Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

45 posts from December 2011

The Top 10 Blog Posts of 2011

Photo by Flickr user  stephen_gunby

It's almost the new year, and we all know what that means: time for some end-of-the-year round-ups. For Bread for the World, 2011 will go down as a year filled with a lot of hard work, a difficult federal budget process, and a lot of blessings. (Read David Beckmann on some 2011 victories here.)

Knowing this, I thought it would be fun to put together a round-up of our top 10 blog posts from 2011. The topics are diverse, interesting, and challenging. Take a look:

1. A Food Writer Fasts: "New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman has joined David Beckmann and other activists in fasting to protect programs for hungry and poor people."

2. Hunger Knows No Borders: "At 37 years old, Rev. Gabriel Salguero has a huge responsibility—to be the voice for some 9 million evangelicals in the United States."

3. 'I Eat and Mom Doesn't': Growing Up Hungry in America: "For 10-year-old Jazeer from Philadelphia, life is toughest when his family’s food stamps run out at the end of the month."

4. Hundreds Attend National Gathering 2011: "They came from across the country and around the world. New York high school students and nutrition professors from Ghana. Grassroots activists and policy wonks. Faith leaders and the president of the World Bank. More than 600 participants attended events in conjunction with Bread for the World’s National Gathering 2011, Lobby Day, and the meeting '1,000 Days to Scale Up Nutrition for Mothers & Children: Building Political Commitment.'"

5. Poor People Did Not Cause the Budget Deficit: "In this video, Bread for the World President David Beckmann talks about proposed budget cuts and their impact on vulnerable Americans with Spotlight's Jodie Levin-Epstein."

6. Lenten Devotions: "Some years I have big ambitions for the 40 days leading up to Easter. Sometimes I pla  n to fast from some luxury that has, over time, become a “necessity” in my life."

7. God, Hear Our Prayer: "Today, I stopped eating—and will only drink water for the rest of the week. I usually fast in private, but I am provoked to make a public stand as Congress has proposed massive budgets cuts to programs that disproportionately affect the neediest among us."

8. Could You Live on $31.50 a Week for Food?: "Last Thursday, members of Congress and religious leaders went shopping at a local Washington, DC grocery store. Their goal? To buy a week’s worth of groceries for only $31.50, the average amount an individual on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) receives per week to buy groceries."

9. One in Four African-American Households Remain Hungry: "According to new hunger data released today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 25.1 percent of African-American households suffered from food insecurity in 2010."

10. 'Elmo Didn't Know People Don't Have Food': Sesame Street Tackles Child Hunger: "National Public Radio reports that this Sunday, Sesame Street is taking on child hunger in America in a primetime special called 'Growing Hope Against Hunger.'"

Jeannie Choi is associate editor at Bread for the World. 

This Christmas, Discover the One True Shepherd

Photo by Flickr user Suicine

[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 Luke 2:8-20. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]     

“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about’ … So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”

Imagine yourself as a shepherd, living near Bethlehem, where King David was born. You know your flock and they follow you as you lead them to pastures where they can forage for greens and water to drink. You sleep in their midst; you protect them from wolves; you even know their names. They know the sound of your voice. 

One evening, just as you and your flock have settled in for the night, you look up. The sky is full of stars, including an especially bright one nearby. All of a sudden, a creature comes out of the sky, in brilliant raiment, and talks to you and the other shepherds. And if that were not enough, the winged creature was joined by a chorus of other brilliant creatures praising the birth of a new king.

Frankly, I would have been scared – my fear and unbelief would have taken hold of me. Why would strange creatures with wings want talk to me? But the angels did not scare you and the other shepherds – most likely your brother and other relatives -- that night. Instead you overcame your fear and, curious, decided to find out the truth.

True enough, there was a baby in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes. Amazed, we told our families, friends, and neighbors – literally broadcasting Jesus’ birth.

As I re-read this passage, I was struck by how appropriate it was that the shepherds were the first to be told of Jesus. Shepherds were, after all, the mainstay of the pastoral economy during those ancient times. Wealth was counted in terms of the number of sheep your family had. The more sheep you had, the more milk, meat, and wool you could produce. 

Indeed, shepherds and sheep figure prominently in the Bible. Many of the prophets in the Old Testament were also shepherds – Abraham, Amos, Jacob, Moses, and David. Just like them, Jesus was referred to as a shepherd – a good shepherd; the chief shepherd; the great shepherd; and the one shepherd. Like a shepherd, Jesus feeds the flock, gathers the lambs in his arm and carries them in his bosom.

That fateful night, we who were shepherds became the sheep for we had found the One Shepherd who would lead us through life.

Prayer: Help us to be like the shepherds of old, dear Lord, who overcame their fear and believed in the infant Jesus. Help us to be like sheep faithfully following the Great Shepherd throughout our lives.  Help us to proclaim God’s love today and forever. Amen.  

Adlai Amor is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC, and director of communications at Bread for the World. Visit New York Avenue Presbyterian Church's website at www.nyapc.org.

Signs and Wonders on Christmas Eve

Photo by Flickr user Ambuj Saxena

[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 9:2-7; Luke 1:1-20; Titus 2:11-14. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.]

Christmas Eve draws us to the precipice of hope and expectation. Practically speaking, we may be anticipating the arrival of guests or a journey to celebrate the holidays. Gifts have been wrapped and stacked beneath evergreen trees topped with golden stars. So often, the days preceding Christmas unearth magical thinking, excitement, and joyful anticipation. We recall childhood days, lying awake on Christmas Eve, eagerly awaiting the arrival of Santa and the promise of white snowfall and frosty winds. At some level, this element of wishful yearning never completely leaves us because the Christmas story evokes similar feelings – the promise of new birth and miracles.

Traditionally, Christmas Eve centers on the story of Mary and Joseph, having been turned away by the innkeeper, giving birth to a son in manger. But other Bible verses allude to unprecedented miracles about to occur. In Isaiah, we learn that those walking in darkness will see a great light. A babe will be born who will be deemed to be a Wonderful Counselor, a Mighty God, and an ambassador of peace. In Luke, God answers the prayers of Zechariah and Elizabeth with the news that they will bear a child who “will be great in the sight of the Lord.” And Paul’s letter to Titus assures him and the Cretans that the “grace of God will appear, bringing salvation to all.” We open our hearts to the unexpected at this season. Hymns tell us of angels singing, stars shining brighter than ever, roses blooming amid the bleak midwinter.  In Bethlehem, the “hope and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.” Signs and wonders abound, perhaps making even skeptics reconsider their impervious stances for one amazing night.

We can easily get swept up in the holiday festivities, feeling hopeful and optimistic, maybe even stretched, as we journey through the season. Candlelight services, familiar music, seeing old friends and family can all be part of a joyful celebration.  Imagine how excited and abashed the shepherds felt in the fields as angels appeared in the sky, and how awed those who witnessed the star in the east must have been.  Signs that confirm the existence of a Mighty Counselor who will bring peace to a warring world must have been met with wonderment, curiosity, and excitement. 

But how do we live the rest of our lives – the days that no signs appear in the clouds, telling us which way to turn? Rev. Craig Barnes recently wrote an article for the Christian Century suggesting that signs don’t always lead to the joy we’d hoped for, or perhaps signs do not even appear at all.  Many of us have large decisions to make in our lives and while we long for a sign pointing us in the direction we want to go, sometimes that simply doesn’t happen. We wonder if we should retire to a new location, or take a job that we’re not sure about; we long for angels or bright stars that will lead us. But we walk in darkness; we do not see the great light! Barnes suggests that our faith will be tested in situations like these. We will have to act without signs; we will have to have the courage to move forward without clear directions or great promises that everything will turn out well.  Sometimes we have to wander in a “wonderless” desert.

Therefore, we must rely on the witness of God’s great mercy, as shown through repeated biblical texts, to propel us forward.  Dark days may cover our earthly existence, but sooner or later, we will reap a bountiful harvest.  The yoke upon us will be broken. Righteousness and justice will ultimately reign. The community of faith will shelter us, rejoice with us, and keep our crooked paths straight.

Prayer: God, keep our eyes open to the signs and wonders of your kingdom. When we walk in great darkness, carry us across the chasms of despair. Shore up our faith this Christmas season and in the days that follow. Amen.

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

Accepting God's Free, Unconditional Love

Photo by Flickr user conorwithonen

[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 29:13-24; John 5:19-29; Titus 5:1-16. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.]

Today’s lectionary passages are a challenge for us because ultimately we believe in God’s offering of grace to all without preconditions or threats. The passages from John and Isaiah, in particular, sound ominous: either behave or be condemned to certain damnation. For a person who takes their faith seriously, the prospect of eternal condemnation could discourage that person from freely choosing God. 

When our daughters Jessica and Emma were very young, we would, on occasion, resort to bribes or threats of punishment -- an extra cookie or a timeout -- to encourage good behavior. Immediate gratification or punishment -- experienced parents usually agree -- can work with children who are as yet too young to be reasoned with, who do not yet understand more abstract concepts of fairness or justice, or who have not yet developed the ability to understand the full consequences of their actions. 

These Bible passages sound like the voice of someone instructing a young child who does not yet have the capacity to engage in, and begin to comprehend, a discussion of God’s grace.  John and Isaiah resort to clear, unambiguous threats of what will happen to those that do not behave. Paul’s letter to Titus, similarly, is a rather straightforward checklist of do’s and don’ts on being a good Christian leader. 

Our daughters are now young adults. Using bribes result in temporary or indifferent success; and they are certainly too old for a timeout. Influencing their behavior and choices now requires us to reason with them and appeal to their conscience and good nature to do the right thing and/or avoid bad choices. If, however, we are unable to convince them, we shrug our shoulders and shake our heads with exasperation. 

Yet we still prepare to support them come what may. Our love for them is unconditional. Ultimately, there are many paths to accepting God’s grace. The way in which we come to accept God’s grace is immaterial to God; whether it is through instruction (bribes and punishments), study of scripture, the counsel of a friend, or some other path. We believe that preparations for Advent -- for the coming of Christ -- remind us that God bestows grace as we choose to accept it, freely. 

Paul and Gwenn Gebhard are members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. Visit their website at www.nyapc.org.

Gabriel Salguero: Lessons Learned in Africa

Rev. Gabriel Salguero smiles with a group of children while in Africa on a trip organized by Bread for the World. Photo by Racine Tucker-Hamilton/Bread for the World.

A recent trip to Africa changed Gabriel Salguero's life. According to him, the poverty and hunger that millions of families and children experience in Africa is no different from that of Latin America. Now, he is very clear, more than ever, about his commitment to continue the struggle and to advocate for the assistance that the United States provides to foreign countries.

“We are highly committed to foreign aid, including programs that involve mothers, prenatal health, and malnutrition in children under 2 years of age,” Salguero said. He visited Tanzania, Zambia, and Malawi last October on a 10-day trip organized by Bread for the World. The purpose of the trip was to increase awareness among religious leaders about child and maternal nutrition issues.

According to Salguero, he was shocked to see entire villages completely dependent on the foreign aid that the United States provides.

“If the United States Congress cuts the aid to thousands of children and mothers, they will lose this opportunity and it will have dire consequences,” said Salguero, who lives in New Jersey and is the president of the National Coalition of Latin American Evangelists, which congregate more than 3,000 churches in the whole country.

The situation in this part of the world has become so difficult that at least 12.4 million people in  the Horn of Africa are experiencing a humanitarian crisis and the worst drought in 60 years. According to the United Nations, approximately 40,000 people, most of them children under 5 years old, have died since the hunger crisis was declared in July 2011.

One of the most moving moments during his trip was when Salguero visited a center for children infected with HIV/AIDS in Zambia, where hundreds of minors and their mothers are carriers of the virus and/or are sick with it.

“I saw a 6-year-old girl carrying a 2-year-old girl. She was like her mother, since the younger girl's parents had died,” Salguero said. “As a person with ethics, I have to do something so that the youth and children have adequate nutrition for their survival. It is a tragedy that we have to talk about with clarity and accuracy.” He insists that Congress should not cut the funds provided for those less favored nations.

Less than 1 percent of the federal budget is spent on poverty-focused development assistance, but that small amount of money saves lives. Each year, this funding provides food to 46.5 million of the world’s most vulnerable people and children through P.L. 480 food aid; feeds 5 million schoolchildren through the McGovern-Dole School feeding program; and prevents more than 114,000 infants from being born with HIV.

“This is a moral crisis; if the foreign aid budget is cut, there will be serious consequences for Latin American and African youth,” Salguero said. “This is an investment in the future of the world.”

Salguero already began his task of sharing the lessons learned in his visit to Africa: to create awareness of the importance of foreign aid and that the United States continue to provide it. “To talk about poverty and its disastrous effects in Africa. My commitment is to educate the national population about what is going on and about the consequences that a bad foreign aid policy could have.”

Isabel C. Morales is hispanic media consultant at Bread for the World.

Learning to Focus on What's Important during Advent

Photo by Flickr user chrisdlugosz

[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 28:9-22; John 3: 9-21; Hebrews 2: 1-9. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.]

“Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.”  (Hebrews 2:1)

When I was growing up, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) had not been identified. Those who were affected by ADD before it was a recognized diagnosis coped by using strategies and supports to focus and concentrate … or they didn’t. I’m sure they heard, “Pay attention!” many times a day as they struggled to focus on everyday tasks. 

Even for students (and adults) who don’t have ADD, paying attention can be difficult! Today, there are more and more things clamoring for our attention: our phones, the television, the radio, our partner, our child, a boss, a friend, a hobby, our health and fitness, the latest book, the Internet, and, yes, even church.  To whom should we listen?  Where should we focus?  To what areas should we give our limited time and resources?  

The answer is, of course, D: all of the above.  We take care of the urgent and then the pleasurable, and sometimes the important stuff can just drift away from lack of attention.

In the busyness of Advent, taking the time to read a devotional might feel like one more thing to check off the day’s list, but today’s passage from John reveals an amazing message from Jesus, the teacher.  In his lesson for Nicodemus, Jesus tells us something that we have read many times and even memorized:  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). What an astounding declaration! Yet it is so familiar to us as to almost go unnoticed. But pay attention!

During Advent, as we wait for the coming of Jesus, let us focus on the spiritually important things: regular services that help us center every week; special services that remind us this is an extraordinary time; beautiful music and familiar scriptures that bring us back to focus and help us to pay attention!

Prayer: Lord, as we wait for Jesus during this extraordinary time, we ask for help in paying attention to what is truly important.  Forgive us when we give way to the busyness of our lives and drift away from your word.  Thank you for your love and the forgiveness we can claim through your Son.  Amen.

Kris Golden is a member at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Visit their website at www.nyapc.org.

U.S. Conference of Mayors Survey Shows We Need Nutrition Programs Now More than Ever

Photo by Flickr user ccstbp

Christmas is the season of food drives. We’re asked seemingly everywhere to bring in canned food (healthy please!) and drop it in a box or leave it on our doorsteps. But how is this small donation connected to the millions of hungry people out there? Our donations to local food pantries are a small, but important piece of the nationwide network of programs working to feed hungry people.

The United States Conference of Mayors recently surveyed 29 cities about those seeking help to find food during this economic downturn.  The results were stark. Eighty-six percent of the cities reported a rise in the number of requests for emergency food assistance over the past year. Ninety-one percent of the cities surveyed had more visits to food pantries and emergency kitchens. Most said that this rising need forced them to reduce the amount of food a hungry person could get at local emergency kitchens and pantries. The food safety net continues to be stretched even as more and more families fall into poverty and turn to public assistance.

While the report adds to our worries of rising hunger, it does bring some hope.  Even while cities struggled with rising need, they still increased the pounds of food distributed by an average of 10 percent. They expanded their food budgets despite the depressed economy. Grocery stores played a big role as well, donating 43 percent of the distributed food. While it is disheartening that so many more people are struggling against hunger, it’s encouraging to see that local governments and businesses are working to meet the need. Congress should follow their lead and protect our nation’s effective nutrition programs.

It’s estimated that local charity and food distribution only comprise 6 percent of the country’s total food assistance to hungry families. The rest comes from our federal nutrition programs, a fact that these cities know well. As Portland reported, “most families that 'shop' at the pantry already get free school meals, and many also rely on SNAP and WIC, but those programs aren't always enough.” Many cities reported focusing their efforts on helping families sign up for SNAP. Nationally, around 13 million people are eligible for the program but don’t receive assistance.

This year, Bread for the World activists worked hard to prevent cuts to nutrition programs like SNAP. While we were successful, this will not be a one-time effort. San Francisco’s response to the Mayors survey was typical: “Cuts proposed to WIC and SNAP would push more households to community-based food assistance programs that are already overloaded.” While local food drives feed many families, they work best when in conjunction with our critical federal programs.

So, next time you drop off your food donations, take a moment to reflect on your role in the national safety net that puts food on the table for millions of hungry families. If you are doing your part, consider asking members of Congress to do theirs.

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

Walking Away from the Unemployed

Photo by Flickr user brownpau

Fact: 13.3 million people are officially unemployed. That’s more than the populations of Maine, Delaware, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Vermont, Idaho, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Wyoming, and West Virginia combined. Many of them are relying on unemployment insurance to help them get through this holiday season -- to put food on the table, pay their heating bills, and celebrate Christmas among family and friends. But many of these families may be hit with a devastating New Year’s surprise. Nearly 2 million people will find themselves cut off from these critical unemployment benefits in January if Congress fails to act.

How vital are these benefits? According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, unemployment insurance kept 4.6 million people out of poverty in 2010, 3.2 million as a result of those benefits that Congress failed to renew because the House walked away. See the blog post here.

With each passing hour, it’s looking like Congress will fail to act in time to keep a vital safety-net in place for millions of people during the holiday season and into the new year. After they were unable to reach agreement on a year-long extension of unemployment insurance and the payroll tax cut, Senate leaders struck a deal to extend those provisions for two months with the promise to return to the issue in 2012. On Saturday, after the Senate passed the compromise bill with overwhelming bipartisan support by a vote of 89-10, senators left town. The House refused to follow suit, demanding further negotiations. Read more in this blog post from the National Women’s Law Center .

Now it looks like Congress will go out on vacation, leaving millions of Americans who are struggling to find work in this tough economy out in the cold. But there’s no vacation from unemployment. 1.8 million people are about to be cut off of federal unemployment benefits in January alone. Up to about 6 million unemployed workers would lose benefits over the next year without congressional action. And 160 million Americans are about to see their taxes increase because of failure to extend the payroll tax cut.

Walking away from those who are trying, but are unable to find work in this tough economy, and are struggling to provide for their families this holiday season is more than a disappointment; it’s reprehensible. Congress needs to extend these benefits.

Amelia-keganAmelia Kegan is senior policy analyst at Bread for the World.



Impolite Company at the Dining Table and a Lifetime of Questions

Photo by Flickr user Yngvar

[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 13:6-13; John 3:1-8; Revelation 12:10-17. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.]

"Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, 'Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.' Jesus replied, 'Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. How can someone be born when they are old?' Nicodemus asked. 'Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!' Jesus answered, 'Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, "You must be born again." The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.'" (John 3:1-8)

The assignment of the scripture passage from John, I have to believe, was divine providence, for it is one that brings about very strong and emotional feelings in me. The passage awakens memories from my youth.

 When I was a tween, my Dad was proudly serving as the senior chaplain at the U. S. Naval Academy.  He served there from 1967 to 1970, which was a very historic and volatile time in our nation’s history.  I was in middle school at that time, in schools that were recently desegregated. Middle school is a confusing time in anyone’s life, apart from what was happening on the national stage.

While I lived at the Naval Academy, one of my Dad’s favorite parts of his job was to invite guest preachers to the Academy pulpit. These preachers were considered the top theologians of our time, or at least according to my Dad. Sometimes, the speakers were controversial.

Once a month, not only would the guest preacher grace the chapel’s pulpit, but would also stay in our home and be the guest of honor at a luncheon after chapel. My mother gave the luncheon for roughly 36 people, which would consist of the guest preacher, midshipmen, professors and their spouses and officers and their spouses.

 One particular Sunday, we had a group of Christians in our house, and I will never forget the way they treated my Mom, their hostess. When my Mom was asked at her own dining room table when she had been saved, my Mom answered that she was raised in the church, and that she had grown up in a Christian home, and had always believed in God.  She couldn’t name an hour or a day.

When my Mom stopped talking, the woman turned her head away from my Mom and didn’t look or speak to her again. I have grown up with that story and I have struggled with my understanding of this passage because of that haunting memory. 

I don’t believe Jesus is requiring us to be able to name the hour or the day either, but if you can, that’s great!  What Jesus does expect of us, however, is for our lives to be transformed by the Holy Spirit when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  You can’t just carry on as before, because you have been called to a new life in Christ.  When someone finds out you are a Christian, they shouldn’t be surprised.  Your actions and behaviors towards others should go hand in hand with your declaration of Jesus as Lord.

Prayer: Silently now I wait for thee. Ready, my God, thy will to see. Open my heart, illumine me, Spirit divine!

Dale Orzalli is a member at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Visit their website at www.nyapc.org.

Hunger QOTD: Isaiah 61:1,2

Photo by Flickr user kalyan02

"The Spirit of the Lord God has taken control of me! The Lord has chosen and sent me to tell the oppressed the good news, to heal the brokenhearted, and to announce freedom for prisoners and captives. This is the year when the Lord God will show kindness to us and punish our enemies."

- Isaiah 61:1,2


Stay Connected

Bread for the World