Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

42 posts from October 2011

Sen. John Kerry: Children in Massachusetts are Hungry

111019_johnkerry[Editors’ note: For the next few weeks, we’ll be running a series of posts on Bread Blog about each member of the Super Committee. If you live in Sen. John Kerry's district, please share this blog post with your family and friends, and message Sen. Kerry on his Facebook page or through Twitter.]

There’s a letter floating around Massachusetts that has been signed by a Quaker leader, a Greek Orthodox pastor, and a Unitarian minister, along with dozens more religious leaders from various denominations.

This “sign-on” letter is supported by religious leaders across the state and will be delivered to Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), who is a member of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (or the Super Committee). The letter calls on the senator to use his position to protect programs that serve the most vulnerable people in the United States and around the world. The letter serves as a prophetic call to Sen. Kerry and all who read it: In these times of economic uncertainty, we must protect programs that allow people to meet their most basic needs.

Sen. Kerry and his Super Committee colleagues have an onerous task: to identify at least $1.2 trillion in federal deficit reductions over 10 years by November 23, 2011. The Super Committee can make spending cuts, raise taxes, and cut almost anything else in the federal budget they deem necessary.

In the meantime, the Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) in Massachusetts recently reported that they are committed to providing at least one meal a day to families in need in Eastern Massachusetts in response to the growing realities of hunger in the state. Catherine D’Amato, president and CEO of GBFB reports, “More than one-third of the 545,000 people served by GBFB last year were children, and that number will grow this year.”

These unthinkable numbers, paired with our knowledge of famine and extreme poverty around the world, is what has prompted local religious leaders in Massachusetts to call for real deficit solutions that do not disproportionately harm people in poverty.

Please join Bread in calling on Sen. Kerry to form a circle of protection around programs vital to hungry and poor people in Massachusetts, throughout the country, and around the world. If you are a religious leader and would like to add your name to the letter, please email srohrer@bread.org.

+Call Sen. Kerry at 1-800-826-3688 and ask him to protect poor and hungry people today!

Sarah Rohrer is a regional organizer for Bread for the World serving Massachusetts.

Official photo of Sen. John Kerry.

Sen. Max Baucus: Montanans Depend on SNAP

Max_baucus1_200px[Editors’ note: For the next few weeks, we’ll be running a series of posts on Bread Blog about each member of the Super Committee. If you live in Sen. Max Baucus' district, please share this blog post with your family and friends, and message Sen. Baucus on his Facebook page.]

In August 2011, 126,723 households in Montana depended on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps) to make it through the month. You might think you don’t know people who depend on SNAP, but they could be your neighbor, a church member, or someone in your extended family. In fact, you might also have a story of how these benefits helped you through a rough time in your life and kept you and your family fed and out of poverty.

For 61-year-old Barb Compton, of Missoula, MT, the monthly benefit she gets from SNAP means everything. “Because I live on a Social Security disability fixed income, I rely on SNAP benefits for my food staples. I am still at the food bank at the end of every month because the $100 I receive is not enough to buy food for the entire month. If I lost my food stamp benefits, or they were reduced, I wouldn’t be able to put gas in my car, go to necessary medical appointments, get to work, or purchase needed medications.”

SNAP benefits don’t just help Compton. They’re an important resource for local communities struggling in the economic downturn. Just one SNAP dollar generates $1.73 to $1.79 in economic growth.

As a member of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (or Super Committee), Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) has a powerful voice in the ongoing debt negotiations. With more than one in seven in Montana—including one in five children—living below the poverty line, Sen. Baucus can use his vote to reduce the deficit, but also reduce poverty and inequality at the same time. The Hungry in Montana 2010 report produced by the Montana Food Network recommends that a combined effort to improve family economic security, maximize participation in public food programs, and increase access to healthy foods is the most effective way to ensure food security for hungry Montanans. Cutting or block granting programs such as SNAP would have far-reaching consequences for vulnerable Montanans.

Protecting hungry and poor people is a fundamental value of this country and an imperative to Christians who are called to love our neighbors. Sen. Baucus may be the voice that decides whether the lifeline Barb depends on is removed.

Please join Bread for the World and ask Sen. Baucus to form a circle of protection around programs that are vital to hungry and poor people in Montana, throughout the country, and around the world. For Montana constituents, he has made it easy by creating a special electronic form asking for ideas from Montanans.  You can also call Sen. Baucus at 1-800-826-3688 today.

Robinstephenson_60pxRobin Stephenson is a regional organizer for Bread for the World who serves Montana.


 Official photo of Sen. Max Baucus.

Dispatches from Africa: A Notebook, a Long Walk, and Nutrition for All

Gary Cook and Nancy Neal of Bread for the World in Malawi.

Kennedy Mbereko carries a notebook in his back pocket. Ask him about it, and he will show you the pages where he records all of the visits he makes to households with undernourished children. There are comments on the children's condition, notations about latrines and hand washing facilities, a record of which families have received training on healthy diets, and a list of the other 11 people (two men and nine women) who serve as the Care Group for this village of Jombo in southern Malawi. These teams are at the very center of the global effort to "scale up nutrition" for women and children around the world.

For six days, our group of U.S. church leaders has been exploring efforts to improve maternal and child nutrition in Zambia and Malawi. Our goal is to understand how U.S. foreign assistance enables countries to improve the nutrition of their citizens, especially women and young children. Our exploration has been framed by the 1000 Days movement, which focuses attention on the nutritional needs of children from conception through age 2.

Our meetings with officials and visits to programs have reminded me of peeling back the layers of an onion. We started on the outside, first learning the terminology of undernutrition, such as "stunting" and "wasting," and looking at government strategies and USAID programs. We then dug a little deeper, meeting with NGOs and church agencies that plan and implement programs. Along the way, we went deeper still, visiting a Zambian hospital ward for severely malnourished children and witnessing the fragile little bodies that define "wasting" in a way that the statistics cannot capture. We have been highly impressed with the knowledge and commitment of people at all levels -- of USAID staff, government officials, medical personnel and NGO staff.

But it wasn't until yesterday that we reached the innermost layer of this complex issue of nutrition. Standing in a remote village talking with Kennedy, I was once again reminded that 90 percent of the effort to overcome debilitating hunger and poverty comes from poor and hungry people themselves. Global campaigns are important; foreign assistance is vital; strong agencies and good planning are essential, but it is the thousands of people like him, armed with notebooks, simple educational materials, and a knowledge of ways to improve nutrition using a community's own resources that make up the heart and soul of this effort.

I was surprised that our presenter was a man. We tend to think of nutrition as a women's issue, and most of the Care Group members are women. But Catholic Relief Services, in designing the Wellness and Agriculture for Life Advancement (WALA) project, made a decision to engage men at the village level. It is important that men understand both the need and the solutions, they reasoned, so that other men will not relegate nutrition to a women's concern and will be more willing to participate in solutions at the household and community level. Judging from the obvious buy-in from this village's male leader, it seems to be working.

Study Kennedy's face and you discover a slight tinge of pride. He understands the importance of the role that has been entrusted to him. He knows that what he is doing will make a real difference in the lives of the scores of children who cluster around us, posing for our cameras. And while the overall situation for this village looks bleak, as another "hunger season" approaches, it is impossible not to share a little of his hope -- and just a tiny bit of his pride. The notebook he carries, the training material he uses, the skills that he has learned are all made possible by USAID funding of this Catholic Relief Services administered project. Although far from the center of this battle, as Christian advocates for a strong U.S. government commitment to maternal and child nutrition, we are standing with Kennedy and thousands of women and men like him.

Gary Cook is interim vice president of policy and program at Bread for the World.

Why We Cannot Support the Lugar Farm Bill Proposal

Four-year-old Aijelene Ferreras, of Takoma Park, MD, is one of thousands of children who receive free and reduced school lunches.

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) has introduced a farm bill proposal that includes harmful cuts and changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). This bill could eliminate food assistance to about 1 million low-income people by partially repealing what’s known as “categorical eligibility.” More than 40 states currently use categorical eligibility, an option that allows them to streamline gross income eligibility rules and the financial asset test for SNAP. Repealing this option would negatively impact families with children and could cause about 200,000 children to lose their free school meals. This option also would strip states of their flexibility in administering SNAP, creating further administrative burdens and likely increasing administrative costs and error rates.

With poverty and unemployment reaching record rates, the need for food assistance has never been greater. SNAP is vital to millions of Americans and has helped keep the number of families struggling to put food on the table from increasing for the last three years. The program must not be cut in this way.

Congress has protected SNAP and reduced poverty in every deficit-reduction effort in the past three decades. It is our country’s moral responsibility to ensure that vulnerable children and families don’t go hungry. We must continue to protect this vital program from harmful cuts.

To take action, call 1-800-826-3688 and tell your member of Congress to protect SNAP in any efforts to reduce the deficit and oppose proposals such as the Lugar/Stutzman bill. Furthermore, while poverty and unemployment across the United States has increased, SNAP has helped keep the number of families struggling to put food on the table from increasing for the last three years, and every major deficit-reduction effort in the past three decades has protected SNAP and actually reduced poverty. 

+Learn more about hunger and the U.S. budget.

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

Pastors, Have You Preached On Hunger Lately?

David Beckmann (center) with other religious leaders at an Interfaith Convocation held at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, in June, 2007. (Photo by Rick Reinhard.)

To all of our members who are pastors or active members of their congregations, think back on the past few years of Sundays and ask yourself, when is the last time you discussed hunger and poverty at church?

Bread for the World Sunday is a great opportunity for congregations to renew their commitment to ending hunger and poverty. This Sunday, October 16, 2011 (which also happens to be World Food Day), thousands of congregations across the country will lift up their voices on behalf of hungry people.

Through education, prayer, and worship, communities will recommit themselves to the fight against hunger and poverty in our country and around the world.

Take part in Bread for the World Sunday! Join us as we rejoice in our calling as Jesus’ disciples—equipped and emboldened to act, creating hope and opportunity for hungry people.

And if it's too late to plan for this Sunday, don't worry. Plenty of congregations hold a Bread for the World Sunday any other time of year, but most often sometime before Thanksgiving.

+Check out all of our resources to make your Bread for the World Sunday an encouraging experience for your church.

Carter-EcholsCarter Echols is interim director of church relations at Bread for the World.


Hunger Resources: Smarter Farming. MDG Report Card. Nourishing Latino Children.

Bread for the World Librarian Chris Matthews curates a list of resources for readers who want to stay on top of the latest information about hunger.

In this next installment of hunger resources, I've gathered a collection of articles on the connection between agriculture and food resources, and how aid enables global development. Got any hunger resources of your own? Share them in the comments section below:

  • Special Food Issue, (The Nation):
    Michael Pollan, Michelle Chen, Frances Moore Lappe, Eric Schlosser, Raj Patel, Bridget Haber, Daniel Imhoff, and others write about the food movement, why hunger is still with us, the inner workings of the Farm Bill, and more.
  • A Push to Farm Smarter -- Not Bigger -- to Feed the World's Hungry, (The Christian Science Monitor): 
    "For more than 30 years, Porfirio Bastida never considered changing the way he farms his 1.2 acre cornfield in Texcoco, in the central Mexican highlands .... So he joined forces with a nearby research institute called the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). It helped him switch from the practices he'd employed his whole life to conservation-agriculture techniques: rotating crops, not tilling, leaving residue from the previous harvest to act as a sponge atop the land."
  • Bringing Agriculture to the Table, (The Chicago Council on Global Affairs):
    "The agriculture and food system plays a significant role in the illness and early death that arise out of the imbalanced diets, empty calories, and overconsumption that are rampant in high- and middle-income countries and increasingly apparent in the nutrition and epidemiological transitions under way in developing countries."
  • Millenium Development Goals Progress Index 2011, (Center for Global Development):
    "Last year, as international attention focused on the Millennium Development Goals, the international community committed to redouble efforts toward achieving the highly ambitious MDG targets by the 2015 deadline. CGD’s MDG Progress Index showed how countries were doing. Now, with new data for 2009 and 2010, the Index has been updated."
  • Comer Bien: The Challenges of Nourishing Latino Children and Families, (National Council of La Raza):
    "Millions of American children are suffering from hunger or obesity, nutritional deficits that place them at great risk for developing health conditions that plague them into adulthood ... Latinos' -- the fastest-growing segment of the child population -- have some of the highest rates of child obesity; nearly 40 percent of Latino children are overweight or obese."
  • From Aid to Global Development Cooperation, (Brookings):
    "The context for aid is changing. Globalization has spurred economic convergence, upending the 20th-century economic balance and creating a smaller world where both problems and solutions spill across national borders more readily."

+Click here for a full list of what we're reading at Bread for the World.

Chris Matthews is the librarian at Bread for the World Institute.

Tapping Into Women's Experiences in South Africa

Ma Grace Masuku, a community health worker in South Africa, is interviewed for a radio program in New York City.

Ma Grace Masuku's approach to sustainable development is decidedly low-tech, even old-fashioned: She passes on knowledge she and other women learned from their mothers and grandmothers.

"We tap into the experience of the women there -- what they do best," said Masuku. "And what is important is that it's not something that she copied, it's something within her culture."

I did a little Internet digging on Ms. Masuku and found she recently received The Order of the Baobab in Bronze award from South African President Jacob Zuma for her work in environmental conservation. The award website has words of praise for Masuku:

Her undoubted vocation is organising women and the youth around her and showing them how to use the environment in a sustainable way. Her efforts to alleviate poverty, using her own brand of wisdom, have not gone unnoticed.

Ms. Masuku's initiatives include a leather-producing project, and a traditional herb medicine operation. Watch the video below to learn more about her philosophy and work.

This story is part of our Wednesday ViewChange video series.

Dispatches from Africa: Card Carrying Moms

Mothers in Zambia will keep "health cards" for each of their children that contain detailed information about the child's growth and health. (Photo by Racine Tucker-Hamilton)

When I think of the valuable "cards" in my wallet, images of my bank or credit card come to mind. For many Zambian mothers there's another card that carries weight, and it has nothing to do with money or credit. It's called a "Road to Health Card." 

The "Road to Health Card" is similar to a U.S. child's immunization card, but contains more detailed information about the child's growth from birth to age 5. Without the card mothers have to rely on their memories and deliver the information verbally, which can be unreliable.

The card is rather bulky and awkward, stretching to about 8 X 12 when opened and printed on very heavy card stock. Pink cards are assigned to girls and boys get blue ones. The design is very colorful and bright. At first glance it reminds you of something that was designed for a child, but the information it holds is anything but child's play. 

Susan Strasser from the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation told us about the cards when she spoke with our group on our first night in Zambia. "Mothers will save them for years and they are often tattered and torn," she said. Susan also shared information about the country's high rate of stunting. Forty-five percent of Zambian children under 5are stunted, which means they are too short for their height and weight, and 21 percent are severely stunted.

Seeking medical care for a malnourished or sick child can be an arduous journey for a mother who may have to travel for many miles and days. She knows the information on that card could mean the difference between life or death for her child. That is why many Zambian moms don't leave home without it.

To keep up with our journey, be sure to follow us on Twitter @Bread4theWorld and #nutritionAfrica.

Racine-Tucker-Hamilton Racine Tucker-Hamilton is media relations manager at Bread for the World.



Rep. Dave Camp: Food is a Basic Need

111012_davecamp[Editors’ note: For the next few weeks, we’ll be running a series of posts on Bread Blog about each member of the Super Committee. If you live in Rep. Dave Camp’s district (4th/MI), please share this blog post with your family and friends, and message Rep. Camp on his Facebook page or through Twitter.]

In Michigan’s 4th district, Kathy Smith, 68, works at her church’s food pantry to help ease the hunger and poverty that affects so many people in the area. In this congressional district, more than one in six people, including one in five children, lives below the poverty line (set at $22,113 for a family of four).

“We feed about 350 families a month, and we also have a community café, which provides a nice, hot meal once a week,” Smith says. As a longtime volunteer and advocate for poor and hungry people, Smith has seen how hunger has affected her community. “In recent years we’re finding more people who are employed, but are not making a living wage. They’re underemployed. And we’re also finding older people who never come to pantries, now coming.”

Indeed, what Smith regularly witnesses supports recent government reports that show that while 40.8 percent of people in poverty in Michigan’s 4th district had a job in 2010, they still could not make ends meet.

The district is represented in Congress by Dave Camp (R-MI), who currently serves on the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (or Super Committee). The committee must identify at least $1.2 trillion in federal deficit reductions over 10 years by November 23, 2011. Everything is on the table: the committee can raise taxes, make spending cuts, let tax cuts for wealthy Americans expire, or make changes to anything else in the federal budget.

In light of Michigan’s dire statistics, and the stories of working people who are hungry and living in poverty, it is imperative that Rep. Dave Camp and the entire Super Committee protect programs that are vital to people like those who are struggling in his district.  

For Kathy Smith, the choice is simple: Hungry people deserve the priority. “I just think if people are hungry, that’s pretty basic. Food is a basic need. I can’t imagine being hungry, so it’s something that I’m involved in, and that’s where I hang my hat,” Smith says.

Please join Bread in asking Rep. Camp to form a circle of protection around programs vital to hungry and poor people in Michigan, throughout the country, and around the world. Call Rep. Camp at 1-800-826-3688 today.

Official Photo of Rep. Dave Camp.

Dispatches from Africa: Stunting More Dangerous Than a Movie Set

Hollywood stuntmen -- like Bud Ekins, Paul Manz, Yakima Canutt and others -- face life-threatening risks to bring danger to life in breathtaking performances. Through extraordinary athleticism and skill, they survive falling from skyscrapers, rolling in flames, and crawling away from five rollovers in a burning, speeding, crashed up car. We marvel at their risky job. Hollywood is dangerous. But this week I met a kind of "stunting" that has no director saying “cut,” and no "going home" at the end of the day.

Stunting is the clinical term for the insidious robbery that happens to millions of children because of malnutrition. Stunting is when growth falls at least two standard deviations below normal. What if month after month your child's growth plummeted down two standard deviations and kept falling? And all it would take is simple nutrition to change the trend. I know I would be ready to leap through a flaming inferno to get nutrition for that child, but what if there was no food to change it – no matter my passion, maternal drive, or willingness to sacrifice?

If stunting happens in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life (from conception to 2 years old), its effects on the brain and the body are irreversible. Now, consider the 19 countries of the world where stunting is robbing healthy futures of 30 to 40 percent of the children. Their precarious days are fragile because they often cannot survive even a routine childhood disease like measles. Stunting is what makes “malnutrition the world’s most serious health problem and the single biggest contributor to child mortality,” according to the World Bank.

So who are the heroes on this set? In part, you are. The U.S. churches, the U.S. government, and U.S. medical and nutrition specialists are joining with health and community heroes in Africa and the rest of the developing world.

A hospital we visited recently in Zambia was a pediatric malnutrition unit with mothers and fathers at the bedsides of tiny children.  Many of the children were being treated successfully to bring them back to normal weights. But the number of children in the ward had tripled, mushrooming to more than 140 in one week. "It will continue to grow," the attendant noted sadly. “We expect it to triple; it is the beginning of the hunger season.”

The children were, of course, at different stages of malnutrition and each family worthy of a story all their own. I will just mention briefly a beautiful young mother with her son Godfrey who was 1 year and 5 months old. He had been in treatment two weeks, and his mother Ruth was delighted that he was almost ready for discharge. We studied his growth chart where she showed us how he had dropped weight initially when he came into the hospital. The doctors told us that was a result of the edema that results from the malnutrition. Once the fluid is gone, then the child can turn the trend and start to gain weight.

This was true of Godfrey’s chart, and after day three, he began to gain weight properly. Ruth was so proud and relieved at his progress, that when I asked, “Is he stronger now?” she gladly lifted him up from the bed and put him down to show us that he could walk like a happy toddler -- leaning-forward while taking a few steps to a green toy car. It was joy and hope personified. This was a moment of universal connection as I was reminded of all the precious toddlers that I have cheered on as they have trundled toward my waiting arms. As it is with each child, so it is with the world.

There is a simple plan to tackle the lethal danger of stunting. Nations, groups, women, and parents are committing to scaling up nutrition in cost-effective ways. At home and abroad, join the effort! Target stunting in your ministries, philanthropy, and charitable efforts. Maintain U.S. aid and support. Act on your faith. End hunger.

Suzii Paynter is the director of advocacy and care at the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

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