Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

50 posts from November 2011

Lines for Free School Lunches Grow as Economic Hardship Hits Home

Photo by Flickr user USDAgov

Sometimes life can get pretty difficult because of circumstances beyond our control, and when times get tough, it’s not just the parents who struggle. When I was in junior high, the lumber mill where my dad worked had to reduce its hours. I remember how much my parents worried, and how we lived in constant tension. I also remember feeling a bit of shame as the other kids dropped off their finished lunch trays in the school cafeteria, because I was the one who took these trays and washed the dishes in order to receive a free lunch.

Eventually, the mill went back to full-time hours, and there was lunch money left out for me every day. Although I was embarrassed before, I was grateful that there was a school-lunch option that helped my parents get through the rough times.

Today, more and more families are facing tough times as economic hardship is brought on by mass layoffs and nationwide underemployment. The New York Times reported yesterday that the lines for free school lunches recently grew exponentially -- an increase of 17 percent -- and many of the kids getting a free lunch are from formerly middle-class households:

"In Rochester, unemployed engineers and technicians have signed up their children after the downsizing of Kodak and other companies forced them from their jobs. Many of these formerly middle-income parents have pleaded with school officials to keep their enrollment a secret."

Economic struggle is a time of treading water until you can get firmly back on your feet and start moving forward again. Most families need to piece together safety net programs to meet their basic needs until they can spot the light at the end of the tunnel. For families with kids, free or reduced school lunches are one of the puzzle pieces. Furthermore, giving nutritious food to growing kids must be a high priority for all of us. As a Bread for the World Institute background paper points out:

“Children who experience hunger during the first three years of their lives can suffer damage to their health and development that is largely irreversible. Older children have difficulty concentrating and learning in school and are more prone to behavior problems. All of this can set up a destructive cycle that follows them into adulthood.”

Bread members know how important these lifesaving programs are in tough times. That's why, in 2010, so many of you called and wrote letters asking our members of Congress to pass The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. That work is paying off today and many hungry kids are getting the food they need. Investing in child nutrition is investing in our present and our future.  

Robin-stephensonRobin Stephenson is a regional organizer at Bread for the World.


Teaching Vulnerable Children in Rural Zambia

Florence, left, teaches science at The Great Ones Pre-School in Mpika, Zambia. (Screen shot from the film "The Great Ones Pre-School")

The 11 young women who run The Great Ones Pre-School exemplify the old proverb, "Give a person a fish and they eat for a day. Teach a person to fish and they eat for life." Esnart, Naomi, and their colleagues grew up poor in rural Zambia. Many of them lost one or both parents, leaving their guardians struggling to pay school fees, according to this case study from the University of Pennsylvania. Then they received leadership and entrepreneurship training -- the ability to fish, so to speak -- from Camfed, an organization that educates and empowers girls to be leaders. They decided to open a pre-school for vulnerable children -- kids who lived just like they did years earlier -- and they now teach 52 students.

"A lot of people say that if you are poor, there is nothing you can do in the future," says Naomi, in the film below. "What I have learned is that even if you are poor, you can do something in your life. At least in the future, you can learn, and you can become somebody one day."

Watch the short video to learn more about The Great Ones Pre-School.

This story is part of our Wednesday ViewChange video series.

  Laura-elizabeth-pohlLaura Elizabeth Pohl is multimedia manager at Bread for the World.



The Defenseless Baby and Almighty God

Photo by Flickr user John-Morgan

[Editors' note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. The lectionary readings for this post are Isaiah 2:12-22; Matthew 25:14-30; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.] 

What is it that we want from God? What is it that God wants from us? The writers of Isaiah, Matthew, and Paul work on this question, each in his own way. In these stories and prophecies we recognize God as stern authority figure, a judge, a terrifying presence who doles out punishment in baffling ways on a schedule we can’t, and shouldn’t, try to understand.

Then, at the end of Advent we get a baby, born into the lower strata of society, in an oppressed population in a small town. The baby is born to an unmarried, teen mother, and watched over by nomads and animals. The baby is born as a subject of a dictator so afraid and so loathsome that he kills all of the Jewish boys to shore up his power and keep the population in check.

Isn't it astonishing, then, that we believe that defenseless baby is one with the terrifying, all-powerful, fearsome God that Isaiah, Matthew, and Paul wrote about?

It’s a profound reminder of the strange nature of power. It plays out over and over in the life and times of Jesus, and culminates in the sacrifice of that very defenseless, and yet, very powerful God.

These passages suggest three steps for Advent:

Clear away the encumbrances. The writer of Isaiah describes God’s desire to strip down the towers we build, such as our pride and our baggage. We use these things to protect ourselves from ourselves, from each other, from what God wants us to do. This requires a certain level of honesty about why we do what we do, and a certain clarity of vision, because my motivations for building the self-same tower might be different from you building yours, and I have to be honest with myself.

Examine the gifts we’ve been given. In Matthew, Jesus tells the story of the servant who takes one talent and buries it because he fears the wrath of his master. But God wants us to make use of what we have and not be afraid.

Open our hearts to the unexpected. We must be open to the unexpected presence of God in our lives and the coming of the Messiah. Paul suggests we operate in the time-between-time -- when we don't know what the future holds, and don't know when God will make God’s presence known, but know that God will. We need to be willing to make changes to live in the paradox of the time-between time, even if we thought we knew what we were supposed to be doing.

This is somewhat difficult because of how busy the holidays can be. It is also difficult because our problems are real, immediate, and significant. God’s presence is quiet and steady, and we live in it as a fish lives in water. It takes concentration and love to feel it around us. Fortunately, God demonstrates God's presence most profoundly in the coming of the Immanuel,  God with us.

Prayer: Let me be still and know that you are God. Amen.

Rebecca Davis is a member at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. Visit their website at www.nyapc.org.

Isaiah 2:12-22; Matthew 25:14-30; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Midnight Shoppers Dependent on SNAP

Screenshot from Rock Center with Brian Williams/NBC.

Wait. That is what nearly 15 percent of the U.S. population does every month as they anticipate their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) benefits to drop into their account after midnight on the first of every month. Last night, the NBC News program Rock Center with Brian Williams reported on families on SNAP waiting in the middle of the night to shop for desperately needed food at Wal-Mart.

With increased unemployment and underemployment, more and more families are depending on SNAP to meet their basic food needs.  SNAP is doing its job and is expanding in times of greater need. As the economy stays stagnant, an increasing number of families depend on the government as a line of defense against poverty. Despite some of the highest rates of poverty on record, food insecurity rates have stayed fairly stable because of SNAP's effectiveness.

SNAP also acts as an economic stimulus in local economies. Just one SNAP dollar generates $1.74 in economic activity.  As Bread for the World Institute's 2012 Hunger Report points out, “The SNAP benefits moving through communities save jobs, making it possible for state and local governments to avoid layoffs of teachers, police officers, and other public employees, and preventing layoffs in the private sector as well.”

As Congress continues to debate budget cuts, a program such as SNAP that prevents U.S. families from going hungry must not be weakened.  As a means-tested program, SNAP is exempt from sequestration, but negotiations have accelerated discussions of the farm bill, which funds SNAP. The farm bill is set to expire in 2012 unless it is reauthorized by Congress. Nearly 46 million Americans now depend on SNAP to put food on their tables, and we must keep the program in place for all of these families.

It is easier to bounce back when the fall is short.  Cutting or weakening SNAP may create a canyon that is impossible for struggling families to scale.  


Robin-stephensonRobin Stephenson is regional organizer at Bread for the World.



'A Peace of Bread': New Documentary on Hunger in the United States

Screenshot from A Peace of Bread website.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, there’s going to be a lot on television: holiday baking specials, animated Santa shows, and commercials for the newest “gotta-have-it” toy. Unfortunately, what we’ve really “gotta-have” -- greater awareness of hunger in America -- is getting little airtime.

Every holiday season, there are children who aren’t opening presents or celebrating with a Christmas feast. Surrounded by our own blessings, it can be more difficult to think of those in need and those who are hungry. A new documentary, A Peace of Bread: Faith, Food, and the Future, is looking to change that by bringing attention to the problem of hunger in the United States by highlighting the uplifting work of young activists across the country.

Produced by Diva Communications and being shown by ABC, the film looks at faith-based groups, including Bread for the World, and the different approaches they are taking to end hunger. Several Bread staff members, including Rev. David Beckmann, Rev. Derrick Boykin, Holly Hight, and other activists, are featured in the film.

For a little inspiration to start off your holiday season, be sure to watch A Peace of Bread when it plays in your area. Find out when A Peace of Bread will air by checking the broadcasting schedule here.

Emily-Warner Emily Warne is a communications intern at Bread for the World.



Tools You Can Use: 2012 Hunger Report Christian Study Guide

111117-hungerreportHere’s something new you may not know about the 2012 Hunger Report, Rebalancing Act: Updating U.S. Food and Farm Policies. Bread for the World Institute offers a Christian Study Guide for engaging your congregation, Bible study group, or small group in informative conversations about the report. The study guide features six small-group sessions designed to facilitate discussion and action based on the contents of the report. Created for Christians of many theological and political viewpoints, the study guide is easily adaptable to enhance the group’s experience. Each study guide session includes:

  • Biblical reflection materials and questions
  • A summary of the theme as presented in the Hunger Report, along with reflection questions
  • Activities to engage group members in analyzing current realities, using content from the Hunger Report and their life experiences
  • An invitation to pray and act in light of the discussion.

Each session of the Study Guide also invites participants to consider how they might take action in response to the issues discussed. Session topics include:

  • Session 1: Our Broken Food System can be Transformed
  • Session 2: Nutrition is Critical to Fighting Hunger
  • Session 3: Farm Policies should not Show Favoritism
  • Session 4: Poor and Vulnerable People should be Protected
  • Session 5: Farmers, Farm Workers, and Just Livelihoods
  • Session 6: Community Efforts can Transform Food Systems

The 2012 Hunger Report Christian Study Guide is available online. A hard copy can also be found on page 120 of the printed Hunger Report.

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


We Are Takers: A Prayer by Walter Brueggemann

Photo by Flickr user Artotem

The following prayer by Walter Brueggemann was the final reflection used in a recent human circles event in Portland, OR. The prayer challenges me every time I walk past another downtrodden-looking Portlander with a cardboard sign that says, “Out of Work, Anything Helps.” 

With my own wallet shrinking, I tell myself I have nothing to spare. But is that being a Christian? During this time of economic struggle, many Christians are asking the hard questions about what it means to be faithful in a time of need. In a recent video, Dr. Brueggemann says that love of God and love of neighbor have been separated in our churches and hinder God’s justice.  Do you agree? What does it mean to love one's neighbor?  Do you struggle with measuring out what you give in proportion to what you get?  How does God’s grace spur you toward generosity?

We Are Takers

You are the giver of all good things.
All good things are sent from heaven above,
rain and sun,
day and night,
justice and righteousness,
bread to the eater and
seed to the sower,
peace to the old,
energy to the young,
joy to the babes.

We are takers, who take from you,
day by day, daily bread,
taking all we need as you supply,
taking in gratitude and wonder and joy.

And then taking more,
taking more than we need,
taking more than you give us,
taking from our sisters and brothers,
taking from the poor and the weak,
taking because we are frightened, and so greedy,
taking because we are anxious, and so fearful,
taking because we are driven, and so uncaring.

Give us peace beyond our fear, and so end our greed.
Give us well-being beyond our anxiety, and so end our fear.
Give us abundance beyond our drivenness,
and so end our uncaring.

Turn our taking into giving … since we are in your giving image:
Make us giving like you,
giving gladly and not taking,
giving in abundance, not taking,
giving in joy, not taking,
giving as he gave himself up for us all,
giving, never taking. Amen.

--Walter Brueggemann, from Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth: Prayers of Walter Brueggemann.

Bread for the World will be joining Walter Brueggemann at The Justice Conference in Portland, OR, from February 24 to 25.  Visit their website if you are interested in registering.


Robin-stephensonRobin Stephenson is a regional organizer at Bread for the World.


Wedding Blues: The Act of Waiting and Advent

Photo by Flickr user KRO-Media

[Editors' note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. The lectionary reading for this post is Matthew 25:1-13. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each weekday.]

As my mother related to me many years later, she was mortified on the night of her wedding.  She was only 19 years old and had known my father for only six weeks when she agreed to marry him. On their first night, the sound of crashing of pots and pans outside signaled the local custom of the shivaree. All the men and boys of the town made a great and building hubbub.  There was no hope that they would stop the racket unless the newly married couple came out.  Mom and Dad were ushered outside the house and climbed into the wagon, from whence they were escorted with appropriate crashing of pans through the streets of Webster, Maryland.  The embarrassment was still painful for Mom, 60 years after the event.

My mother’s story came to mind as I read Matthew’s account of the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids. You can’t avoid or ignore customs and rules when you get married. It is simply part of the reality of the event. In Palestine of the first century, there was apparently a custom in which the bridesmaids accompany the groom to the site of the marriage feast. The timing of the feast, and, therefore, the execution of the bridesmaids’ responsibilities are entirely at the discretion of the groom.  As a bridesmaid you cannot predict when he will come; you can only be prepared.  Note that in the parable all ten bridesmaids -- wise and foolish -- get sleepy and fall asleep.  Despite the lesson that Jesus apparently draws, “so stay awake”, none of the bridesmaids in the parable is actually held to that standard.  Rather, the wise maids have enough oil in their lamps when the groom comes so that they can light the way. The foolish maids do not. The lesson is all too clear. We cannot take the second coming out of Advent. 

Some Christians, I know, have a hard time with the parousia -- or, the Second Coming -- but it’s everywhere in the Advent accounts. The first Christians believed with all their hearts and minds that Christ was going to come again, and that, in his coming, the promise of the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection would be made complete.  I find myself clinging more and more to the hope that a time of completion will come -- when everything that is incomplete is made complete, when everything that is broken is made whole. My wish doesn’t make it so, I know, yet that has been the expectation of a cloud of witnesses since the beginnings of the faith.

Prayer: Come, Lord Jesus, come. And, when you come, let us be prepared. Amen.

Paul Dornan is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. Visit their website at www.nyapc.org.

Hunger Resources: Farm Subsidies. Black Unemployment. Budget Tsunami.

Photo by Flickr user thejester100

In this next installment of hunger resources, I've created a short list of articles that cover farm subsidies, black unemployment, the federal budget and more. Got any hunger resources of your own? Share them in the comments section below.

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

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


A Day in the Life of Homeless Families Living in Cars

Screenshot from "Hard Times Generation," 60 Minutes.

In a moving “60 Minutes” segment aired last night, correspondent Scott Pelley  interviews several homeless families in Florida who have been hit hard by a struggling economy. With sustained high unemployment rates, and the state's suffering construction industry, many of these families have lost their homes and are now living in their cars.

Pelley reported that of all the families without shelter in America, one-third are in Florida. Pelley introduces viewers to one of these families – the Metzger’s -- who have been living in their truck for more than five months. Arielle Metzger is 15 years old, and her brother, Austin, is just 13. They live with their father, Tom, who is a carpenter and unable to find work. The kids get ready for school in various gas stations, and store their food -- only canned -- in a plastic bin in their truck. At the end of each day, Tom searches for a safe spot to park their truck for the night.

More than 16 million kids live in poverty in America. If you think that number is too high, as I do, then I encourage you to watch this revealing report of what these children in poverty are experiencing every day of their young lives—sleeping in fear, brushing their teeth in gas stations, worrying about their parents' safety, and dreaming of a day when they can sleep in a home of their own.

Jeannie-choiJeannie Choi is associate editor at Bread for the World.


Stay Connected

Bread for the World