Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

37 posts from January 2013

Setting a Foundation for Advocacy in Communities

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Panelists speak about hunger at the Oregon Faith Roundtable Against Hunger "Hungry for Change" event. Panelists, from right to left: Robin Stephenson (standing), Bread for the World; Patty Whitney-Wise, Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon; Philip Kennedy-Wong, Oregon Food Bank; and Howard Kenyon, Northeast Emergency Food Program.

By Robin Stephenson

On a recent frosty, fog-filled day in Portland, some 65 Oregonians spent the morning learning about hunger in their state, with a focus on moving from awareness to action. 

Through the local anti-hunger coalition Oregon Faith Roundtable Against Hunger (OFRAH), of which Bread for the World is a member, Bread staff and the regional Bread Team partnered with Catholic Charities and other Portland-area advocacy and service groups to put on the event "Hungry for Change." The OFRAH program examined the state of hunger in Oregon and highlighted legislative opportunities at both the state and federal level. Advocate voices are critically needed, especially in the coming year as fiscal belt-tightening will likely target programs for poor and hungry people.

In our work in the Portland area, we have benefited greatly by working in partnership. Although policy priorities of different organizations and groups may differ, the common thread of ending hunger creates fertile partnerships where coalitions can bring groups together to focus local energy and grow advocacy. Many of our Bread members are associated with multiple local anti-hunger groups and our working together, with a shared agenda, helps those members focus their advocacy. To our legislative delegations, partnered groups look big, and therefore may be perceived to have a stronger voice.  And as each group has a special niche and particular talent, working together can often create a more complex and nuanced picture of hunger in a region.

One of the highlights of the day was a panel that painted a picture of hunger in Oregon that went beyond simple statistics, and showed how often the same issues require advocacy at both the state and federal level. 

As a regional organizer for Bread for the World, I talked about critical federally-funded programs that keep people afloat as they struggle through tough economic times—programs that can be a crucial hand up for many escaping poverty. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) has long been a priority for Bread for the World and is an example of policy that pulls people out of poverty, especially children. Although the EITC was recently extended as part of the “fiscal cliff” bill, it faces several obstacles in the coming year. Our goal is to make this refundable credit permanent. 

Patti Whitney-Wise, executive director at Partners for a Hunger Free Oregon, talked about how Oregon’s working poor and near-poor families pay some of the nation’s highest state income taxes. Whitney-Wise explained that the state EITC helps families bridge the gap by supplementing very low wages and allowing them to afford life’s basic necessities, including food and housing. 

Oregon Food Bank’s state policy expert, Phillip Kennedy-Wong, discussed the increasing need in the state and pointed out that state and regional food bank networks have distributed over 1 million emergency boxes in the past year. He also said that cuts to The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) have depleted some of their resources. 

But the panelist that made the stark reality of hunger most real was Howard Kenyon, program manager of the Northeast Emergency Food Program. They have felt the pinch of the reduction in U.S. Department of Agriculture  (USDA) commodities, but Howard also sees the effect of hunger on the faces that utilize the pantry daily.  He made sure that everyone understood that poor people were not lazy when they often had to wait several hours for a food box in their overcrowded facility.  He told stories of people he knew who struggled to find work and make it from month to month with meager resources. 

The day also included breakout sessions on advocacy, story-telling, and in-depth federal policy. Each session gave participants a variety of ways to get involved and act toward change.

There is strength in numbers, and when our politicians and media have been silent on the needs of low-income Americans, we must come together and be loud enough for them to hear us amid all the competing voices. 

If you would like to organize an event like this or join a local coalition but don’t know where to start, contact your regional organizer for ideas. 

[Read the Catholic Sentinel article on the "Hungry for Change" event here.]

Robin Stephenson is Bread for the World's national social media lead/senior regional organizer, western hub.

To see photo captions, please view slideshow in full-screen mode.

The Need for Christ's Humanity

Photo: Closing worship for Bread for the World's Lobby Day 2011, held at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

By Dr. Gregg A. Okesson

Christmas may be over, but the incarnation has just begun.

During the time between Christmas and Easter each year, I try to immerse myself in the Gospels. I read the words, teachings, and narratives till the life of Christ saturates every pore of my being, permeating my mind, flooding my emotions, even capturing my imagination.

I find I need Christ’s humanity more than ever this year.

The Newtown massacre seems like it was a horrible nightmare that hit the nation with a thunderous shock. After 13 years of living in Africa, the materialism of an American Christmas still echoes with hollow reverberations in my mind; a time filled with canned Muzak and ubiquitous “sales” that place us in a sleepwalking slumber. Meanwhile, the fiscal cliff talks droned on, with the vulnerable being pushed ever closer to the precipice, as if they never existed.

Where is Christ’s humanity amid a society unraveling at every turn?

God works to redeem the world from the inside out. While all around us roar the voices of an insane world, seemingly careening out of control, God works to re-web the world, sometimes in shouts, more often in whispers.

Let me share one experience I had recently that spoke to me of the humanity of Christ.

At the end of November, some 30 faith leaders from around the country came to Bread for the World headquarters to spend a day in advocacy on behalf of the needs of the poor. We spent much of the day meeting with members of Congress, talking with key staff members, and building relationships with others of diverse ecclesiastical backgrounds.

Washington is used to lobbyists, but I couldn’t help but chuckle at our rag-tag crew. It wasn’t that we lacked polish, but we carried none of the money, political savvy, or allegiances that so often adorn the halls of the Capitol. We came not with prestige, but only with our humanity, pleading on behalf of others around the world who bear the same ascription. And it was the humanity of the meetings that impacted me the most.

While we were told that the members of Congress would give us 15 minutes of their time, I was in no meeting for less than 40. Most seemed almost relieved to talk to us, as if we represented something sane in an insane world. And then we prayed for them, infusing humanity with God’s presence. I am not sure I can put it into words, but those visits testified to something wonderfully intimate, deeply personal, and extraordinarily authentic—much like the person of Christ in our midst.

For Christians, the humanity of Christ is never far from us. We may rightfully praise the deity of Christ, or point with eagerness to Easter, with its redemption and resurrection. But the pathway to the cross always goes through our humanity, and in no other way.

And it seems we need Christ’s humanity more than ever this year.

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Dr. Gregg A. Okesson is dean of the E. Stanley Jones School of World Mission and Evangelism at Asbury Seminary.

Tell Congress to Protect Hungry People in Upcoming Budget Talks

College_group_writing_CongressWe have avoided the fiscal cliff, but we still have mountains to scale. We continue to advocate for programs that help poor as Congress continues tough budget negotiations. 

Bread members have been essential in protecting tax credits for low-income families, domestic nutrition programs, and poverty-focused development assistance.  However, several key actions by Congress over the next couple of months will again place such vital programs at risk.  We encourage you to continue contacting your members of Congress to let them know that you want them to create a circle of protection around these programs. Soon Congress will begin negotiations to replace the sequester (automatic, across-the-board cuts) by March 1 and raise the debt ceiling by at least $1 trillion. The continuing resolution that extended the fiscal year 2013 budget and kept the government funded expires March 27.  These events could be accompanied by significant spending cuts.  We need you to keep reminding our legislators that they must not balance the budget on the backs of poor and hungry people.

We continue to message members of Congress as part of the 2012 Offering of Letters. Below is an updated sample letter to use when contacting your senators and representative.  We will launch Bread for the World's 2013 Offering of Letters,  “A Place at the Table,” on March 1, and will keep you apprised of any changes or developments on the Bread Blog.  We encourage you and members of your community or congregation to personalize your letters to Congress.

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Date ____________

Dear Sen. ____________  or Rep.  ____________,

Please prioritize hungry and poor people during the next round of budget negotiations. Over the next two months, your leadership is critical, especially as Congress looks to finalize the fiscal year 2013 budget, address sequestration, and raise the debt ceiling. 

Specifically, I urge you to ensure adequate funding for programs that address hunger and help people move out of poverty. This will require additional revenues to address our deficits.

I appreciate Congress enacting the American Taxpayer Relief Act. The bill raises revenue for the first time in years, while also extending the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC), two of America’s most effective anti-poverty programs.  This bill also largely protects important anti-poverty programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), Medicaid, and international food aid, from major cuts. But the work is not over. Although this fiscal cliff deal is a tremendous first step, more needs to be done to address our country’s long-term fiscal health and ensure funding for programs that fight hunger and lift people out of poverty. I am concerned about the across-the-board spending cuts scheduled to take place if Congress does not develop a more comprehensive deficit-reduction package.  I encourage Congress to balance responsible spending cuts with new revenues in order to address the country's long-term deficits without jeopardizing our nation's commitment to alleviating hunger and poverty.

Allowing these across-the-board cuts will hurt programs such as international poverty-focused development assistance and WIC. Cuts to some international development programs would deny life-saving nutrition to some of the poorest nations, while cuts to WIC could hurt hundreds of thousands of poor mothers and young children in the United States. 

Our budget choices must not hurt those Jesus called “the least of these.” I urge you to form a circle of protection around funding for programs vital to hungry and poor people. May God continue to bless you and your work.

Sincerely,

[Your Name]
[Your Address]
[City, State ZIP]

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You can also download a copy of the letter here. If you have questions or need assistance, please contact your regional organizer.

Photo: A college group writes letters to Congress. (Bread for the World)

Hunger in the News: Poverty Awareness Month, Food Waste

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Looking for news on hunger and poverty? Hunger in the News is a regular roundup of notable links from around the Web.

"Poverty rates reflect 'serious moral failure'"

In recognition of Poverty Awareness Month, Bishop Jaime Soto writes an op-ed piece for the Washington Post. "Christ said, 'The poor will always be with you,'" he writes. "That is why the U.S. bishops and partners in the Circle of Protection remain steadfast in the call to protect poor and vulnerable people in the debates around the deficit reduction."

"Criminalizing Poverty"

Bobbie Ibarra, executive director of the Miami Coalition for the Homeless, writes a Huffington Post piece exploring the disturbing trend of criminalizing the behavior of the homeless: "Passing criminal ordinances does not solve this problem; it only makes the situation of persons experiencing homelessness worse by giving them a criminal record that prevents them from obtaining the employment or housing that would allow them to overcome their current circumstance(s)."

"Almost half of the world's food thrown away, report finds"

The Guardian reports that nearly half of the world's food—as much as 2 billion tons—ends up in the trash. The piece cites a study from the UK's Institution of Mechanical Engineers, which blames the waste on "poor engineering and agricultural practices," inadequate infrastructure,  poor storage facilities, and, in the Western world, unnecessarily strict sell-by dates, buy-one-get-one free deals that encourage shoppers to buy more than they need or can use, and consumer demand for cosmetically perfect food.

Quote of the Day: Proverbs 11:25

Young_boy_helps_sister"A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed."

Proverbs 11:25

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Photo: A girl's brother helps her buckle her shoe. (Margie Nea)

One Great Act of Kindness Sparks Discussion of Poverty


By Sarah Godfrey

One of the biggest feel-good stories of the year, so far, is that of Los Angeles-area entertainment lawyer Tony Tolbert, who is allowing a homeless family to live in his house for an entire year, rent-free. Tolbert has moved in with his mother while the recipient of his kindness, Felicia Dukes, is now living in his home with her four children.

Tolbert has, deservedly, received heaps of praise for his amazing generosity. Read the comments section of any story about Tolbert's good deed and the remarks are overwhelmingly positive. Still, there are at least a few people wondering if he might've done more good with an act that would’ve helped more than one family—or addressed the larger issues surrounding poverty, hunger, and homelessness.  Many questioned whether giving someone shelter, as noble and generous as it is, would really do anything to help the family beyond 2013. 

"What happens after the year is up?" one commenter wrote. "Give a man fish and feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and he can eat for a lifetime. Charitable kindness is fine but true freedom come when a man can feed himself. President Obama, you need to stimulate the economy and put people back to work!"

"That's cool and all, but what happens at the end of the year?" wrote another commenter. "365 days fly by pretty fast especially when you are broke. I'm not trying to be negative I'm just asking are there steps being taken to help them get their own house and keep it?"

Some of my more cynical friends also voiced concerns about Tolbert's act and the media coverage of it. They told me they were discouraged by the prevalence of news stories about good Samaritan "superheroes," while stories of programs that prevent poverty, or help people lift themselves out of it, remain rare.

Those points are valid, and it's true that individual acts of charity often receive more attention than large-scale efforts to stamp out poverty. There are tons of stories about this one man's effect on one family, but little media coverage of the millions of families helped by tax credits, for example. Still, it's unfair to say that Tolbert's act can't have a huge impact.

He has done more than merely provide "fish" to the Dukes family—his act could well have lasting positive benefits for Felicia Dukes and her children. It's hard to overstate the importance of affordable (or free!), safe housing.

Beyond that, Tolbert's act has stimulated public conversation about poverty, and what can be done to address it. And sometimes an individual's selfless act can be an entry point to advocacy for that person—or for someone who is inspired by them. Let's say someone reads a story in their local paper about a family inviting a hungry person to their table for Thanksgiving. Maybe that person is so moved that they decide to serve dinner at their local soup kitchen. After that, they decide that they want to help beyond the holidays, and start volunteering for their local food bank. And maybe while doing that work, they realize how important it is to contact their members of Congress and tell them to protect federal nutrition programs, such as SNAP and WIC, that are vital to poor and hungry people. It's a pretty common path—that's how it worked for me. 

Sarah Godfrey is Bread for the World's associate online editor.

Quote of the Day: Art Simon

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"[H]unger is largely invisible to most Americans, and hungry people have little political clout. As a result, efforts to cut nutrition programs have persisted over the years, and Bread for the World has frequently been forced to fight proposed cuts. Defending against cuts is not glamorous work, but without that work countless additional families would go hungry."

—Art Simon, in The Rising of Bread for the World: An Outcry of Citizens Against Hunger

 

Photo: Three elementary girls enjoy their school lunch. (Yesenia Garcia)

"The EITC Has Been a Huge Help"

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Photo by Flickr user 401(k) 2013

When Alexandria, Va., resident Ayana Edwards first learned that the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) could be in jeopardy during fiscal cliff negotiations in Congress, she prepared to face chaos.

Edwards, who works in human resources, knew that if those refundable tax credits were reduced, the employees at her company who count on getting larger tax refunds thanks to the EITC and CTC would flood her office, hoping she might know of a way to offset the blow to their finances. She also kept close watch on the negotiations because she is one of the roughly 27 million Americans who receives the EITC.

“I actually had a sit-down with a tax preparer who told me what the changes would be, and then, because I'm in HR, I’m familiar with any tax changes that could affect my employer and our employees, so I was watching it from both sides,” Edwards says.

The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, better known as the deal that helped the country avoid the fiscal cliff, extended current benefit levels for both the EITC and CTC for five years. The extension preserved improvements made to the EITC and CTC over the last decade, including marriage penalty relief and expansion of income thresholds, which allows low-wage workers to count more of their earnings toward the credits. The EITC, which has been shown to encourage work and improve children's school performance, is a powerful tool in helping to lift families out of poverty—it is our nation’s largest anti-poverty program, in fact.

Edwards says the affect the EITC has had on her family has been tremendous. She once utilized several federal safety net programs, but over the years she has increased her earnings, through a series of progressively better-paying jobs. She no longer qualifies for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or SNAP (formerly food stamps)—EITC is one of the last benefits she receives. If she continues on her current career trajectory, soon she’ll no longer qualify for EITC, either. But, as it is now, the tax credit provides her and her family with a very important hand-up.

“The EITC has been a huge help," Edwards says. "It’s practical and allows me to get money in one lump sum—money that I can use to catch up on bills, or make a major purchase, if I need to. I can get things like coats for the kids, if they’ve outgrown something. I have a larger family, so I’m not always able to replace all of the winter coats that no longer fit all at once. When I get my tax refund, which includes the EITC, that’s something I can do.”

This year, Edwards says she will likely use her EITC money to buy a used car, since the vehicle she uses for her commute to work, 60 miles round-trip each day, is old and she's nervous that it may soon break down beyond repair.  Edwards can see how, without the tax credit, she could easily fall back into the poverty that she has escaped. Without a working car, how would she get to work? Without a job, how would she pay her rent or feed her family? She thinks that those who diminish the importance of the credit, and think it should be reduced or eliminated altogether, just don't understand it's role in helping millions of families secure food, clothing, and shelter.

“The only people who could say something against [EITC] are those who aren't in a position to need it, or don't care about those of us who really do need it," Edwards says.

Quote of the Day: Roger Thurow

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One Acre farmers worked together in groups of eight to twelve, friends and neighbors coming together to form their own little farming cooperatives. They gave their groups inspirational names like Hope or Faith or Mercy or Grace or Happiness or Success. Leonida's group of eight women and one man was called Amua. The name conveyed hope and faith but also determination and ambition. Amua, in Swahili, meant "decide."

"What have you decided?" Leonida was often asked by fellow farmers. " We have decided," she would proudly reply, "to move from misery to Canaan." Canaan was the Old Testament land of milk and honey, a place of abundance, the land of deliverance.

—Roger Thurow on Kenyan farmer Leonida Wanyama in his book The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change.

Photo: A woman in Zambia tends her crop. (Margaret W. Nea)

Thank You For Your Generosity

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Mary, 3, plays in the trees near her home in Kamuli, Uganda. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

Thank you for your extra generosity at the end of the year!  Because of gifts from you and other Bread members, we were able to reach and exceed our $100,000 online goal between December 20 and 31, raising more than $120,000. This means that $100,000 of the total will be matched dollar for dollar by several generous Bread donors, bringing our grand total raised to $220,000! 

Bread for the World continues to be blessed by the giving spirit of our members.  You make our work on behalf of hungry and poor people possible.  It is because of you that we’ve been able to make lasting changes that ensure parents are able to feed their children—like the recent extensions of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit, both of which provide support to low-income working families. 

Your support makes a huge difference for hungry and poor people in the United States and abroad. We are truly grateful for your partnership in our work to help end hunger. Thank you!

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