Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

27 posts from January 2012

Grow Dinner, Right in Your Backyard

Photo by Flickr user Southern Foodways Alliance

Many folks don’t know that recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) can use their benefits to purchase seeds and plant gardens at home. And while this can take some time and effort, the benefits far outweigh the cost, says Holly Hirschberg, founder of The Dinner Garden in San Antonio, TX, which sends people packets of seeds for free. Begun in 2008 at the height of the recession, The Dinner Garden receives thousands of requests for seeds daily from people all over the country who are struggling to make ends meet and feed their families. I spoke with Hirschberg last week to learn more about the inspiration and day-to-day operations of the Dinner Garden.

How did you start Dinner Garden?

I started the dinner garden in 2008 during the beginning of the recession. My husband lost his job and the first thing I did was plant a garden for my family. I thought that’s one last thing I’d have to worry about.

During this time, I learned that there are so many people who needed food. People who would donate food to food banks now needed the food instead of being a donor. Gas prices were $5 a gallon and people didn’t have gas money to get to the food bank, even if there was food available.

So I thought I would send seeds directly to someone’s house and they wouldn’t need gas money to pick them up and they could have a little more control about how they fed their family and take care of their family in a way that brought dignity and honor.

Where do you get funding for the Dinner Garden?

We started in the summer 2008 and started giving out seeds by January 2009. I told people about my idea and asked for donations from my friends. We bought some seeds and we had some postage money. I knew people in Michigan were having trouble so I put an ad in Craigslist asking people if they wanted any seeds. I had to take it down after a half hour because we had gotten 80 requests.

The requests were so heartfelt -- people were saying, “We’re desperate. There’s no work in Michigan.”

We sent out seeds until we ran out of postage.

What kinds of seeds to you send to your recipients?

We send out between 10 and 12 varieties. We include things that people recognize, such as cucumbers, tomatoes, and then we throw in stuff people haven’t seen before. We try to make people into lifelong gardeners, and we are also trying to help people expand their diet and be healthier, and that comes from being exposed to new things.

How did you find out that SNAP recipients can use their benefits to purchase seeds?

It seemed like a lot of our clients were on food stamps, so we thought it would be great to let people know and we have the means to get that information to the people who are going to use it.

And while working people might think they don’t have time to garden, I believe gardening has evolved with a lot of innovation that don’t require you to do what you used to have to do. Seeds are going to grow. Put them in the ground at the right time with sun, water, and soil and they are going to grow.

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



+Learn more about SNAP and how you can take action.

Hunger QOTD: Lesley Boone

Photo by Flickr user limaoscarjuliet

"We are a country that prides itself on power and wealth, yet there are millions of children who go hungry every day. It is our responsibility, not only as a nation, but also as individuals, to get involved. So, next time you pass someone on the street who is in need, remember how lucky you are, and don't turn away."

-Lesley Boone

Hunger QOTD: Harry Emerson Fosdick

Photo by Flickr user EmsiProduction

"Christians are supposed not merely to endure change, nor even to profit by it, but to cause it."

-Harry Emerson Fosdick

Dear Candidate, Where Do You Stand on Poverty? 88 Percent of Voters Want to Know.

pics on Sodahead

What surprises you more: the fact that more than one in seven people in this country live in poverty  (with more than 25 percent of children under age 5 in poverty)[i], or the fact that 88 percent of voters say a candidate’s position on poverty is important in deciding their vote? According to a new poll by McLaughlin and Associates released Tuesday at the Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity forum, when participants were asked, how important a candidate’s position on poverty was when deciding their vote for president, 88 percent said a candidate’s position is important in deciding their vote, and nearly half (45 percent) said the issue is "very important." 

Given how little media attention poverty gets and how we so rarely hear candidates speak honestly about issues of hunger and poverty, these statistics took me by surprise. But I suppose I shouldn’t have been. At Bread for the World, we’ve known for a long time that people care about hunger and poverty. High levels of poverty and our commitment to ending it says something about ourselves as a country.

I also shouldn’t be surprised because hunger and poverty have no party. This is not a partisan issue; it is a moral one. This is about getting breakfast to kids so they can learn in school and perform well on their tests. This is about ensuring that a parent working full time at minimum wage is able to provide for his/her children and put food on the table. This is about ensuring that the poorest people on earth are able to eat each day. This is about creating opportunity for our children.

On Tuesday, Bread for the World launched our 2012 Offering of Letters Campaign, which urges Congress and the White House to create a circle of protection around programs for hungry and poor people. Calling for a circle of protection embodies an idea that is so fundamental to our society and our values as a country that it is something everyone can get behind, regardless of political identification, geographic location, or religious affiliation. As the McLaughlin poll demonstrates, a majority of voters, regardless of party affiliation, are concerned with supporting hungry and poor people.

Given that 88 percent of voters care about a candidate’s position on poverty, Bread for the World members and people of faith around the country should be determined and confident in raising hunger and poverty as issues with candidates in the 2012 elections. Go to candidate forums and boldly ask those running for office, “If elected will you commit to forming a circle of protection around programs for hungry and poor people?” Write to your local papers. Make hunger and poverty key election issues, and you can be confident that 88 percent of voters will be right there with you, listening for candidates’ answers.

[i] U.S. Census Bureau, poverty numbers for 2010. The poverty line in 2010 was $22,113 for a family of four. 

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


Calling all Poets: Enter our 2012 Haiku Contest!

'Writing' photo (c) 2011, dotmatchbox - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

We will be holding our first-ever 2012 Offering of Letters haiku contest in celebration of our 2012 Offering of Letters campaign! If you have a penchant for writing pithy haikus about ending hunger, then you may have a chance to win. (Don't know how to write a haiku? Here are some simple instructions.)

Here are the rules of the game:

1. Your haiku must be based on the stories and other materials for the 2012 Offering of Letters: www.bread.org/ol. Use any of the stories, campaigns, resources, videos, and more to inspire your haiku submission!

2. Your haiku must follow the English adaptation of a Japanese haiku: 5 syllables/7 syllable/5 syllables

3. Words may or may not rhyme.

4. A kigo, or a season word, is not necessary for a haiku in this contest.

5. Submit your haiku as a comment on this blog post, or on our Facebook page.

6. This 2012 Offering of Letters haiku contest ends on Jan. 31, 2012. All submissions must be received by 11:59 p.m. EST on Jan. 31, 2012.

7. By participating in this contest, the author grants Bread for the World and its affiliates the right to use the haikus in whatever platform for an unlimited period.

8. The prizes are: First place: a Bread tote bag; Second place: a Bread T-shirt; Third place: one dozen Bread pens.

9. The contest will be judged by Adlai Amor, Bread’s director of communications, who has been called by his literary friends as the “modern Basho” for tweeting (@adlaiamor) and Facebooking in haiku form. He says: “But whenever I post a haiku on Twitter, other friends complain that, at 60-70 characters, it is too short – and they have to think about it.”

Best of luck to all of you! We look forward to reading your submissions.

Have Faith, End Hunger/ Write an Image, Say Something/And Contact Congress. --Adlai Amor

Martin Luther King Jr.: ‘The Quest for Peace and Justice’

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., speaking at the Civil Rights March on Washington on August 28, 1963. Photo from U.S. National Archives.

This blog post is excerpted from Dr. Martin Luther King's Nobel Lecture from Dec. 11, 1964, entitled "The Quest for Peace and Justice." Read the full speech here.

Almost two-thirds of the peoples of the world go to bed hungry at night. They are undernourished, ill-housed, and shabbily clad ... . This problem of poverty is not only seen in the class division between the highly developed industrial nations and the so-called underdeveloped nations; it is seen in the great economic gaps within the rich nations themselves ... . There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we have the resources to get rid of it ... . There is no deficit in human resources; the deficit is in human will ... . Just as nonviolence exposed the ugliness of racial injustice, so must the infection and sickness of poverty be exposed and healed -- not only in its symptoms, but its basic causes. this, too, will be a fierce struggle. But we must not be afraid to pursue the remedy no matter how formidable the task ... .

This is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men [and women] ... . I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Moslem-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the First Epistle of Saint John:

Let us love one another: for love is of God; and everyone
that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His
love is perfected in us.

Let me close by saying that I have the personal faith that mankind will somehow rise up to the occasion and give new directions to an age drifting rapidly to its doom. In spite of the tensions and uncertainties of this period something profoundly meaningful is taking place. Old systems of exploitation and oppression are passing away, and out of the womb of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born. Doors of opportunity are gradually being opened to those at the bottom of society. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are developing a new sense of "some-bodiness" and carving a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of despair. "The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light." Here and there an individual or group dares to love, and rises to the majestic heights of moral maturity. So in a real sense this is a great time to be alive.

Therefore, I am not yet discouraged about the future. Granted that the easygoing optimism of yesterday is impossible. Granted that those who pioneer in the struggle for peace and freedom will still face uncomfortable jail terms, painful threats of death; they will still be battered by the storms of persecution, leading them to the nagging feeling that they can no longer bear such a heavy burden, and the temptation of wanting to retreat to a more quiet and serene life. Granted that we face a world crisis which leaves us standing so often amid the surging murmur of life's restless sea. But every crisis has both its dangers and its opportunities. It can spell either salvation or doom. In a dark confused world the kingdom of God may yet reign in the hearts of men [and women].

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., delivered this lecture in the Auditorium of the University of Oslo. This text is taken from Les Prix Nobel en 1964.

Young Leaders on a Mission to Continue Dr. King’s Legacy

120113-MLK1Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is upon us once more and people around the world will celebrate his enduring work and legacy. Most of us are fully aware of his struggle for civil rights by his efforts to transform U.S. domestic policy that perpetuated injustice and inequality. Many of us are less aware of his international advocacy, specifically as it relates to Africa. In fact, Dr. King was just as committed to raising awareness about injustices beyond our shores as in our homeland.

In December 1965, while speaking at Hunter College in New York City, Dr. King addressed apartheid in South Africa and the complex human rights issues facing people of African descent throughout the world. In this address he stated, “We are in an era in which the issue of human rights is the central question confronting all nations. In this complex struggle an obvious but little appreciated fact has gained attention — the large majority of the human race is non-white — yet it is that large majority which lives in hideous poverty. While millions enjoy an unexampled opulence in developed nations, ten thousand people die of hunger each and every day of the year in the undeveloped world.” Sadly, nearly 50 years later, such conditions still exist. 

Dr. King’s work fully embraced the now famous mantra he coined in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Fortunately in 2012 we have seen a surge of young leaders who are following in the footsteps of Dr. King by fighting these injustices. Some are utilizing their voices as advocates for policy change while others have developed creative solutions to address poverty in distant lands. 

Rev. Nicholas S. Richards is one such person. He is the co-founder and president of the Abyssinian Fund, an organization that works to reduce poverty in Ethiopia. Since its inception in 2009, The Abyssinian Fund partners with Ethiopian coffee farmers to help them learn more efficient methods of farming. The training the farmers receive promotes the production of higher quality coffee that they can sell at a premium rate. This effective system helps the farmers and communities improve their livelihood, ultimately leading to poverty reduction. There are also young leaders like Chad Martin based out of Martinsville, VA. As a graduate of Bread for the World’s first Hunger Justice Leaders class in 2008, Chad continues to organize his local community to take action on behalf of hungry and poor people through the power of their voice and pen.

Bread for the World is giving young leaders an opportunity to do the same at the biennial Hunger Justice Leaders event from June 9 to 12, 2012, in Washington, DC. Under the theme, “From the Pulpit to the Public Square,” 75 young ministers and religious leaders will explore the biblical foundations for advocacy, gain skills in community organizing, and connect with like-minded ministers from across the country. They’ll then have a chance to test their skills by advocating on behalf of hungry and poor people at Capitol Hill Lobby Day 2012. To find out how you can continue Dr. King’s legacy through anti-hunger advocacy, visit the Hunger Justice Leaders website and email hjl2012@bread.org.

Derrick-BoykinRev. Derrick Boykin serves as associate for African-American leadership outreach at Bread for the World.


Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Hunger QOTD: Marian Wright Edelman


"If we think being American is about how much we can get rather than about how much we can give and share to help all our children get a healthy, fair, and safe start in life, then we are a part of the problem rather than the solution."

-Marian Wright Edelman, President of the Children's Defense Fund

Drummers Called to ‘Beat-Down’ Famine in the Horn of Africa

Marv Dahlgren, former principal percussionist and assistant timpanist for the Minnesota Orchestra, is calling drummers across the nation to play the same piece, "Three Camps," this Saturday to raise awareness of the famine in the Horn of Africa. Photo by Howard A. Gitelson.

This Saturday, January 14, drummers from around the country will grab their drums and drumsticks and join in a grassroots effort to raise awareness of the famine in the Horn of Africa called the Hunger Beat-Down. At 2 p.m. Central Standard Time, drummers are invited to play the commonly known drum solo “Three Camps,” a piece that is reminiscent of the drums used in army camps during the Civil War. (Click here to see the sheet music for Three Camps.)

The mastermind behind the Hunger Beat-Down is Marv Dahlgren, aka, the “Drum King of the Twin Cities.” Dahlgren, 87, is a former principal percussionist and assistant timpanist for the Minnesota Orchestra, and currently teaches at the McNally Smith College of Music.

I caught up with Dahlgren over the phone last night to ask about the inspiration behind the Hunger Beat-Down and how he believes drumming can raise awareness of famine and starvation in Africa.

Why is the famine in the Horn of Africa an important issue for you?

When people are starving to death and we can’t get food to them and milk for their children, it makes you wonder, what’s going on in the world? People are dying every day and I believe we could help them. I’m more or less a pessimist. People say that the famine is bad and we can’t do anything about, but I think we can at least raise awareness.

In 1985, there was a similar situation in Africa and at that time the whole world seemed to be aware of it. Everybody was talking about it and doing something about [it], and so I’m just wondering why it’s different this time.

I realize people are more concerned about themselves now than they were in 1985, and times are tough, but still, there’s very little written about it in newspapers.

How did you come up with the idea for this Hunger Beat-Down?

I thought we could perhaps raise awareness somehow. I was sitting around talking with some other drummers, thinking about what we could do and one of the drummers said, wouldn’t it be neat to get everybody to play the same thing at the same time? I thought about that. I knew it had to be a really simple drumbeat, and I thought about “Three Camps.”

Tell me about “Three Camps.” What attracted you to that piece in particular?

The drummers in the Civil War were the ones who did the communications – they would play and spread messages throughout the camps.  They even had a beat called “roast beef” to tell soldiers what they would eat that night!

“Three Camps” is something a lot of drummers learn. Not only is it one of the first drum beats learned, but it’s one of the best because it’s written in triplets, so it has a swing feeling, which is unusual from beats coming out of the Civil War. That piece bridges what we play today in jazz.

What kind of response have you gotten from other drummers around the country?

Well, I have gotten responses from people in 22 states. I’ve reached out to drummers in all 50 states, and people from 22 of the states have said they’ll get drummers together. In Cleveland, OH, the symphony orchestra is behind it, and they’re putting it in their program notes and the symphony drummers are all playing.

Here in the Twin Cities, we probably could have as many as 50 drummers coming to St. Paul where I teach at the McNally Smith College of Music. And in Minneapolis, drummers will be at the McPhail Center of Music.

Why do you play the drums?

I don’t know what it means to not be able to play drums. I’ve been drumming since I was about 3 years old; it was just what I wanted to do. I went to a great school that had a drum bugle corp. I’d walk to school with a drum strapped around me playing beats! I don’t know if people thought I was crazy.

I was lucky, and I had a teacher in junior high school who didn’t charge us anything, so every week I got a free drum lesson. Amazingly, when I went to college in music, the drum teacher went into the navy for World War II, so he asked me to take over for the students. I was the drum teacher in the college!

What do you hope drummers who participate will take away from the Hunger Beat-Down?

I don’t think they’re going to take anything away except for the knowledge of the starvation that’s going on in Africa. There are an awful lot of people who don’t know about it, and if they don’t hear about it consecutively, they will forget about it.

Jeannie-choiJeannie Choi is associate editor at Bread for the World. To find out how you can participate in the Hunger Beat-Down, click here (PDF). Learn more about the famine in the Horn of Africa.


Getting the Facts on SNAP


[Editors' note: This post originally appeared on the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ blog, Off the Charts (www.offthechartsblog.org).]

We have updated two papers that provide background information on SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps), the nation’s most important anti-hunger program.

  • Policy Basics: Introduction to SNAP. In 2011, SNAP helped almost 45 million low-income Americans to afford a nutritionally adequate diet in a typical month. Nearly 75 percent of SNAP participants are in families with children; more than one-quarter are in households with seniors or people with disabilities. While SNAP’s fundamental purpose is to help low-income families, the elderly, and people with disabilities afford an adequate diet and avoid hardship, it promotes other goals as well, such as reducing poverty, supporting and encouraging work, protecting the overall economy from risk, and promoting healthy eating.
  • SNAP Is Effective and Efficient. SNAP caseloads have risen significantly since late 2007, as the recession and lagging recovery battered the economic circumstances of millions of Americans and dramatically increased the number of low-income households who qualify and apply for help from the program. Yet, despite the rapid caseload growth, SNAP payment accuracy has continued to improve, reaching all-time highs (see graph).  Moreover, the Congressional Budget Office predicts that SNAP spending will fall as a share of the economy in coming years as the economy recovers and temporary benefit expansions that Congress enacted in 2009 expire.

Dottie-rosenbaumDottie Rosenbaum is a senior policy analyst focusing primarily on federal and state issues in the Food Stamp Program as well as issues that involve the coordination of food stamps and other state-administered health and income security programs, such as Medicaid, TANF, and child care.

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