As living waters overflow the seas

--Marcia Falk, The Book of Blessings

Rick Steves Taxes Himself to Support the Arts

(Photo courtesy of Rick Steves)

Growing up, weekends at home were dedicated to cleaning, laundry, and other chores while PBS played on the television in the background. While it was never easy to find a show my entire family enjoyed, a household favorite was Rick Steves’ Europe. We all loved traveling via television along the Danube, through the streets of Paris, or up the Swiss Alps with the warm and professorial Rick Steves.

Imagine my delight, then, when I heard the news that Steves had donated $1 million to the Edmond Center for the Arts in his hometown of Edmonds, WA. For Steves, this donation was a political statement: “I am frustrated by the social costs caused by tax cuts given to our nation’s wealthy over the last decade,” Steves writes. “I am simply paying what I would if the Bush Administration tax cuts for the wealthy were revoked and the Clinton-era rates were re-established. I see it as a civic duty for businessmen like me, who’ve directly benefited from our vibrant communities, to do our fair share.” After making the donation, Steves sent an email to Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), asking her to “please tackle the deficit by raising taxes on people like me and not gutting programs for the hungry and struggling in our society.”

Rick Steves is a longtime supporter of Bread for the World, and a devout Lutheran who is inspired by his faith to act for social justice in his community and abroad. In fact, his passion for travel stems from his passion to educate Americans on the need for justice around the world, which he explains in his book, Travel as Political Act“After traveling the world, you come home recognizing that Americans are good people with big hearts. We are compassionate and kind, and operate with the best of intentions. But as citizens of a giant, powerful nation—isolated from the rest of the world by geography, as much as by our wealth—it can be challenging for many Americans to understand that poverty across the sea is as real as poverty across the street. We struggle to grasp the huge gap between the wealthy and the poor.”

Indeed, during this time of economic struggle, the reality of poverty is hitting closer to home than most Americans realize. But this is why I am thankful for people like Rick Steves, who used his own resources to support communities in need, and remind members of Congress, and each of us, that we must create a circle of protection around programs that protect vulnerable people and enrich our communities.

Jeannie Choi is associate editor for Bread for the World.

Rep. Howard Berman Proposes U.S. Foreign Assistance Reform Legislation

Today, Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, released a draft of the Global Partnerships Act of 2011 for public discussion in a presentation at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research in Washington, DC. The draft legislation is the first step in reforming the 50-year-old Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. (Watch video of Rep. Berman's remarks above.)

“Rep. Berman’s draft proposal serves as the foundation for building a consensus in Congress on how to modernize U.S. foreign aid,” said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. “Members on both sides of the aisle have expressed interest in reforming and modernizing the system, and this proposal provides an excellent place to begin the discussion.”

Current U.S. foreign aid policy is more than 50 years old. It was created during the Cold War to address problems of the 20th century, but poor planning, lack of oversight, and unpredictable funding have left the current system unable to meet 21st–century challenges. The Global Partnerships Act of 2011 would make foreign assistance more efficient, more effective, and better at serving America’s interests abroad.

“Moving this legislation through Congress will be tough, but there is little disagreement that the current system needs to be fixed,” added Beckmann. “Responsible foreign assistance reform is a far better alternative to cuts to poverty-focused aid that some have proposed. Cutting funds without fixing the underlying problems would make things worse.”

The draft bill hopes to:

  • Reduce global poverty and alleviate human suffering
  • Advance peace and mitigate conflict
  • Support human rights and democracy
  • Build and reinforce strategic partnerships
  • Counter transnational threats
  • Sustain the global environment
  • Expand prosperity through trade and investment

+Continue reading the Bread Blog to stay up-to-date on this important legislation.

VIDEO: Malnourished Children in the Richest Country on Earth

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During last night’s Republican presidential debate in Simi Valley, CA, there was plenty of finger pointing and arguing over the nation’s poor economy and lack of jobs. What was not mentioned, however, was that many of those suffering from our poor economy are children.

14.7 million children in the United States are living in poverty and suffering from hunger while growing up in the wealthiest nation on the planet. Politicians might skirt the sad irony of this fact in debate, but people of faith and conscience cannot.

As we continue watching the ABC News series, Hunger at Home: Crisis in America, a theme emerges: Parents with good jobs, living solidly within the middle-class suddenly find themselves out of work, swallowing their pride, and going to food banks once a week to ensure that their kids get food. This episode of the ABC series visits a “grow clinic” at Boston Medical Center where doctors are treating dangerously thin children. The episode introduces us to Samuel, a 2-year-old patient at the clinic whose organs, including his brain, are not developing. This stunted growth will have a significant negative impact on Samuel’s development. But Samuel is just one of many children growing up hungry in America.

Watch the ABC News episode above and keep visiting the Bread Blog as we follow this important series.

New Data on Food Insecurity Shows Anti-Hunger Efforts Must Continue

This morning, the Department of Agriculture released new data showing that 14.5 percent of American families struggled to put food on the table in 2010. The technical term for this is “food insecure.”

The good news is that while the number of food insecure families has remained basically unchanged since 2008, when the rates first spiked due to the recession, this year’s data does demonstrate some improvement. The number of families with very low food security declined between 2009 and 2010. (Very low food security means that at least one family member’s food intake was reduced, and eating patterns were disrupted because of a lack of money for food.) Food insecurity among households with children also declined slightly.

These small improvements, however, are not enough to end hunger across the country. In the world’s wealthiest nation, more than 6 million households are food insecure, and more than 16 million children still live in families that struggle to put food on the table. As so many Americans know, this data shows that the effects of a struggling economy continue to be real and severe.

With record high poverty and unemployment rates, there is no doubt that food insecurity numbers could have been much worse than what we saw this morning. Were it not for programs like SNAP (formerly food stamps), school meals, and WIC, combined with the efforts of local food banks, the needs of many hungry Americans would not have been met. Throughout the recession, more and more Americans have had to rely on the federal safety net to ensure their family gets sufficient food. Sadly, federal nutrition programs have been prime targets for cuts during the ongoing budget debates in Congress.

You can help us ensure that next year’s numbers show real progress in eliminating hunger. This September, Bread for the World has partnered with Feeding America -- the nation’s food bank network -- to continue to raise awareness about hunger and to mobilize action against it. Visit www.hungeractionmonth.org to find out how you can get involved with your local community.

Also, learn more about Bread’s efforts to protect vital federal nutrition programs by visiting www.bread.org/budget. Also, read a more detailed analysis of the food insecurity data released September 7, 2011.

Christine Meléndez Ashley is a policy analyst at Bread for the World.

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