Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

32 posts from May 2012

President Obama: 'Food Security is a Moral Imperative'

'U.S. President Obama at Intel's Fab 42' photo (c) 2012, Nick Knupffer - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Below is an excerpt from President Obama's speech today at the Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security: Advancing Food and Nutrition Security at the 2012 G8 Summit by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Click here to read his full speech.

... As the wealthiest nation on earth, I believe the United States has a moral obligation to lead the fight against hunger and malnutrition and to partner with others.  So we take pride in the fact that because of smart investments in nutrition and agriculture and safety nets, millions of people in Kenya and Ethiopia did not need emergency aid in the recent drought. 

But when tens of thousands of children die from the agony of starvation, as in Somalia, that sends us a message we still got a lot of work to do.  It's unacceptable.  It's an outrage.  It's an affront to who we are. 

So food security is a moral imperative, but it's also an economic imperative.  History teaches us that one of the most effective ways to pull people and entire nations out of poverty is to invest in their agriculture.  And as we've seen from Latin America to Africa to Asia, a growing middle class also means growing markets, including more customers for American exports that support American jobs.  So we have a self-interest in this.        

It's a moral imperative, it's an economic imperative, and it is a security imperative, for we've seen how spikes in food prices can plunge millions into poverty, which in turn can spark riots that cost lives and can lead to instability.

And this danger will only grow if a surging global population isn't matched by surging food production.  So reducing malnutrition around the world advances international peace and security, and that includes the national security of the United States.  

Perhaps nowhere do we see this link more vividly than in Africa. On the one hand, we see Africa as an emerging market.  African economies are some of the fastest-growing in the world.  We see a surge in foreign investment.  We see a growing middle class, hundreds of millions of people connected by mobile phones, more young Africans online than ever before.  There's -- there's hope and some optimism. And all of this has yielded impressive progress:  for the first time ever, a decline in extreme poverty in Africa; an increase in crop yields; a dramatic drop in child deaths.  That's the good news.  And in part, it's due to some of the work of the people in this room.   

On the other hand, we see an Africa that still faces huge hurdles -- stark inequalities, most Africans still living on less than $2 a day, climate change that increases the risk of drought and famine -- all of which perpetuates stubborn barriers in agriculture, in the agricultural sector, from bottlenecks in infrastructure that prevent food from getting to market to the lack of credit, especially for small farmers, most of whom are women.        

I've spoken before about relatives I have in Kenya who live in villages where hunger is sometimes a reality. 

Despite the fact that African farmers can be some of the hardest- working people on earth, most of the world's unused arable land is in Africa.  Fifty years ago Africa was an exporter of food.  There is no reason why Africa should not be feeding itself and exporting food again.  There is no reason for that.  (Applause.) 

So that's why we're here.  In Africa and around the world, progress isn't coming fast enough.  And economic growth can't just be for the lucky few at the top; it's got to be broadbased for everybody.  And a good place to start is in the agricultural sector. 

So even as the world responds with food aid in a crisis, as we've done in the Horn of Africa, communities can't go back just to the way things were, vulnerable as before, waiting for the next crisis to happen.  Development has to be sustainable, and as an international community, we have to do better. 

So here at the G-8, we're going to build on the progress we've made so far.  Today I can announce a new global effort.  We're calling a new alliance for food security and nutrition.  And to get the job done, we're bringing together all the key players around a shared commitment.  Let me describe it. 

Governments, like those in Africa, that are committed to agricultural development and food security -- they agree to take the lead, building on their own plans by making tough reforms and attracting investment. 

Donor countries, including G-8 members and international organizations, agree to more closely align our assistance with these country plans.  And the private sector, from large multinationals to small African cooperatives, your NGOs and civil society groups, agree to make concrete and continuing commitments as well, so that there's an alignment between all these sectors.   

And I know some have asked, in a time of austerity, whether this new alliance is just a way for governments to shift the burden onto somebody else.  I want to be clear:  The answer is no.  As president, I can assure you that the United States will continue to meet our responsibilities so that even in these tough fiscal times, we will continue to make historic investments in development.   

[Read President Obama's full speech here.]

+Plus: Bread for the World responds to President Obama's speech.

From a Local Pastor: 'I Feel Overwhelmed By What Would Happen if These Cuts Go Through'

Sterling Nelson, a volunteer at Peace Lutheran Church in Rogers, AR, brings in food for the church's food pantry which feeds more than 18,000 people a year. Photo by Lesley Herr.

Just as Jesus fed 5,000 with just five loaves of bread and two fish, one congregation, Peace Lutheran Church in Rogers, AR, is feeding more than 18,000 people a year through their food pantry. With only 375 members, this small church packs a powerful punch when it comes to combatting hunger in their region, which is experiencing widespread rural poverty that extends into four states: Arkansas, southern Missouri, southeast Kansas, and eastern Oklahoma.

Rev. Paul Theiss pastors Peace Lutheran Church and signed Bread for the World’s recent petition to Congress that says churches cannot shoulder the burden of protecting poor and hungry people alone. When signing the petition, Rev. Theiss left this comment: “Our congregation, Peace Lutheran Church, fed over 18,000 people during 2011 through our food pantry and additional children through our subsidized preschool and childcare center. We might have to close our youth and music ministries to find enough money to feed the many more who would come looking for food help.”

I called Paul Theiss to ask him about his ministry, the unique needs in his community, and how an added cost of $50,000 a year to help poor and hungry people would impact his church. Read our conversation below:

120516-peacelutheranPASTORTell me about Peace Lutheran Church. What services do you offer your community?

We have 375 baptized members and our average worship attendance is about 150. We operate the largest and highest-rated Christian preschool and learning center in Rogers, AR, which takes children from 6 months to kindergarten, and is partially subsidized by federal funds for working poor parents through the state of Arkansas.

Our pantry fed 18,000 people in 2011 and we spend $20,000 to $25,000 a year on food. We also receive many in-kind donations from members, local businesses, restaurants, and friends in the community.

Have you noticed increased need in the recent years since the economic recession?

Compared to the rest of Arkansas, this area has very low unemployment, but it’s surrounded by a large area of rural poverty that extends into four states. Many of the jobs here are minimum wage, which doesn’t support a household. So it’s very common to see people working two or three jobs and still not making it. You might say they are one car breakdown or sick child away from an empty pantry.

Could you share the story of one particular food pantry participant who stands out to you?

One young lady who worships regularly with us has an infant child. She is a single mom and works at a local restaurant, and has her child in our infant care center. She receives food stamps, WIC, and subsidized childcare. Her family also helps her. She is very intelligent and capable and faithful, but she’s living on the edge. And she would be among those affected by the recent cuts enacted by the House of Representatives. 

What was your response to the news that the House voted to cut funding to programs for poor and hungry people?

A sense of disbelief. Our representative is the former mayor of our town and he certainly knows the situation here, and I can’t believe that he would be responding to the need in such a way. So that’s the disbelief part of it.

I also feel overwhelmed when I think about what would happen if these cuts go through. The figure that’s put out there by Bread for the World is that every congregation would have to come up with $50,000 more per year [if House cuts are enacted]. Well, that’s an average. And for a place like Peace Lutheran Church, we’re talking about an exponential growth in need.

What is your greatest concern?

Sometimes when I park my car and walk up to the church door, I think about what it would be like if people were standing in line around the corner waiting for the pantry to open and not having enough to give them.

Where do you find hope?

That’s easy. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You can’t imagine a more hopeless situation than the death of Christ, and yet God brought something wonderful and powerful out of that.

The faith of the people I see who are involved in this ministry gives me hope as well. There was an anonymous note here that was given to one of our food pantry volunteers and I got a copy of it. It said:

“I’m sorry I didn’t know your name, but last month when my sister and I came to the food bank, we got here real early, and we were just sitting in my car waiting. You came out and told us to go ahead and come in. You didn’t know it, but our nephew had been in a really bad car accident. He lives with me and had just been here a few days. I needed to go ahead and do food banks, and he knew I had my cell phone and could reach me if needed. You really took a load of worry off me and my sister. God bless you, and thank you. K--- and J---”

So that’s just a touching thing when you think about how many people this volunteer has to deal with every day and he’s unemployed himself.

+Join Rev. Paul Theiss and sign our petition to Congress and let them know that churches cannot be the only ones responsible for feeding hungry people!

JCHOI_SMWKNDJeannie Choi is associate editor at Bread for the world. Follow her on Twitter @jeanniechoi.


Mario Batali's Week-Long Food Stamp Challenge Draws Attention to Vital Nutrition Programs

Screenshot taken from The Chew

Taking the food stamp challenge for a week is a far cry from the reality nearly 49 million Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) recipients face trying to stretch their SNAP dollars to the end of the month. But for celebrity chef Mario Batali, taking the food stamp challenge starts a conversation, and that's a good thing.

The reality for people who rely on SNAP goes beyond just the struggle to eat, and often includes a myriad of other challenges, such as gaining stable hours at work, paying for rent, keeping the lights on, and getting to the doctor. Nearly 99 percent of SNAP households have net incomes below the poverty line (about $22,000 a year for a family of four in 2011). For Batali, who is currently taking the food stamp challenge for one week, planning a week of meals for his family of four on $124 was, “not at all relaxing.”  Batali says, “It’s very much thinking about it all the time, which is what I imagine hunger feels like on a regular basis.”

In a brief backstage interview for his TV show, The Chew, Batali goes on to note that taking a challenge is not the same as living the reality, “It’s easy for us because we all know that next week we are going back to whatever we do. But it’s an interesting conversation every day to think about what hunger is, what food is, what nutrition is -- in a way that really makes us think about it on a much more personal level.” [See the video below.]

Another reality is that SNAP works. In tough economic times SNAP has been a life-line to families. As the economy heals, participation in the program will decrease.

Yet some in Congress want to force families out of the program. The House has proposed cutting $169 billion to SNAP and some have said that the churches can pick up the slack. Proposed changes like block granting would mean 8 to 10 million people would lose benefits that put food on the table. It would require roughly every religious congregation, on average, an additional $50,000 per year over 10 years to make up for these cuts. 

We need your help to turn the conversation into action. In June, members of Bread for the World will be in D.C. for our annual Lobby Day. We will be carrying petitions to our members of Congress that say people of faith find cuts to SNAP unacceptable. We have set a goal that the petition will include 5,000 religious leaders. Sign the petition and please make a commitment to ask your community’s leaders to speak up and defend our nation’s most effective line of defense against hunger.

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



Hunger QOTD: Walter Wink

'Walter Wink preaching' photo (c) 2000, FOR-USA Fellowship of Reconciliation - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

"Six million children die of malnutrition and hunger-related causes every year. That's 16,400 every day. Most of that is preventable. Bread for the World believes that hunger can be wiped out for only a few billion dollars -- peanuts compared with the military budgets of the world powers. If we don't respond, these children will find the door barred in their faces -- and in their case, they weren't 'foolish' but innocent. We will be the fools, but it will be too late for those who already face that closed door.

Jesus is not warning about the last judgment here, but against a judgment already taking place every day. In the world's midnight, Jesus brought the reign of God to humanity. Jesus transformed the world's midnight from a time of destitution into a time of celebration. Will we be at the wedding feast or locked out by our failure to grasp the meaning of that closed door? Perhaps there will be later feasts I can say yes to and be prepared for, but I have for all time missed the chance for this feast. The times we haven't responded to God's invitations to act add up to our unlived life."

--Walter Wink, in his reflection on the parable of the wedding feast (Matthew 25:1-13) for Hunger for the Word: Lectionary Reflections on Food and Justice. Walter Wink died May 10, 2012.

Pastor Smith Goes to Washington

120516-jimstewartFew people can forget the iconic 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. It is the story of Jefferson Smith, an idealistic, principled young man who is appointed to represent his home state in Washington, DC. When Mr. Smith arrives at Congress, however, he quickly finds those principles and ideals challenged. His fellow Senators dismiss and try to silence him, but in the end, through courage and tenacity he stands his ground and holds true to his principles. In doing so, he provides a much needed prophetic voice to the representatives of the people, reminding them of their responsibility to serve others.

From June 9 to 12, more than 70 young pastors, ministers, and clergy will gather in Washington, DC, for Hunger Justice Leaders 2012: From the Pulpit to the Public Square -- a powerful training that will help attendees develop their own prophetic voice to urge our nation’s decision makers to end hunger here and abroad. Through a special partnership and covenant with Bread for the World, this year’s Hunger Justice Leaders will be provided with expert training, inspiring speakers and worship, spiritually sustaining fellowship, and unique opportunities to visit the White House and to lobby their members of Congress!

Proverbs 31:8, 9 tells us to “Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” We can end hunger in our time, but it will take faith and political will to make it happen. It will take the work of faith leaders, stepping from the pulpit to the public square, to organize, advocate, and follow in the tradition of the prophets to build a movement across our country.

This June, dozens of faith leaders begin that journey and work with Bread for the World. "Pastor” Smith is coming to Washington.

Jon-gromekJon Gromek is north central regional organizer at Bread for the World.



Photo caption: Cropped screenshot of James Stewart from the trailer for the film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Hunger QOTD: Martin Luther King Jr.

120113-MLK1"Why should there be hunger and privation in any land, in any city, at any table when [we have] the resources and the scientific know-how to provide all [hu]mankind with the basic necessities of life? ... There is no deficit in human resources; the deficit is in human will."

--Martin Luther King Jr., in his Nobel Peace Prize lecture.









From a Local Pastor: 'Making Hungry People Hungrier is Unacceptable'

120515-revdaveHave you ever been hungry? I mean, really hungry? As in no-food-in-the-house-and-no-resources-for-getting-more hungry?

I haven’t. Oh, sure, there’ve been some months when expenses were bigger than income and I didn’t know how to pay some bills. But I’ve always had support -- financial and otherwise -- from my family when needed.

We all know that’s not the case for everyone. Right now:

  • 48.8 million Americans are at risk of hunger.
  • 15 percent of Americans -- including more than one-in-five children -- live in poverty.

Tragically, the House recently passed a budget that could make more Americans hungry.

This is unacceptable to me.

And this is why the church I serve, Woodridge United Methodist, recently sent 100 letters to Senator Mark Kirk and Senator Dick Durbin urging them create a circle of protection around domestic nutrition programs vital to hungry and poor Americans -- programs such as SNAP and WIC.

I signed Bread’s petition urging Congress not to cut SNAP for the same reason: Deliberately making more people hungry -- and making already hungry people even hungrier -- is unacceptable. It is unacceptable to me as a father, as a pastor, as a Christian, and as a human being, and I need my members of Congress to know that.

So Senator Durbin, Senator Kirk, and Representative Judy Biggert will see my name on Bread’s petition, and I hope your members of Congress will see your name as well. (Sign the petition here.)

To make up the gap created by those proposed cuts to SNAP churches and charities would need to do everything they’re currently doing to fight hunger ... and come up with an average of an additional $50,000 each year!

$50,000!? I know our church does not have that kind of spare change sitting around, and I know that our friends at the West Suburban Community Pantry have already seen demand for their services increase sharply -- from serving 750 families per month to 1200. The pantry does incredible work in our community, feeding more than 35,000 people last year, including more than 15,000 children. They are maxed out too.

I agree that budget deficits, especially at our current level, are unsustainable. But reducing our deficit by making hungry people hungrier is immoral.

The biblical witness is clear: As followers of God in the way of Jesus we are called to protect hungry and vulnerable people. We are called to speak with them. Signing this petition is a terrific, and, let’s be honest, easy way to do exactly that.

Photo caption: Rev. Dave Buerstetta dedicates letters written during an Offering of Letters on April 22, 2012, at Woodridge United Methodist Church in Woodridge, IL. 

Rev. Dave Buerstetta is Koinonia Pastor at Woodridge United Methodist Church, Woodridge, IL. Follow him on Twitter @davebuer. He also blogs occasionally at All That I Can’t Leave Unsaid.

+Learn more about budget proposals and Bread's online petition telling Congress that churches can’t be the only ones responsible for feeding hungry people, on Thursday, May 17.  Join Bread National Grassroots Conference Call and Webinar and hear more from Rev. Dave Buerstetta, the organizing staff, and one of our government relations policy analysts. Follow the webinar on Twitter with the hashtag #breadweb.

Caring for Poor People: Should the Church Do It Alone?

120515-churches[This article was originally posted on The Huffington Post.]

When I open my Bible, it isn't hard to find a verse that underscores our responsibility as Christians to care for the least among us. Proverbs 19:17 tells us, "Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed." Unfortunately, some members of Congress don't buy into this notion. They believe instead that taking care of the most vulnerable people in our society is for the church to do alone.

Recently the U.S. House of Representatives passed a budget resolution for fiscal year 2013 that places a heavy burden on poor Americans who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) to feed their families. The House recommended cutting more than $169 billion from SNAP. Some representatives even argued that feeding hungry people is really the work of churches, not government.

But churches can't be solely responsible for feeding poor women, children, seniors and disabled people. We also need strong government programs. In fact, all of the food churches and charities provide to hungry and poor people in the United States amounts to only about 6 percent of what the federal government spends on programs such as SNAP and school meals for students.

The Hartford Institute for Religion and Research estimates there are 335,000 religious congregations in the United States. If the House's proposals to cut SNAP by $133.5 billion and $36 billion are enacted, each congregation will have to spend about $50,000 more annually to feed those who would see a reduction or loss of benefits. Some congressional leaders are essentially saying that every church in America -- big or tiny -- needs to come up with an extra $50,000 to feed people every year for the next 10 years to make up for these cuts.

In response, Bread for the World asked people to tell members of Congress that churches can't be solely responsible for feeding hungry people. Thousands from around the country answered our call, telling us they just can't afford to do more than they're currently doing. Here are a few of their comments:

"As a small church in the middle of the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, we are inundated with needs all around us. The proposed cost is more than we pay our full-time minister for compensation, the only full-time staff we have. We contribute to multiple charities that distribute food to those who are in need in order to ensure the best stewardship of our resources. And, yet, we are still not able to meet all of the needs. These cuts will overwhelm us." --Sarah from Arlington, Texas

"Feeding the hungry is not a choice -- it is a moral imperative. But the food pantries and soup kitchens in this area funded by the generosity of church members already are serving those in need at capacity and beyond in these tough economic times. We are doing our part. We expect that our government will do the same." --Alexandra from Troy, N.Y.

"Addressing the needs of the hungry and poor is something that requires BOTH local congregation action and ALSO local and national government support. I urge our legislators at all levels to maintain strong support of government programs that help the poor and needy." --Brian from Fond Du Lac, Wis.

"Already we get innumerable calls for emergency assistance. We have no idea how these families are sufficiently getting the necessary nutrients for their children and family. To increase the number of people would be overwhelming and those churches who try to help with their shrinking congregations might totally give up." -Tempe of Jamestown, N.C.

"We fed over 32,000 people last year and we are tapped! We can barely pay our own bills, and if we are pushed any further we won't be able to keep our doors open, thus NOT being able to feed the ones we already are!! PLEASE DON'T cut any feeding programs." -Kirk of Sparks, Nev.

It's time for members of Congress to tell people -- like Brian from Wisconsin, Alexandra from New York, Tempe from North Carolina and Sarah from Texas -- that they're going to do their part and support legislation that creates a circle of protection around programs that are vital to hungry and poor people.

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



Photo caption: Senior Pastor Judith VanOsdol leads the noon church service at El Milagro (The Miracle) Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, MN. The parish, which is Spanish-English bilingual, is made up of many members who depend on WIC and SNAP to feed their families. VanOsdol spent 17 years as a missionary pastor in South America. Photograph by Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Hunger QOTD: Mother Teresa

Photo by Flickr user mrsdkrebs

"Make us worthy, Lord, to serve those throughout the world who live and die in poverty or hunger. Give them, through our hands, this day their daily bread; and by our understanding love, give peace and joy."

--Mother Teresa of Calcutta

"Make us worthy, Lord, to serve those throughout the world who live and die in poverty or hunger. Give them, through our hands, this day their daily bread; and by our understanding love, give peace and joy. Amen."

~ Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Keeping Children Nourished in Nepal


Sharmila Chaudhari feeds her daughter Sanjana, 19 months, at the Nutrition Rehabilitation Home (NRH) in Dhangadhi, Nepal, on Sunday, April 29, 2012. This Nutrition Rehabilitation Home in the western part of the country is run by an NGO in Nepal called the Rural Women's Development and Unity Centre (RUWDUC). Children eat meals and snacks at 7 a.m., 10 a.m., 1 p.m., 4 p.m., and 7 p.m., and they drink milk at 10 p.m., 1 a.m., and 4 a.m.

Forty-one percent of Nepali children under age 5 are short for their age (stunted), according to the preliminary 2011 Nepal Demographic and Health Survey. Stunting is an indicator of malnutrition, so ensuring children are properly nourished in the 1,000 days between pregnancy and age 2 is vital to a child’s development.

Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World

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