Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

42 posts from October 2011

Sen. Pat Toomey: The Need in Pennsylvania is Greater Than Ever

111025_Toomey[Editors’ note: For the next few weeks, we’ll be running a series of posts on the Bread Blog about each member of the Super Committee. If you live in Sen. Pat Toomey’s state (Pennsylvania) please share this blog post with your local family and friends, and message Sen. Toomey on his Facebook page or through Twitter.]

For Bob Shearn, the reality of the recession hit home when his wife recently found out that she would be laid off in the middle of November. “It’s very scary,” Shearn says. “Most families today rely on two incomes, not to live a life of ease, but simply to pay the bills. With the increased cost of food, it’s getting harder and harder to make ends meet.”

Shearn lives in Wyoming, PA with his family and serves as a campus minister at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, PA. Every day, he sees how his community is struggling to survive the recession. As a member of his parish and an activist for hunger and justice issues, Shearn sees how direct-service organizations are being stretched to the limit. “Soup kitchens and clothing stock piles are in greater and greater demand. These little signs show me that the need is greater than ever.”

Recent Census Bureau numbers on Pennsylvania confirm Shearn’s observations. In 2010, more than one in seven families in Pennsylvania lived below the poverty line. Tragically, 20.9 percent of children in the state were at risk of hunger in 2009 (compared to 16.6 percent nationwide). Considering these dire numbers—and the devastation in Pennsylvania from Hurricane Irene this past August—it’s clear that now is not the time to cut entitlement programs such as SNAP (formerly food stamps), the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and the Child Tax Credit (CTC), says Shearn. “Where else can these people turn for help to keep them afloat? They don’t have jobs, and if the services provided by soup kitchens and the like are being stretched to the max, I don’t know where people will turn. To cut these programs would be nothing short of a disaster,” he says.

This is why Shearn and others from Pennsylvania are asking Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) to ensure that the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction does not cut these important programs in an attempt to balance the federal budget. Shearn believes that the most vulnerable members of society should have as valuable a voice as the wealthiest citizens of our nation—indeed, that is the essence of democracy. “It’s our government,” Shearn insists. “We so glibly talk about, ‘we the people,’ but this is the people’s money. And we have an obligation as a country, and as a nation, to care for one another—especially those who are unable to care for themselves.”

Exercise democracy now by joining your voice with Bob Shearn and other Pennsylvanians to ask Sen. Toomey to form a circle of protection around programs for hungry and poor people; to continue funding for domestic and international programs; and to support those living in his state who are receiving pink slips, looking for jobs, standing in lines at soup kitchens, and doing their best to provide for their families.

Call Sen. Pat Toomey today at 1-800-826-3688.

Official photo of Sen. Pat Toomey.

Hunger QOTD: Rick Steves

Esther Aurelisa holds a sheep. Esther's family raise sheep, corn, malanga, yucca and banana on their farm in Nicaragua. Photo by Richard Leonardi.

"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 tht huge gap between the wealthy and the poor. While it may be human nature to choose ignorance when it comes to this reality, it's better character to reckon with it honestly."

--Rick Steves, Travel as Political Act

Dispatches from Africa: Food is the First Medicine

Zambian women frequently must walk miles to gather firewood. Photo by Margaret W. Nea.

As the Bread for the World delegation to Africa approached the office of the Commission on Food and Nutrition in Lusaka, Zambia, we saw three enormous "1,000 Days" banners that were 10 feet wide and six feet tall on the walls in front of the building. I have been working with denominational women’s organizations in the United States for the last six months building support for the 1,000 Days Movement, so this was encouraging to see.

The commission, established in 1967, was lodged in the Ministry of Health so that it would have more flexibility than an additional ministry. Unfortunately, now it doesn’t have the authority over other ministries to build a multi-sector approach to ending malnutrition and hunger in Zambia. It has focused on treatment instead of prevention by increasing caloric intake, but not improving nutritional value.

Dr. Cassim Masi, executive director of the commission, said, “Food is the first medicine.” In the United States we take nutrition for granted and think only of medicine when our children get sick. In Zambia, when a child is sick and needs medicine, she also needs the proper nutrition to strengthen her immune system, heart, lungs, and brain.

Nowhere was this more evident than at the feeding center at the University Training Hospital in Lusaka, Zambia. Parents bring acutely malnourished children there. I spoke with a young woman who told me she learned the food that she was feeding her 1-year-old son did not have enough nutrients. Hospital staff  taught her how to feed him a variety of foods and to incorporate vegetables in his diet. I asked her if she would be able to change his diet in this way and she said, “I will try.” It’s heartbreaking to know that information alone is not enough.

The good news is that Zambia has taken the first steps to address malnutrition—especially during the critical 1,000 day window from pregnancy until a child’s second birthday. They have signed on to be an early-riser country in the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement (SUN) and will partner with donor countries and organizations with technical expertise to develop strategies and implement programs to improve nutrition across several sectors of society including agriculture and health. 

Nancy-neal-tanzaniaNancy Neal is associate for denominational women's organization relations at Bread for the World.


Dispatches from Africa: Greater Improvements Must Be Made

The Bread for the World delegation to Africa listens to a leader in the Jombo village in Malawi.

Last Wednesday morning our delegation traveled to  the Jombo and Biliati villages in Malawi to get a closer look at key maternal and child nutrition programs aimed at meeting the critical needs of many impoverished families in that area. Frankly, I was excited about traveling to this remote location in Malawi because I had heard so much about life in African villages and wanted to see if my expectations matched reality.

Around 8 a.m. our group boarded the bus and began our journey to the Chickwawa district in the southern region of the country. The ride led us through a mountainous area. Despite the roads being well paved, the journey was filled with much anxiety. The narrow two-way road, without protective guard rails on the road’s edge, was the sole source of my anxiety -- especially because I was able to see a very steep drop on one side of the road. With a sigh of relief, and thanks to God, we eventually made it safely to our destination.

Needless to say, the abject poverty witnessed at both sites was heartbreaking and left many of us in disbelief.  Many of the homes in the village were made of mud bricks that would literally melt away and collapse with too much rain.  Children wore tattered clothes and didn’t have shoes. With so many children present in the middle of an apparent school day, one naturally asked, “How many of these babies actually attend primary school.” These are a few very challenging things I observed, which left an indelible mark upon my mind and heart. 

Despite these realities, we also witnessed some real signs of hope. We saw first-hand the effects of the Scaling Up Nutrition campaign (SUN) on these two villages. Village leaders eagerly shared specifics about their educational programs designed by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) for the purpose of promoting proper nutrition, breastfeeding, and good sanitary practices. They also showed us ingredients that they add to their meals to ensure their diets are more nutritious, and a hand-washing station they constructed to use for improved hygienic behavior. It was wonderful to see how macro-policies or ideas like SUN translate into simple, but effective methods to improve life in these villages.

As you can see, steps in the right direction have been taken, but many more are needed. We must continue our long march forward in pursuit of justice for hungry and poor people. As the associate for African American Leadership Outreach for Bread for the World, I will continue to urge leaders to unite and magnify their voices while advocating for policies that improve lives on the local level, because by doing so we are truly doing what matters.

Derrick-BoykinDerrick Boykin is an associate for African American Leadership Outreach for Bread for the World.


David Beckmann on 30 Good Minutes


Bread for the World President David Beckmann appeared in a video for 30goodminutes.org and spoke about the difficulties Americans are facing in this economy, and how many people in our nation and abroad are struggling to put food on the table.

In his talk, he told a fascinating story about his recent visit to Bangladesh:

I recently visited Bangladesh, and I got to go back to the little village called Goreya where I worked thirty years ago. People are still really poor, but I saw a lot of improvement: better roads, better houses, more foods in the markets. The children are clearly better nourished, and the women are not as confined as they were thirty years ago.  Back then, I lived in a thatched house with the local schoolteacher, Mr. Bari.  But there’s been lots of construction in Goreya, and I couldn’t even find the house. 

Finally, a young woman who used to be Mr. Bari’s student told us where to look, and I spotted him walking along the road.  I jumped out of our van, and he recognized me right away. Mr. Bari’s life has turned out better than he ever expected. For example, he’s been able to fill in the ditch next to his house, where mosquitoes used to breed when I lived there.  He rightly thanks God for the progress that Bangladesh has made against poverty.

After David Beckmann's talk, he also gave an interview to Daniel Pawlus. In the interview, Beckmann tackled the link between poverty and obesity:

Lillian Daniel: I think one of the issues about identifying hunger in America is that a lot of voters look around and they say, “I don’t see hungry people. I see an obesity problem. I see other issues. I can’t believe that one in five households are hungry.” Can you unpack that for us?

David Beckmann: The incidence of obesity is actually higher among low-income people and it’s often the same folks. So for people in our country, the kind of hunger that’s very widespread is intermittent hunger. People eat cheap food if they don’t have much money and then at the end of the month they run out. So especially moms, they may protect their kids so they may go for days without virtually any food. When they get food, then they may binge eat. And little kids who don’t get enough food have their metabolism messed up for the rest of their lives, so that they are likely to get obese.

Watch David Beckmann's talk below, and click here to watch the interview.

Hunger QOTD: 'May Prayer Feed Your Actions'


"May prayer feed your actions, and may your actions feed the world."
--Neil Paynter, Holy Ground

Sen. Rob Portman: The Situation in Ohio is Getting Worse

111020_robportman[Editors’ note: For the next few weeks, we’ll be running a series of posts on the Bread Blog about each member of the Super Committee. If you live in Ohio, contact Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and please share this blog post with your family and friends. You can also message Sen. Rob Portman on his Facebook page or on Twitter.]

Last month, the Morning Journal in Northern Ohio reported that the rate of hunger and food insecurity in Ohio was on the rise. In fact, the Lorain Salvation Army in Lorain, OH, remained closed for three days in late September to restock their empty shelves with food. The demand is growing, said the executive director of Second Harvest Julie Chase-Morefield. She told the Morning Journal, “We’re concerned about cuts on the federal level.”

Indeed, Chase-Morefield has every right to be worried. The latest Census Bureau data reveals that in 2010, 151,772 Ohio families lived in extreme poverty, which is defined as having less than $11,057 a year for a family of four. Moreover, in Ohio 28.6 percent of children under 5 years old lived in poverty. And while some might point fingers at the jobless, many Ohioans with jobs are simply unable to make ends meet. In fact, 23.2 percent of SNAP beneficiaries (formerly food stamps) in Ohio lived in households with two or more workers and an additional 48.3 percent lived in households with one worker.

Unfortunately, as Congress debates the federal budget deficit, some members are considering cutting valuable programs like SNAP—a move which would almost certainly put Ohio families and families around the country in grave danger. Sen. Rob Portman is a member of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (or Super Committee) which is commissioned to find $2.1 trillion in cuts to the federal budget over the next 10 years. It’s imperative that he understands that the people of Ohio need programs such as SNAP, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and other similar programs in order to survive this tough economic climate.

Please join us in asking Sen. Rob Portman to create a circle of protection around funding for these programs that are vital to hungry and poor people in Ohio and throughout the United States.

+Call Sen. Rob Portman today at 1-800-826-3688 and ask him to protect Ohio families from unjust budget cuts.

Official photo of Sen. Rob Portman.

Hunger in the News: The Farm Bill. Food Stamp Qualifications. Horn of Africa.

Want to stay up-to-date on all of your hunger news? While this isn't a comprehensive list, it's a good start. Here's a roundup of current news links on hunger issues from around the Web:

  • "Farm Bill Ideas Compared," by Daniel Looker. "Carl Zulauf, the Ohio State University economist who helped design the ACRE program in the 2008 Farm Bill, has put together a comparison of 10 of the top farm bill ideas, including those from farm and commodity groups and members of Congress."

Empowering Indian Women


Slather on some lotion from Himalaya Herbal Healthcare and there's a good chance your moisturizing action has helped empower women working in rural India. That's because Himalaya Herbal Healthcare is one of a few companies that gets its medicinal plants from Gram Mooligai Company Limited (GMCL), a business owned by its herb gatherers and cultivators.

"We prefer buying herbs from GMCL because of the quality of the herbs they supply us," said R. Manjunatha of Himalaya Herbal Healthcare. "Secondly, they have a sustainable harvest, and thirdly, for the rural empowerment of women." Watch the video below to learn more about GMCL and its role in improving the lives of Indian women.

Prophets, Not Profits: An Organizer's Reflection on Occupy Wall Street

Photo by _PaulS_ on Flickr

On Friday, October 7, I took a stroll downtown to see the “Occupy Wall Street” protest that has been going on for a couple weeks now. I was impressed with what I saw and took a couple of pictures. I uploaded one to Facebook only the message that I had stopped by to see the protest (I neither stated my support or opposition for the event). However, I was impressed by the comments the photo received -- both positive and negative. Obviously something big is happening here and it is generating some strong feelings.

It would be hard for me to describe this movement because of the broad diversity of positions and issues among its members. I could embrace some of their positions, while others made me uncomfortable. However, I recognize the importance of the core critique that this movement is offering, which resonates with my own concern for the political future of this nation and politicians' positions on poverty and hunger policies.

These past two years have seen the rise of the Tea Party and anti-government positions. Along the way there have been some concerns regarding Wall Street and the inequality of the American economy, but as far as policies go, the only development has been a request for fewer taxes and less government regulations (both policies that are usually pro-big business). This past year saw the Supreme Court passing the “Citizen’s United” case that gave further power to corporations and big business by granting them easier access to influencing politics through finances. In the eyes of many who have been critical of Wall Street, this development was alarming.

From what I could see, the “Occupy Wall Street” movement consists of people fed up with the great economic imbalance in our society, which will only widen further due to the threat of budget cuts to basic social services for poor people and low-income communities as part of the deficit reduction plan. Instead, we should be placing a circle of protection around programs that benefit poor people.

On Sunday, October 9, a group of faith-based leaders came down to Wall Street with a golden calf to symbolize the state of national idolatry that many people are witnessing. (Watch the video of this here.) The idol is an ancient one: money. In Matthew 6:24, Jesus cautions us to always beware of this false idol and to be critical of an orientation to wealth over policies of justice for all people. In various Christian traditions, many churches have warned against the idolatry of wealth and profit. In the Catholic tradition we were reminded by the current pope that, “Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty.”

Rev. David Beckmann reminds us of the prophetic tradition and how the words of the prophets (not profits) ought to be critically heard-- especially on economic issues such as the plan to reduce the deficit. Rev. Beckmann tells us in his most recent book, Exodus from Hunger, “The Prophets repeatedly insisted that the way to national security and prosperity was to worship the real God and to establish justice for the poor and needy people.

However you decide to categorize the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, take this opportunity to reflect on our national economic policies from the perspective of our faith and raise your concerns about our unsustainable idolatry of wealth.

John-GonzalezJohn Gonzalez is a regional organizer for Bread for the World serving New York.



Stay Connected

Bread for the World