Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

45 posts from December 2011

Hunger Resources: U.S. Farming. The Half-in-Ten Campaign. The MDGs.

Photo by Flickr user Gerald Perera.

In this next installment of hunger resources, I've gathered a collection of articles on how U.S. farming is changing, and several updates on development campaigns such as the Half-in-Ten campaign and the Millennium Development Goals. Got any hunger resources of your own? Share them in the comments section below.

  • The Changing Organization of U.S. Farming. (Donoghue, Erik…et al. USDA/ERS, Dec. 2011): "Future innovations will be necessary to maintain, or boost, current productivity gains in order to meet the growing global demands that will be placed upon U.S. agriculture." 
  • Achieving the Right to Food: From Global Governance to National Implementation. (deSchutter, Olivier. UN Committee on World Food Security, Oct. 2011): "What he meant is that unless we take seriously our duties towards the most vulnerable, and the essential role of legal entitlements in ensuring that the poor have either the resources required to produce enough food for themselves or a purchasing power sufficient to procure food from the market, our efforts at increasing production shall change little to their situation."
  • Cutting Poverty in Half in 10 Years: Tools for Action. (Half in Ten, Nov. 2011): "The Half in Ten campaign’s goal of cutting the U.S. poverty rate in half over the next decade goes beyond a simple examination of the number of people who fall below the official poverty level. The campaign recognizes that well-being is multidimensional and that moving above the official poverty line does not necessarily signal an end to deprivation."
  • The Big Handout:  How Government Subsidies and Corporate Welfare Corrupt the World We Live In and Wreak Havoc On Our Food Bills, by Kostigen, Thomas M. (Rodale, 2011).
  • FWD: Famine, War, and Drought. (USAID): "Famine, war, and drought are threatening millions of lives in the Horn of Africa and the world should be talking about it. Do more than donate. FWD the facts." 
  • More Money or More Development:  What Have the MDGs Achieved? (Kenny, Charles and Andy Sumner, Center for Global Development): "What have the MDGs achieved? And what might their achievements mean for any second generation of MDGs or MDGs 2.0? We argue that the MDGs may have played a role in increasing aid and that development policies beyond aid quantity have seen some limited improvement in rich countries (the evidence on policy change in poor countries is weaker)."

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


Worshipping the King of Kings This Advent

Photo by Flickr user mararie

[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 11:10-16; John 1:14-18; Revelation 12:1-9. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.]

As I struggle to transition my mother into assisted living and mourn the passing of my favorite uncle and godfather, I am reminded of the importance of Jesus’s humanity. The readings today tell us that Jesus was a flesh-and-blood human being who had parents and other family members and who came from the line of Judah -- the root of Jesse and the dynasty of David. Faith may be “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), but we want to see and experience things. 

We can see our ancestors, if only in pictures. Ancestors are important in most cultures, but they were especially important to the ancestor worshippers in Indonesia 150 or so years ago. Missionaries in that area discovered that people could name their ancestors for more than 20 generations, and that the ancestors were venerated as kings. These missionaries spoke about Jesus coming from the line of Jesse and King David the patriarch and portrayed him as Christ the King. Today, the Lutheran Church in Indonesia is the fifth-largest Lutheran church body in the world, with nearly 3 million followers.

We want to see Jesus, to experience him.  The incarnation, or word-made-flesh, is a pivotal event. It was necessary for God to take human form, to feel our pain, and to experience our joys. How lucky for the people who could hold Christ’s hand and listen to him speak!  My spiritual advisor encourages me to “see” and experience Jesus, to envision him sitting next to me and sharing my world with me.

We want to see the Christmas story, and I am blessed to know that advent may be observed in a very physical way.

Prayer: Loving God, please help us to observe your tangible presence during Advent.

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

Virginia Library Waives Overdue Fines in Exchange for Food

Photo by Flickr user stevendepolo

Waynesboro Public Library in Waynesboro, VA,  is getting in the holiday spirit by offering to waive overdue library fines if patrons bring in cans and nonperishable foods for the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. One nonperishable food item is worth $2 in fines – an exchange that the library’s publicity coordinator, Marta Grove, says is a help to patrons as well. The Waynesboro Public Library serves a population of about 20,000 people and has an estimated 150,000 items available for patrons to borrow. Here’s what Marta Grove had to say about the "Food for Fines" program:

How long has the Waynesboro Public Library been doing "Food for Fines?"

It’s been going on at least 10 years. The food drive is a huge help to both the patrons and the people that get the food. Patrons are always asking, when are you doing food for fines?  It’s a good way for people to pay for fines without having to dish out the money, and help people at the same time.

How has the Waynesboro, VA, community been faring in this tough economic climate?

The food bank told me that they were giving out so much more food than before the recessions hit. As far as the library, we see a lot more people come in to use the computers because they don’t have Internet access at home. Jobs are scarce too.

We have so many free resources – computers, books, magazines, videos, free classes, free music programs, and movie nights.

How can the library be a resource to people who are struggling economically?

Definitely, the library is informational, educational, and also provides some entertainment. Everybody needs a little bit of information and entertainment. People who are working from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. like to have a little bit of entertainment in the evenings and enrich their lives in some way.

How much food does the library contribute to the food bank through Food for Fines?

Over a period of three years, we’ve given 5,500 pounds of cans, boxed foods, and nonperishable and unbreakable food. That averages out to about 1,830 pounds of food a year.

Does the library lose money through this program?

We do lose money; we bring in about $1,000 to $1,500 a month in fines. Although we do lose some money, it’s obviously just a good will gesture for us to help out the community, both the people needing the food and the patrons.

Jeannie-choiJeannie Choi is associate editor at Bread for the World. Visit the Waynesboro Public Library website.

Eagerly Waiting for Emmanuel, God With Us

Photo by Flickr user mathewingram

[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 7:10-16; Matthew 1:18-25; Romans 5:1-7. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.]

The fourth Sunday in Advent is usually when we have the Christmas pageant at our church. The children and youth of the church look forward to preparing and participating in this activity each year. For them, it is the opportunity to retell and reinterpret the story of the birth of Jesus, as they give much creative thought on how they would like the story to be shared. It is as much a journey as a pageant, for all involved.

In the past, however, there has not been much focus on Joseph, as compared to some of other “players” in the Christmas story. This isn’t a huge surprise because, as we’ve seen in past pageants, the kids enjoy making a grand entrance (and exit), as does King Herod or the wise people, or climbing up to the pulpit as the Angel Gabriel, or chasing after young sheep down the sanctuary aisles as shepherds? Perhaps, that is why the birth of Jesus as told by Matthew struck a different chord with me.

Today’s passage focuses on Joseph, his unique role and perspective, in the story. Joseph is confronted with a dilemma: A “righteous” man, Joseph learns that Mary is with child and, therefore, unwilling to expose Mary to public disgrace, plans to “dismiss her quietly.”  But Joseph is transformed by the announcement of the angel to take Mary as his wife and to name the child, Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins.” 

With great courage and deep faith, Joseph does just that. Facing possible ridicule, he goes against what he thought was right in order to do what is right. He chooses to take an unmarried pregnant woman as his wife and names the child Jesus. This story from Joseph’s perspective demonstrates that what is righteous or the right thing to do is not always obvious and indeed can be difficult to ascertain at times. 

During the Advent season and always, we are reminded to listen for the voice of God, to reflect, and to seek what we should do as we wrestle with the complexities of our lives.  There are individuals and groups who wish to divide the world today into good and evil, moral and immoral, and right and wrong.  But what we are commanded to do by the love and grace of God is not necessarily what is dictated by society’s norms. As the prophecy in Isaiah reveals, “God is with us.”  We are reminded that Emmanuel comes.  With the promise that God is always with us, God’s love is “poured into our hearts,” as it says in Romans 5:5, and God’s love is with us in whatever predicament or challenges we face. Now that’s a story for our youth to tell in preparation of the coming of Emmanuel. And perhaps a few might even vie for the role of Joseph in this year’s pageant.

Prayer:  Come, Emmanuel, Come!  Come amidst our doubts and our fears.  Come and deepen our joy, strengthen our hope, and grow our love.  For in our knowing God is with us, we need not be afraid -- and with all people can experience God's love pouring out into this world!

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

The Super Committee Couldn’t Reach a Deal. What Happens Now?

Photo by Flickr user Veronique Debord

Way back in August, the Joint  Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, or Super Committee, was charged with developing a plan to reduce our federal deficit by $1.2 trillion over 10 years. Why were they called the “Super Committee?” Because their recommendations would be given “superpowers,” so as to slide through Congress and quickly become law. The Super Committee had until Thanksgiving to produce something, but when November 23 came, they couldn’t do it, leaving most of us scratching our heads wondering, what happened?  You can read their statement here.

So, what happened? Well, this was a missed opportunity for moving ahead and putting our country on a fiscally sustainable path. But before turning away disheartened, let’s examine exactly why the Super Committee couldn’t produce a deal, and what this means for Congress’ 2012 agenda. More importantly, we need to understand what this means for our economy, prospects for the unemployed, and the millions of individuals relying on those federal assistance programs to help them put food on the table, provide for their families, and move out of poverty. The Interreligious Working Group on Domestic Human Needs (DHN) held a webinar last week on the outcome of the Super Committee and what it means for our priorities going forward. You can check it out here.

While relatively successful at keeping their internal discussions from leaking, it appears members of the Super Committee met an impasse when it came to taxes. The two sides just could not agree on a balanced plan that included both cuts and revenues.  So is it bad that the Super Committee couldn’t reach a deal? The Super Committee presented an opportunity for Congress to come together around a bipartisan, balanced, comprehensive deficit reduction package that put the country on solid fiscal ground, created jobs and grew the economy, and followed those values we ascribe to as a country -- like protecting people in need and struggling with hunger. The fact that they didn’t is a missed opportunity.

A final proposal that would have severely cut programs for poor and hungry people would not have helped anything or anyone.  In fact, such a plan would have caused more hardship in an already difficult economic climate. The Center on Budget analyzed some of those proposals. Read them here and here.

So, now what? Where do we go from here? Under the Budget Control Act, the absence of a deal means we will see automatic cuts for the next nine years. These cuts will total $1.2 trillion and begin in January 2013—over a year from now. The National Women’s Law Center wrote a piece explaining some of the myths and facts about what the lack of a deal means. There are some critical points to remember about the automatic cuts that have been triggered.

First, because of the great work by Bread for the World members and activists around the country, some really important programs for poor and hungry people are exempt from the automatic cuts—programs like SNAP (formerly food stamps), the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit, and Medicaid are just a few examples. That being said, other vital programs have no protections -- programs like WIC, food aid, and international poverty-focused development assistance. And these programs are already facing cuts because of the ten-year budget caps Congress enacted in August.

But there’s another way. Congress can reduce our deficits, promote job creation, strengthen the economy, and protect programs for hungry and poor people -- those currently exempted from cuts and those targeted for cuts. Congress can do this all by doing what the Super Committee was unable to do—pass a balanced, comprehensive deficit reduction plan that reduces our deficits while protecting that small portion of the budget that funds programs for poor and hungry people. Congress has adhered to this principle to protect poor and vulnerable populations in all the major deficit reduction laws over the past thirty years. It must do so again. It will take new revenues. It will take some tough spending choices. But whether to fund programs for poor and hungry people should not be a choice. Congress has a year. I hope they will step up to the plate.

Congress can take a first step right now by extending unemployment benefits before they expire at the end of the year. If Congress fails to extend federal unemployment insurance, 2 million people will lose benefits in January alone. This assistance helps those who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own continue to put food on the table, provide for their families, and search for work. Cutting unemployment insurance is no way to address our deficits.

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


This Advent, Seek the Living Waters

Photo by Flickr user fox_kiyo

[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 10:5-19; John 4:1-15; and Romans 4:1-8. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.] 

I do not like hot weather. I mean, I really do not like hot weather. This is ironic since I have spent so much of my life living in tropical climates. First, I lived in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. While I was in college in Philadelphia, I visited my parents several times while they were living in the Middle East. Later, for work, I was constantly travelling to warm destinations year round. Then, my wife and I lived in Georgetown, Guyana, a city directly abutting a large rainforest. Now I live in Okinawa, Japan. I keep asking my wife if we can perhaps do an assignment somewhere other than a tropical clime, like Vladivostok or Ulan Bator, Mongolia. I do not think this is going to happen very soon.

Other than slowly learning to tolerate constant sweat, I have learned a lot about water while residing in consistently warm climates. First, it is critical to life; and second, you always ensure that you have an adequate supply before you travel anywhere. It is this idea of water that I want to highlight in today’s readings. John’s gospel tells us, “and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.” The two-hour period from noon to 2 p.m. is generally the hottest time of the day. It is no surprise that Jesus chose to rest from his travels at this time of day.

It is also no surprise that he chose to rest near a constant supply of water. Upon rereading the passage, I am struck by the exchange between Jesus and the Samarian woman. So here is Jesus, during the hottest part of a day, asking a person for water. Yet, he is in immediate proximity to a well. Wouldn’t this passage have greater strength if it occurred in a remote area far away from any water supply? In the middle of the desert or on a mountaintop would add a certain drama to the narrative. Yet, Jesus is at a well.

As water is crucial to life, it is an ideal metaphor for God’s salvation. But, Jesus offers the water of salvation next to an ample water supply. It makes me think of the most famous line from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: “Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.”

As we once again approach Christmas and the totality of the Holiday Season that now seems to start in mid-October and ends in mid-January, don’t we find ourselves in a world that has ample access to water, but is unable to drink it? Do we find ourselves so distracted by the briny noise and confusion in our everyday world that we cannot look to the manger in Bethlehem and the miracle of a small yet tumultuous supply of crisp and fresh water that is once again flowing? Drink up, it’s worth it.

Prayer: Dear Almighty God, may we always be cognizant of the glory of your salvation and that your love, mercy, and grace are always present throughout our lives and in our world.  Amen.

Matthew Weitz is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Visit their website at www.nyapc.org.

Dinner on a Budget: The Daily Struggle to Make Something out of Nothing

Photo by Flickr user elitatt

Years of working as a waitress in college and beyond taught me how creative some people can get with food. I was always fascinated at the complex and exciting dishes that chefs could prepare from some of the most unlikely combinations. Horseradish and mascarpone? Delicious! Ancho chile and cinnamon? Perfection!

Even still, I’m far more impressed by the creativity displayed by those who can’t afford exotic ingredients  and still manage to put together a meal for their families. Anybody can make something delicious with a kitchen stocked with fresh ingredients and an extensive spice rack. But it’s much more difficult to put together something when you have practically nothing to start with — like tens of millions of U.S. households today.

A new study from the Food and Research Action Center (FRAC) revealed that food spending has fallen dramatically in the past decade, particularly from 2000 to 2002 and 2006 to 2010 -- periods when the economy was struggling the most. Rising food and housing costs, combined with falling wages and inflation, caused millions to tighten their belts to unhealthy levels.

In the study, spending for the median household was measured against the Thrifty Food Plan, the absolute “barebones” food budget necessary for families to get by in emergencies, established by the U.S. government.  

The results of the latest study by the FRAC showed that spending on food for the median household fell from 1.36 times the Thrifty Food Plan level in 2000 to 1.19 times that level in 2010.

Considering the starkness of the Thrifty Food Plan, these numbers are devastating. Originally developed to help families in the Depression Era, the budget was called “The Economy Plan,” and was designed to be used only for a short, restricted period of time. And while this was considered basic survival, the standard for “reasonable measure of basic needs” for a healthy, sustainable diet was measured to be more than 25 percent higher than that of the Economy plan.

Successfully following the Thrifty Food Plan also requires several things that low-income families often do not have these days — easy access to inexpensive transportation and bulk food stores or supermarkets, facilities for food storage, knowledge of food preparation techniques and nutrition, and time to prepare meals from scratch (about 3.5 hours a day).

What does that mean? For most low-income families these days, successfully following the plan wouldn’t just require creativity — it would require a miracle.  

Emily-WarnerEmily Warne is media relations intern at Bread for the World.


A Banana for Christmas

111215-heatherandnaomaWhat would you do this Christmas if you had two little children to feed and all you had in your house was one banana? This was life for Heather Rude-Turner, a single mom working full-time. Even with her job, there just wasn’t enough to support her two kids, Naomi, 5, and Isaac, 3.

“I don’t eat a lot of times because I feel bad taking the food away from my kids. I have one banana in the house. If I cut it in half, they can each have half of the banana. I don’t need vitamins.”

Unfortunately, one in five families with children in America are struggling to put food on the table this Christmas season. They need your help.

Can you make a special Christmas gift today for hungry families? Your gift will enable Bread for the World to fight for programs that help parents feed their children.

The government programs that Bread advocated for over the years allowed Heather to get the help she needed so she could feed Naomi and Isaac. Heather recently completed her college degree, and in a few months she’ll be marrying her sweetheart, Mark.

But many families are experiencing a different story this Christmas. The economy has pushed more people into poverty. At the same time, all programs that are focused on helping hungry and poor people are under attack in Congress. If these programs are slashed, the cuts are going to cost lives. Children across America will be hungry.

Will you make a gift now to help us protect funding for programs that benefit hungry people?

We need your support to fight hunger. Please give a special Christmas gift today, and help families like Heather, Naomi, and Isaac.

David-beckmannDavid Beckmann is president of Bread for the World.


Bread Staffers Share Their Favorite Christmas Songs!

Screen grab from Rick Steves European Christmas

Every year, right after (or sometimes before) Thanksgiving, people dust off their old Christmas records, flip through their CD collections, or search their mp3 files for their favorite Christmas songs. I thought it would be fun to ask our staffers to submit their favorite Christmas songs to share with all of you. Here's what they submitted:

Grace Bae, Art Simon Fellow, Government Relations:

My favorite Christmas Carol is “O Holy Night.” I love the words and melody of this song. I especially love the verse: “Truly he taught us to love one another, his law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains he shall bread, for the slave is our brother. And in his name all oppression shall cease.” I was in Uganda for Christmas in 2009, and I remember singing this carol in our office one morning. Christmas in Uganda is difficult because there is no distinction of seasons and I was away from my loved ones. This verse so closely aligned with my line of work in Uganda, and it touches my heart because it shares the gospel message, which drives me to do what I do.


Jennifer Fraser, Organizing Coordinator: 

While living in La Coruña, Spain for my junior year of college, I joined my Spanish university’s choir and performed with them at Christmas time. My year in Spain was one of the happiest times of my life, and experiencing Christmas there was beautiful, holy, and magical. This song is one of the many Spanish Christmas carols I learned and sang while there. The sweet lyrics and happy “bell” sounds instantly bring me back to that wonderful time.


Scott Bleggi, Senior International Policy Analyst:

My first Foreign Service assignment was in Germany.  My kids were very small and everywhere we went we heard children’s choirs. Here is a favorite, “Es fuer uns eine Zeit ankegommen.”  It is a traditional German carol whose lyrics translate to, “A time comes for us, a time of great joy.” (The video below is from our friend, Rick Steves, and the carol begins towards the end of the video, at 3:29.)


Laura Elizabeth Pohl, Multimedia Manager, and Racine Tucker-Hamilton, Media Relations Manager:

Racine: My favorite Christmas song  is "All I Want for Christmas is You" by Mariah Carey. I love the way it starts out slow with just a few chimes and almost acapella, and builds in tempo and a powerful delivery. Similar to how the build-up for Christmas is for some.


Larry Hollar, North Central Senior Regional Organizer

For sheer vocal beauty and simplicity of message, for me, nothing compares to this 17th century French carol. Sometimes I imagine how amazed I would have been as a shepherd experiencing the great good news of Jesus’ birth. This carol evokes images that envelop me -- smell, light, wonder, song. How can we, as today’s shepherds, be open to sensing that deep joy in its fullness again?

Please share your own favorite carols in the comments below! And Merry Christmas from your friends at Bread for the World. God bless you!

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


Seeking Peace during Advent

Photo by Flickr user kavehfa

[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 9:18-10:4; John 10:31-42; and Hebrews 10:19-25. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.] 

The Isaiah passage is full of fire, fury, smoke, and scorched land. But it did not strike a meaningful cord until I read it a second time – three days after Sunday, October 31, when 58 worshipers at Our Lady of Salvation Church, the largest Catholic church in Baghdad, were gunned down by terrorists. Elder Yousif al-Saka emailed photos of the church in the aftermath of this horrific act: Everything in the church was scorched, sooty, broken, destroyed. You could feel the grief, disbelief, anguish, and desolation in those pictures. The cry of pain in the words and faces of the Christians in Baghdad was haunting.

Why do people persecute one another? Why does religion pit brother and sister against brother and sister? A recent book by Eliza Griswold, The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from Fault Line between Christianity and Islam, describes in horrific detail the chaos and murder that has characterized religious relationships in Nigeria, Sudan, Somalia, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. No wonder “the land is scorched by the fury of the Lord of Hosts, and people have become fuel for the fire.”

But for all this, God’s “hand is stretched out still.” In John, we read that the Jews picked up stones to stone Jesus, not for his good deeds, they explained, but for blasphemy, calling himself the son of God. The anger created by perceived notions of what is wrong or right, the true way with religious tradition apparently is as old as the Scriptures. Two thousand years later, we still live with intolerance, a perceived righteousness, and stones to throw (actually, much worse) at those whom we believe do not follow the right religious path. So we find wrath among and between faiths, and we confront God’s wrath against the behavior of his people.

The question is, how do we get around this wrath, this violence? Isaiah and Hebrews tell us: forgiveness. If God can forgive his people with a hand that is “stretched out still,” then we must forgive one another as well. We must see the best in one another, accept differing views and beliefs. As Hebrews says, “We ought to see how each of us may best arouse others to love and active goodness … encouraging one another … .”

The violence and wrath in the world calls each of us to do our part by reaching out in love, by showing compassion and support, indeed by being our brothers and sisters’ keepers. Hebrews says, “… the blood of Jesus makes us free to enter boldly into the sanctuary by the new, living way…” In Jesus’ name and in his love, let us forgive and pray for peace and seek to end violence and wrath in our worldly midst.

Prayer: Dear God, you have extended your hand in forgiveness for our sins. Show us the way to extend our hands in love and forgiveness to our brothers and sisters everywhere. Amen.

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

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