Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

50 posts from November 2011

Behind the Scenes: How We Found the Farmers for Our Short Film "In Short Supply"

Siblings Sherilyn Shepard (left) and Ricky Horton (right) are former tobacco farmers who now grow produce in Blackwater, VA. (Sherilyn photograph by Brad Horn for Bread for the World, Ricky photograph by Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World.)

One of the hardest parts of creating a short film such as "In Short Supply" -- Bread for the World's companion video story to the 2012 Hunger Report -- is finding the right people to be in it. Unless you're a wanna-be reality star, who wants cameras following them around in their daily lives? That's why knowing a trusted insider -- someone who's trusted by both you (the storyteller) and the potential people who could be in your story -- is key.

In the case of "In Short Supply," Bread's trusted insider was Robin Robbins, the food safety and marketing manager at Appalachian Harvest, an organization that helps small farmers market and distribute their organic produce. Robin and I met back in April when my colleague, Todd Post, and I traveled down to southwestern Virginia to report on Appalachian Harvest's operations. Robin showed us around the organization's packing house (which you can see in the video story below), explained their processes, and took us out to her own farm. She even gave Todd and me fragrant little pots of basil, rosemary, and stevia from her greenhouse.

Screen shot of Robin Robbins, Appalachian Harvest's food safety and marketing manager, who was instrumental in helping Bread for the World identify Sherilyn Shepard and Ricky Horton for our short film "In Short Supply."

A few months later, when I wanted to film a story about small farmers, I contacted Robin to help me. She's a real firecracker who gets things done. I needed a very specific kind of person to be in the video story, so I explained to Robin what I was looking for and why. As a filmmaker, it's important for me to explain the "why" part, because often people who don't work as visual storytellers might not understand all the research and mechanics that go into producing a good visual story. For example, when I film or photograph a story, I need people to actually be doing things -- like picking tomatoes or driving a tractor -- so that I have compelling photos and video. It's not interesting to film or photograph people talking about what it's like to pick tomatoes or drive a tractor. Also, capturing real moments as they happen requires spending a lot of time with people.

I emailed Robin in mid-July and asked if she knew a farmer who we could spend nearly all of our time documenting. I told her the person would need to be:

*   A former tobacco farmer who used to receive government subsidies
*   A person who generates a substantial income from growing produce
*   A person who's involved with ASD [Appalachian Sustainable Development, the parent organization for Appalachian Harvest]
*   A person who will be doing actual work on his/her farm while we're there
*   A person who is articulate and open and not afraid or shy around cameras
*   Preferably a person with a family - spouse/partner and kids (to show interaction with other people)

Robin, being the rock star she is, found three farmers who fit the bill. My colleague Molly Marsh, freelancer Brad Horn, and I drove down to Duffield, VA, on July 22 and met the farmers that night in Appalachian Harvest's packing house. Robin came in and out of our informal meeting since she was busy grading produce and packing it for distribution. The rest of us sat around a table getting to know each other.

Afterwards, Molly, Brad, and I decided Ricky Horton and his sister Sherilyn Shepard would be wonderful people for our short film. We asked, they accepted, and then Molly, Brad, and I spent most of the next several days filming, photographing, and recording audio of Ricky and Sherilyn's daily lives. We stood in wet cucumber fields and climbed on tractors. We learned about pink eye in cows and water damage to tomatoes. I feel we all came to a mutual understanding and respect for each others' work; spending a week together can do that for you.

What makes Ricky and Sherilyn great characters for this story is their down-to-earthness, and their frank way of explaining things. One of my favorites parts of the film is when Ricky says, "It takes work to grow vegetables. It's more or less just a living thing like you are: It's got its ups and downs, and has its good times and bad times." What a great comparison. You and I -- we're just like tomatoes or cucumbers!

I'm grateful that Ricky, Sherilyn, their families, and their employees allowed us into their lives. When you watch the video, it's one week of life compressed into 12-and-a-half minutes. But really, the story began back in April, with my visit to Appalachian Harvest and a meeting with Robin Robbins, a trusted insider.

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


Seeking the Spirit Amidst the Sales

Photo by Flickr user auxesis

[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 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Matthew 24:36-44; Romans 13:11-14.  Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each weekday.]

Friends, once again we have come to the new year -- a time for a fresh start. That is why the four lectionary passages above are about miraculous events: the beginning of the reign of peace in Zion, the end of wars, the “beating of swords into plowshares,” the turning of stealth bombers into hospitals, the sudden arrival of the Son of Man. Or as Paul says, “Prepare, for salvation is nearer than you expect.” Isaiah urges us, “Come, let us walk in the light of the LORD.”

December is coming, which is our most spiritual, musical and celebratory time of year.  I look forward to it as a time to enjoy family, friends, our church community and to remember all that God has given.

Yet interrupting this list of gratitude, just in time for the shopping season,  is news of “The Super Power Sale,” and Cyber Monday. Really? Super Power? How do I hold onto the Spirit in this onslaught of marketing?  Sadly, once I buy into these bargains and lists of what I and others lack, I’m pushed towards December 25 in a great rush, then it passes quickly and leaves behind only bills and bags of crushed wrapping paper.

Do expensive presents prove how much we love someone?  I think that is at the heart of this ad-induced, buying frenzy. Do great gifts prove great love? They certainly create a childish delight and momentary abundance. Yet I wonder whether there’s more to celebrate by holding onto a list of gratitude than reaching out for a pile of new things.

One of the main influences on how we celebrate Christmas is a “ghostly little book” that Charles Dickens wrote in 1843.  In the 1840s, cheap alcohol was a huge problem, and Christmas was an excuse for many men to skip work and get royally drunk.  Then Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, which emphasized an old British custom.  Back then landlords, shopkeepers, and aristocrats would give presents and holiday food to their tenant farmers, the lowest-paid employees and servants.  The gifts were unexpected and there was no thought of a gift exchange.  The well-off were showing their gratitude to those who worked for them.

So the prosperous gave heart-felt gifts to let the least-prosperous know that they were appreciated, valued, and remembered. It was not a multi-billion dollar crossfire of expensive gifts prompted by a multi-million ad campaign urging everyone to buy extravagantly.

I find that this earlier form of one-way giving much closer to the Spirit of Christmas.  I feel that in this Spirit, God gave us the Christ child as a heart-felt gift, a great light to a dark, warring world. We should take it to heart and walk gratefully into the light of God.

Prayer: Lord, how wondrous are your gifts. What more do we need to receive? Your grace dissolves our sins, just as light dispels the darkest night.

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

This Year, Send Bread for the World Christmas Cards


The results are in for this year's Christmas card design!

The winning photograph features a woman praying with her son in Kashmir. The photo received more than 42 percent of the votes.

Thank you for taking the time to vote for your favorite design.
We hope you'll consider sending Bread for the World Christmas cards to your friends and family this year.

Get ahead of the game and pre-order your Christmas cards now.

We'll ship your order to you so you won't have to scramble at the last minute to find meaningful cards for your loved ones.

Thank you for voting and for your continued support of Bread for the World's work to end hunger.


A Prayer for Thanksgiving: May We Love Those Who Hunger

111126-thanksgivingDuring this season devoted by tradition to a national expression of thanks for bountiful harvests, plentiful food, and other material blessings, people of faith understand that God calls our nation, not only to thanksgiving, but to repentance and a new commitment. God calls us to repentance from a national mindset that resists public responsibility for hunger in our midst and a new commitment to address the needs of hungry people in our land.

We know that hunger exists in this great land of plenty, and that it is growing. We also know that, in terms of food production capabilities, hunger need not exist anywhere in today's world, and certainly not in this country. And we know, beyond the shadow of any doubt, that the love of Christ calls us to do all we can to change the situation.

Therefore, in these quiet moments as we give thanks, let us also pray for our neighbors who will not eat enough this day -- that they may be filled; for our nation and those who shape its policies -- that the elimination of hunger may truly become a national priority. And let us pray for ourselves -- that we may be filled with such love for those who hunger -- that we commit ourselves to unaccustomed actions that will send a strong, determined signal to our national leaders to work for an end to hunger in our land of plenty.

(from Psalm 67, read responsively)

God, show kindness and bless us,   
And make your face to smile on us!
For then the earth will acknowledge your ways,   
And all nations know your power to save.
Let the nations praise you, 0 God,   
Let all the nations praise you.
Let the nations shout and sing for joy,   
Since you bring true justice to the world.
The soil has given its harvest,   
God, our God, has blessed it.
May God bless us, and let God be feared,   
To the very ends of the earth!


+This blog post is excerpted from a Thanksgiving Service for Commitment written by Bread for the World. 

Caption: A woman who is part of the jjajja (grannies) group at St. Francis Healthcare Services in Njeru, Uganda, helps plant a matoke tree. Many grandmothers in Uganda are raising their grandchildren since their own children died of AIDS. Teaching the grandmothers to grow their own food is one way for the women to remain self-sufficient. Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl.

What if Thanksgiving Was Cut?

Photo by Flickr user OakleyOriginals

As my colleague Ben D’Avanzo wrote earlier, the American Farm Bureau Federation reported that Thanksgiving dinner will cost 13 percent more this year.  The average cost for 10 servings with the basic trimmings totals $49.20 or about $5.00 per person, which seems reasonable as long as no one wants seconds.  But if your family is anything like mine, Thanksgiving is a meal that starts mid-afternoon and continues with grazing throughout the evening, interspersed with re-told stories (a few that are actually true), football, and ends with very full bellies.

The average $5.00 a serving got me thinking about the more than 45 million Americans in August who depended on a SNAP (food stamps) allocation of about $4 a day to meet their food needs.  A Thanksgiving feast is already difficult for many struggling in today’s tough economy.

Then I started thinking about future Thanksgivings and about some of the possible ways our Congress may decide to cut the budget. Even though the Super Committee ended its talks, many of the programs Bread members care about are at risk. What if Congress decides to block grant a program like SNAP so the safety-net program can no longer expand in times of need?  What if they cut or reduce other programs, like the Earned Income Tax Credit, that low-income working Americans use to piece together resources that meet their basic needs?

Thanksgiving is an American ritual where food reinforces our values, our relationships and it is time to thank God for our abundance of blessings.  It’s a time to share bread and wine with our family, neighbors, friends and sometimes the stranger. Throughout the Bible, sharing meals -- whether with the multitude or during the Last Supper -- is a powerful symbol that reinforces what it means to share the body of Christ. Thanksgiving is for everyone -- but what if it isn’t?  What if Thanksgiving is a meal that only the privileged can afford?

As Bread founder Art Simon reminds us in a recent letter, “cutting these programs [such as SNAP] will have a devastating impact on the most vulnerable members of our society.”  I can’t stand idly by and just imagine “what ifs.” Despite the end of the Super Committee talks, members of Congress will continue to negotiate deficit reduction proposals. Please join me and other Bread members using our gift of citizenship this Thanksgiving season, and ask our members of Congress to protect poor and hungry people. Let’s share God’s abundance with others.

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



Abandonment in the Midst of Abundance: Protecting Poor and Hungry People

Photo by Flickr user .v1ctor.

"Abandonment in the midst of abundance." This is the provocative phrase that is still ringing in my ears after a circle of protection event last week in East Harlem, New York. This is how Willie Baptist, a formerly homeless scholar-in-residence from the Poverty Initiative assessed our current socioeconomic situation as he was reflecting on his history of educating and organizing people – many of them homeless.

During a recession, when it seems headlines threaten economic collapse or ruin, the consistent theme we hear is “not enough.” As a result, we lose sight of the abundance present among us -- the reality of abundance in the United States. Sometimes, I find that I have bought into this fear as well. Nonprofit jobs are even less stable than they once were. My husband is a student. Perhaps I, too, should snap up my wallet and cease my giving in fear of what tomorrow may bring.

But here is why I am more connected to some of the budget rhetoric than I might like to admit: When I think about my family’s budget, I find it is easier to imagine maintaining my current lifestyle and cutting back on the donations we make than it is for me to say, “In my moral budget the first thing to go is the extras -- the extravagances that I enjoy because of the abundance I experience.”

And yet, that is exactly what I expect from the government. Personal and federal budgets are not one and the same, certainly, but as a Christian, I feel my call to the government for a circle of protection around poor and hungry people reverberating in my spirit. It is the same anxiety and questioning that comes to me when I read about the early Christian community: “They would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:45). When reading this, I ask myself, how do I interpret this for my life?

I will continue to call on my members of Congress to protect the essential programs that mean families are able to put food on the table, or move out of poverty, or get quality child care. To provide a social safety net is part of our nation’s moral fabric, and to call for justice within that government is part of my privilege and Christian calling. But I will also discern for myself what this call looks like for me as a person of faith in a time of such great need.

On my walk back to the Bread office from East Harlem, I see both the abundance of multi-million dollar homes, as well as the abandonment of the man on the street, unsuccessfully seeking formula for his baby daughter. In this space I try to imagine what the kingdom of God on earth can look like, and how each part of my life can be about that promise.

Sarah-rohrerSarah Rohrer is a regional organizer for Bread for the World.


For Hungry Families, the Rising Cost of Thanksgiving is a Burden

Photo by Flickr user St0rmz 

As we sit down and give thanks for our Thanksgiving meal tomorrow, we must also remember to be thankful that we are able to afford the dinner itself. In 2011, families continued to face job losses and a stagnant economy. Many in Congress, intent on cutting the deficit, are looking to cut important assistance programs. Despite these difficult realities, food prices continue to rise, and Thanksgiving may be unaffordable for many struggling families this year.

A new survey from the National Farm Bureau calculated how much a Thanksgiving dinner would cost in different geographic areas, and pooled the results. They estimated the cost of a 10-person dinner to be $49.20. That’s a $5.73 increase over last year, or a 13 percent bump.  Over the past five Thanksgivings, the cost has risen nearly 30 percent. The holiday marking the beginning of the season of giving may become a holiday where many families are left behind.

Much of this price increase comes from the rising cost of healthier foods. The centerpiece of a Thanksgiving meal -- the turkey -- costs 22 percent more than last year. Hungry families want to eat balanced nutritious meals, but the high cost of protein makes this incredibly difficult. The high price of turkey reflects the higher costs of protein across the board. For example, dairy products cost 9 percent more than they did one year ago. Furthermore, the prices of meat and egg products are now 7.4 percent higher. These rising costs are particularly hard on families with a very limited food budget, like those on SNAP (formerly food stamps).

The Farm Bureau survey finds that it costs about $5.73 per person to feed 10 people a basic Thanksgiving dinner. Unfortunately, the average SNAP recipient only gets about $1.50 a meal. Even worse, SNAP benefits have not increased fast enough to keep up with these swiftly rising food prices.

One year ago, a family may have been able to buy more with their slim allotment than they are today. Despite these rising food prices, many in Congress want to cut SNAP benefits even further. One-in-seven households is already struggling to put food on the table. We can clearly see that many families are suffering in this economy while food prices rise. With no end to these trends in sight, now is clearly not the time to cut these important programs when we join our friends and family to celebrate gratitude this week.

Ben-d'avanzoBen D'Avanzo is the Mimi Meehan Fellow at Bread for the World.


While We Feast, Africa Prepares for Hunger Season

In early 2011, Desire came to Omoana House, a rehabiliation center in Njeru, Uganda, as a malnourished young girl. But with proper healthcare and feeding -- including nutrition supplements provided by USAID -- she has grown healthy. Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl.

With Thanksgiving tomorrow, we have officially entered the holiday season! It seems as if there is a "season" for just about everything. Many of us are finding special ways to show our gratitude and preparing special meals during this Thanksgiving season. And then, just as soon as we've eaten the last turkey salad sandwich made from leftovers, we will have already shifted into high gear for the holiday shopping season. Preparing for these various seasons is usually a semi-exciting time filled with great anticipation. However, there is one season many families who live in African countries dread; nonetheless, they prepare for it even though the season may inevitably end with starvation.

I'm speaking of the "hunger season," which is a period when the old crop is gone and the new crop isn’t ready for harvest yet. The food stockpiles are near empty. I had never heard of the hunger season until I traveled to East Africa back in October. Everyone from doctors to business executives, and government officials to mothers spoke about the hunger season when some will die from starvation -- even children.

During the hunger season, the malnutrition ward at the University Training Hospital in Lusaka, Zambia, is bursting with pediatric patients. The 60-bed unit usually has two children to each bed, and each child is being treated for acute malnutrition. These children are the lucky ones; many will never make it to hospital and will become victims of the hunger season.

This Thanksgiving, take time to remember our brothers and sisters in Africa who are enduring the hunger season, and please join me as I pray with hope that one day there will no longer be a hunger season on this earth.

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


Changing Children's Futures in Georgia

Tornike Shubitidze of Georgia wants to be a cameraman.

Being a kid can be tough, especially in the country of Georgia, where the absence of a juvenile justice system means a crime like theft can land a teenager in jail for four to seven years. That's the sentence 15-year-old Tornike Shubitidze faced recently for stealing a washing machine.

But under a juvenile reform program supported by UNICEF, Shubitidze received probation and now attends filmmaking classes. This is good for many reasons, one of them being that research from the United States shows clear links between incarceration and poverty. Shubitidze now wants to be a cameraman.

"First of all, I will certainly buy a camera. I will spend more time to learn," he says in the ViewChange video below. "I'll work more and try to become a cameraman."

Learn more about Shubititdze and Georgia's juvenile reform program in the video below.

This story is part of our Wednesday ViewChange video series.

Pew Study Finds Growth in Number of Religious Advocacy Organizations

Bread for the World members headed to Capitol Hill on Tuesday June 14, 2011, to lobby their members of Congress on behalf of poor and hungry people. Bread members from Pennsylvania present an award to a staffer in Senator Robert Casey's office. Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl

A recent study conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that the number of religious lobbying or religion-related advocacy groups in Washington, DC has grown almost five times in the past 40 years -- from 40 such groups in 1970 to more than 200 today.

According to the study, the top religious advocacy groups with spending that exceeds $10 million a year include the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bread for the World, which was sixth on the list. (See the full list here.)

Furthermore, the study finds that the various advocacy groups in Washington rally folks around about 300 different policy issues, which include domestic and foreign policy matters. Among domestic policy issues, the most common issue these groups address are church and state, civil liberties, bioethics and life issues, and family/marriage issues. Among international issues, these groups tend to cover human rights, debt relief or economic issues, and peace and democracy. 

Among this diverse group of faith-based advocacy and lobby groups, Bread for the World is proud to continue working to end hunger in our country and around the world by persistently bringing our message of hope and truth to lawmakers and the general public.

While the overall strength of these religious advocacy groups are small compared with political or corporate lobby groups, a recent Washington Post On Faith column today noted that “they have a particular clout that can wield influence at unexpected times.” In that same column, John Carr, policy advocate for the Catholic bishops explains the source of that influence:

“We don’t make endorsements, we don’t give campaign contributions, we don’t even write thank you notes. No one is going on a golfing vacation in Scotland with us. But we have assets others don’t — a consistent set of principles,” said John Carr, a policy advocate for the Catholic bishops, who first came to the Hill in the 1970s. “I think there is a grudging respect for consistency, even with people who disagree with us.”

At Bread for the World, our consistent set of principles comes from the clear mandate from the Bible that we must do all we can to advocate for the “least of these.” Thus, Bread for the World members will continue to funnel all of our resources, energy, and time into raising a persistent voice in Washington and around the nation to end hunger in our time.

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