Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

62 posts from March 2013

Lenten Reflections: Compassion Through Our Eyes

Mary, 3, plays in the trees near her home in Kamuli, Uganda. Her aunt, Jane Sebbi, farms matoke and other vegetables near these trees. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

Tuesday, March 26

By Nancy Adkins

“Christ has no body now but yours.  No hands, no feet on earth but yours.  Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on the world.”

These words were spoken by Teresa of Avilla, who in 15th century Spain helped to establish convents and was also known for her writings. Her words about being Christ’s hands, feet and eyes form our identity.  They give us our purpose.

Christ looks at the world with compassion through our eyes.  Matthew 9:36 tells us that “when he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

40-for-1000_logo_blogPeople today still often feel helpless, hopeless, stressed, afraid and alone.  Today, they are all around you. Do you see them? Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on the world.

The late Henri Nouwen wrote,  “Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless.  Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”  

Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on the world.

Yours are the Hands of Christ.  Long ago Jesus took children up in his arms, laid his hands on them and blessed them. Christ used his hands to touch and heal. Now, even today, ours are the hands with which Christ touches and blesses and heals the world.  When one is in sorrow or pain, the power of the touch is like a silent language that says everything. Many times it travels deeper than words. Your touch, your hands are the hands of Christ.

Yours are the feet of Christ.  During the last supper, he got on his knees and washed the feet of his disciples. His purpose was not to give them a bath, but to give them a posture and a role they were to imitate.  The Master was showing them that they must take the posture and role of a servant.   “I have set you an example,  that you should do as I have done to you.”  Yours are the feet of Christ. 

Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console; To be understood, as to understand;

To be loved, as to love; For it is in giving that we receive,

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Nancy Adkins is coordinator for Church and Community for the American Baptist Women’s Ministry National Executive Board.  

40 Days of SNAP: Help? Help!

Children enjoy a snack at an after-school program in Washington, D.C. (Mark Fenton)

The Herman family, members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) living in California's Central Valley, have decided to follow a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food budget during Lent. They will be blogging about their journey and sharing their stories on the Bread Blog.

By Ivan Herman

Church members keep coming to me and asking, “Pastor Ivan, is there any way we can help you and your family? Can we take you out to eat or bring over a casserole for the freezer?” I give a variation of the same answer every time: “Thanks, but no thanks.” “That kind of defeats the purpose of the Lenten discipline.” I know they mean well, but when you find someone who is fasting from chocolate for Lent, do you offer them a Snickers?

As often as I try to graciously say “no,” I must also find a way to graciously say “yes.” Jeremy said, “I took your daughter out for an ice cream at McDonald’s. I hope that doesn’t ruin your budget.” Wyn said during a Stephen Ministry devotional, “Here’s an onion. You can do a lot with an onion.” My father, during his vacation, said, “Even people on SNAP have granddads who give grandkids treats.”

But then there is our dear friend, Crystal. She and her husband, Jeff, know what it’s like to be on SNAP. Some years ago when their first child was born prematurely, Jeff had just been laid off from his job. They had no income, no significant savings, and were consumed with daily running back and forth to the hospital to care for their new baby girl. When applying for assistance to cover the cost of the medical bills for the baby, the social worker told them they could apply for SNAP. “How are you putting food on the table?” she asked them. Extended family and church friends had been graciously providing them food, but their need was evident. While it was only a matter of a couple months before Jeff was back to work and they were off SNAP, in their hour most filled with need it was a difficult decision to say “yes” to SNAP. There is such a stigma attached to asking for food stamp help.

A few Sundays ago Crystal approached my wife, Susan, in the church parking lot. She thrust a brown paper grocery bag into her arms without asking. “Take it. You’ll need it.”

Inside the bag was a handwritten note:

Ivan and Susan,

Well I thought this could help you in more ways than one. Besides the simple fact of needing more food than money can buy, any extra food can always help.

But also in my life I have found it to be easy to be on the giving end of help. It is a hard thing to ask for help from a friend, family member, or stranger. But when your family is in need you have to push aside pride and be willing to take a helping hand.

So this is our gift to you, some food for thought.

Crystal

Annie Lamott’s newest book, Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers distills our conversations with God into these simple words. She said in an interview that “Help …is the great prayer, and it is the hardest prayer, because you have to admit defeat — you have to surrender, which is the hardest thing any of us do, ever.”

Even among generations there is a marked difference in the ability to ask for help and the perception of SNAP. A March 3 article in the Sacramento Bee explored the need among seniors. There is a growing population who are seeking food assistance from food charities, yet who won’t seek help from SNAP.  “So many are eligible for CalFresh food stamps, … but they look at that as a welfare program as opposed to a nutrition supplement.” River City Food Bank saw the number of older adults seeking assistance rise by 25 percent in 2012.

I’m convinced Crystal is right. It is easier to be on the giving end of help than it is to ask for help.  I don’t always ask for help when I need it.  But I do pray that when I ask for it, that I will have the wisdom and ability to push aside my pride to do so.  I also pray there will be assistance programs like SNAP to provide that help.  And when I don’t ask for it, yet still need it, may there be generous hearts with overflowing brown paper bags that come unbidden.

Ivan Herman is associate pastor at Carmichael Presbyterian Church in Sacramento, Calif.

Quote of the Day: Norman Borlaug

"If you desire peace, cultivate justice, but at the same time cultivate the fields to produce more bread; otherwise there will be no peace."

Norman Borlaug, (March 25, 1914 – September 12, 2009), father of the green revolution, in his Nobel Lecture The Green Revolution, Peace, and Humanity

Photo: Martha Togdbba of Kpaytno, Liberia, grows vegetables, including tomatoes and chili peppers. She irrigates her small farm with water from a nearby stream that she walks back and forth to with a watering can. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

Lenten Reflections: Growing and Thriving

Twin babies preemies

Photo: Pat Donahoo's twin daughters, courtesy of Pat Donahoo.

Monday, March 25

By Pat Donahoo

Babies! Whether it is mom, dad, grandparents, aunts or uncles, we all get so excited about babies. When we hear the news of expectant parents we throw parties and buy gifts and start planning what the life of the child will look like. We think about bright eyes and chubby cheeks and smiling, happy faces.

I planned all of those things for my first pregnancy, too. Then, at seven months along, I began to have problems with my health. In spite of a blizzard outside, I was sent to the hospital for tests. A quick x-ray (before the day of sonograms) showed that there were, in fact, two babies. Oh no! I need a second crib and a second car seat and twice as many clothes and bottles and diapers…..Well, at least I had two months to prepare.

40daysTen hours after my x-ray, in the middle of the blizzard, I went into labor. The doctor said not to wait, to get to the hospital immediately because the babies were coming too soon and we needed to be certain to get there before they were delivered. They arrived two hours later—about 12 hours from the time I found out there were two of them. They lost weight, had breathing problems, had to be fed intravenously. It was 16 days before I was permitted to hold them in my arms.
 
Scary? Challenging? Yes. But within a year they had each gone from weighing just three pounds to falling within normal development range. Because they had to be on oxygen those first few weeks of their lives they had to be tested for possible vision problems later. But, after those initial challenges they grew and developed normally and there were no residual difficulties.

How can preemie babies thrive? Why is it that some babies go full term and still struggle? The truth is there are a whole host of reasons. One of those reasons can be addressed: nutrition during the 1,000-day period from the start of a woman's pregnancy through her child's second birthday. I was blessed to have nutritious food, vitamins, and excellent medical care during my pregnancy. When this unexpected challenge came along my daughters were healthy enough to be able to overcome those early difficulties. How different might the outcome have been without that safety net? If they survived, they might still have had physical or learning challenges. Full-term babies without the proper care face those same challenges.

During this time of Lent, as we journey toward the cross we may travel in despair, or we may remember the rest of the story and the hope that the events at the cross birth. As we face this challenge of child nutrition, will we give in to despair or recognize the hope that lies in the fact that we can do something about it?

Pat Donahoo is executive director at Disciples Women.

Urgent: Say No to Vote-A-Rama Amendments That Target Poor People

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Update:  The Senate passed S. Con. Res. 8, Sen. Patty Murray's (D-Wash.) proposed budget resolution, by a vote of 50-49 early Saturday morning.  The Senate considered 101 amendments; all of the harmful amendments that concerned Bread for the World either failed or were withdrawn.  Thank you to all of our members who contacted their members of Congress asking for a circle of protection.

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As budget debate and voting continue in the Senate today, Bread for the World is deeply concerned about several proposed amendments that would cut critical programs that serve vulnerable populations. 

The Senate budget committee has introduced a proposal to fund the government through fiscal year 2014. Bread for the World has endorsed the budget proposal, which includes circle of protection principles. The resolution will be voted on as part of what is a called a “fast track process,” which includes a 50-hour debate period that began yesterday. During debate members are able to offer amendments to the budget, and many of those amendments will propose cuts to anti-hunger and anti-poverty programs.  

A rapid series of votes on each amendment—known as a “vote-a-rama”— is expected to begin today, with votes running late into the evening. We must tell our senators that there will be a political cost if amendments that hurt hungry and poor people are passed. These amendments not only pose immediate threats, but could be reintroduced during future budget negotiations.  We must demand that our senators vote correctly on each of the following amendments. Contact  your senators today: call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 or use our toll free number: 1-800-826-3688.

Poverty Focused Development Assistance

Support the Cardin-Rubio Amendment: Supports aid transparency and accountability, principles that make our foreign assistance programs more effective.

Oppose Paul Amendment No. 382: Cuts the FY 2014 International Affairs Budget by 33 percent.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps)

Oppose Roberts Amendment No. 180: Cuts SNAP by eliminating the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, also called the “heat-and-eat” provision.  More than 1 million households with high utility costs in 15 states and the District of Columbia would see an average monthly benefit cut of $90.

Oppose Roberts Amendment No. 181: Cuts SNAP by eliminating the employment and training program; as many as 2.6 million participants will lose benefits if they are unable to meet the minimum hours for employment or job training.

Oppose Roberts Amendment No. 183: Cuts SNAP by cutting categorical eligibility: A SNAP applicant is categorically (or automatically) eligible for SNAP if he or she receives benefits from other specific low-income assistance programs.  At least 1 million participants would lose access to their benefits.

Oppose Roberts Amendment No. 182: Includes most of the above cuts, plus slashes an additional $36 billion from SNAP and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) at a time of continuing high need.

Oppose Coburn Amendment #421: Limits food choice in SNAP, thus limiting food access.

Tax Credits for Low-Income Families

Oppose Sessions Amendment No. 209: This amendment unfairly targets low-income immigrant families, even those who are documented residents, by creating a deficit-neutral reserve fund for prohibiting illegal immigrants or immigrants granted legal status from qualifying for a refundable tax credit.

Safety-Net

Oppose Sessions Amendment No. 206: Cuts programs for hungry and poor people by dramatically reducing “welfare spending.”  But even with benefits from means-tested programs, the typical poor person’s standard of living is 57 percent below that of the typical middle-income American.

Limiting or Preventing Tax Increases

Oppose Thune Amendment No. 306: A balanced approach to the deficit-reduction must include both cuts and revenue.  The Thune Amendment reduces revenue proposals in the budget by $500 million.

Oppose Rubio Amendment No. 228: Like the Thune amendment, the Rubio amendment creates a structure in which raising revenue in the budget is difficult.  In order for programs that address hunger and poverty to be maintained in the next decade, tax revenue must be included in deficit reduction efforts.

If you have questions, please contact your regional organizer. As we are reminded in Proverbs, we must "speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor and the needy." Please act today.

Photo: The United States Capitol Dome, Architect of the Capitol flickr, U.S. government work.

Quote of the Day: Chinua Achebe

“While we do our good works let us not forget that the real solution lies in a world in which charity will have become unnecessary.”

— Chinua Achebe (1930 – 2013), in Anthills of the Savannah

Photo: Two women enjoying a lunch in the shade of a tree. (Margie Nea)

Washington Update for the Week of March 19, 2013

Capitolbldg

A regular legislative update from Bread for the World's government relations team.

Call to Action:  Ask the administration and your members of Congress to replace the sequester (automatic across-the-board cuts) with a comprehensive, balanced, and bipartisan approach to deficit reduction. Any package that replaces sequestration must protect programs for hungry and poor people and include increased revenue. Call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 or use our toll free number: 1-800-826-3688.

Write Letters to Congress

Bread’s 2013 Offering of Letters, “A Place at the Table,” is in full swing. In Washington, D.C., however, several legislative proposals threaten programs that help address hunger and poverty. During the last two weeks, more proposals that would drastically cut anti-hunger and anti-poverty programs have come to light. Below is a list of current proposed legislation affecting programs for hungry and poor people:

Sequestration: The  sequester is still in place and poised to cut programs on which vulnerable populations rely. Sequestration will impose a 5 percent across-the-board cut to federal programs, including WIC and PFDA, for the remainder of fiscal year 2013. This is in addition to a small (less than 1 percent) rescission to some discretionary programs, a result of sequestration being delayed by two months. For more on sequestration basics, and a list of anti-hunger and anti-poverty programs that are affected, download our fact sheet "The Consequences of Sequestration" or read this overview of a recent webinar conducted by Bread and our Interreligious Working Group on Domestic Human Needs (DHN) coalition partners.

Continuing Resolution: The House and Senate have both approved bills to fund the government through September, the end of the fiscal year. This averted a government shutdown, but both measures will lead to reductions in spending on WIC and many PFDA programs. The Senate passed the bill 73-26, and the House approved it 318-109. It now goes to the president for his signature.

Budget Resolutions: [Update, 3/25/12: Both the House and Senate have passed budget resolutions.  See Bread for the World's press release for details.]

Last week, both House and Senate budget committees released their FY14 budget proposals. Both budgets passed on strict party-line votes. Bread for the World released a comparison chart of the two proposals, evaluating them in terms of how they would affect hungry and poor people. The House proposal would drastically cut programs that serve vulnerable populations—66 percent of the cuts would come from programs that serve low-income people— while the Senate version takes a more balanced approach. Read our press release here. The House has passed its budget and the Senate is expected to pass its budget before the end of the week, after about 50 hours of debate.

In the Senate, a budget resolution receives special fast-track procedures. Only 51 votes are needed for passage. Senators can offer unlimited amendments, which receive just a few minutes of discussion followed by a series of rapid roll-call votes on each amendment, known as “vote-a-rama.” Members often use these amendments to score political points, and we expect some particularly damaging amendments to appear—many that would cut SNAP or prevent Congress from raising revenues as a part of deficit reduction.

The White House will release its budget on April 8.

Farm Bill/SNAP:  Congressman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) recently reintroduced a resolution in support of SNAP, H. Res. 90, along with Reps. Fudge (D-Ohio), DeLauro (D-Conn.), and George Miller (D-Calif.). This resolution is very similar to H. Res. 760, which was introduced last year and had more than 100 cosponsors. Currently, H. Res. 90 has 36 cosponsors and we are urging more members to sign on to show their support for SNAP. To view the latest list of cosponsors, go here. If your representative is not on the list, please invite them to cosponsor.

On the Senate side, we continue efforts to push back against Senator Roberts’ (R-Kan.) SNAP cut bill. The Improve Nutrition Program Integrity and Deficit Reduction Act (S. 458), would cut more than $36 billion from SNAP. This bill is similar to the budget reconciliation bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee and passed by the full House of Representatives in May 2012 by party-line votes. Senator Thune (R-S.D.) and Senator Johanns (R-Neb.) have both signed on to the bill. While we do not expect this bill to become law, it’s possible the full package or individual provisions could be offered as amendments in the Budget Committee markup or in other bills considered by the Senate Agriculture Committee or on the Senate floor.

Petition the President

We now have more than 8,000 signatures on the petition asking President Barack Obama to set a goal and work with Congress to end hunger at home and abroad.  If you haven’t already done so, sign the petition today, and encourage others in your network to join you.

Congress is on recess through April 8. Washington update will return when Congress does.

Lenten Reflections: What Makes a Champion?

Three-year-old Mary plays near her house in Kamuli, Uganda. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

Friday, March 21

By Amanda Bornfree

There’s a stillness that comes over me during the season of Lent. This stillness is soft yet strong, and each day, the stillness becomes stronger.

During this Lenten season, my attention is not only focused on my own spiritual growth and that of my community, but also on the growth of the 1,000 days movement. How does one become a champion for maternal and child nutrition? How does one become a stronger advocate for such an important cause?  What makes a person willing to stand up? These are the thoughts I have during moments of prayer and reflection. I know there’s not one answer.

40-for-1000_logo_blogIs it purpose coupled with perseverance? Does one become a champion by chance, or is it strictly a calling? Is a champion’s stance enhanced through experience, or from study and research? Is a champion someone who has landed at the intersection of compassion and courage? Perhaps a champion is someone who believes in moral rights and defends them? Or maybe a champion is someone who just does what needs to be done—someone with a good heart and common sense? Is it clearly our duty as Christians to be champions? Is it in our nature as Christians to be champions?

As the questions and thoughts come, I return to the stillness with my heart wide open. I’m not anticipating that any particular answer will come, or even any answer at all. I’m simply preparing myself to be moved by the Holy Spirit, to be open to playing the role that’s needed in order to shine light on the 1,000 days movement and to fight hunger and malnutrition.

I ask that you, too, during your moments of stillness, look inside yourself and become a champion for maternal and child nutrition. As a woman of faith, I believe it is in our nature to be champions for this cause.

Amanda Bornfree is a member of Bread for the World and a consultant in the church relations department.

Sen. Chris Coons Calls for Circle of Protection

By Robin Stephenson

Much of the Senate budget debate, which began yesterday, focused on the effects that the fiscal year 2014 budget proposal would have on wealthy and middle-class Americans.  Yet one voice rang out loud and clear in calling for a circle of protection around programs for poor and hungry people: Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.) spoke yesterday morning on the Senate floor, with Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), in support of a balanced budget approach rooted in our country's shared values. Bread for World has said that the Senate budget proposal embodies the principles of the circle of protection by replacing the series of cuts known as the sequester and protecting vital anti-hunger and anti-poverty programs.

Earlier in the day, the House chamber passed a budget that would keep sequestration in place, but shield defense cuts, exemplifying a very different set of national values. The House budget resolution includes provisions that would decimate critical programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), that have kept deep poverty at bay for millions. Cutting anti-poverty programs is the wrong approach, Sen. Coons said in his floor speech. He said that a good budget is one that "embrace[s] a circle of protection for the most vulnerable in our society."

Sen.Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) put a face on the indiscriminate cuts by reading excerpts from letters sent to her from constituents. One elderly woman wrote Sen. Hirono to say that sequestration, if not replaced, would likely mean she would lose her housing benefits. Her social security allotment was too small to make up the difference, so unless Congress replaces the sequester, she may become homeless.

In a press conference later in the day, Senator Coons further reiterated that a successful budget must be true to our core values. He recalled a letter that the leadership of the House, the Senate, and the president received from religious and faith community leaders across the U.S., together representing “a remarkably broad community” calling for a circle of protection. The idea, Coons said, led the Senate to propose a budget that “continues to protect programs on which the most vulnerable— the disabled, low-income seniors, children—rely for their sustenance, their support, and their advancement in this society.”

You can read that letter from faith leaders here and then call your member of Congress today. Demand they replace the sequester and pass a budget that is balanced, raises revenue, and includes a circle of protection or thank them for protecting programs for hungry and poor people.

Robin Stephenson is national social media lead and senior regional organizer, western hub, at Bread for the World.

Faith Leaders Bring 'Loaves and Fishes' to Congress

Loaves and Fishes Action pic
Faith leaders including (l to r) Rabbi Kimelman-Block of Bend the Arc; Bishop Don Williams of Bread for the World; Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness; Sister Simone Campbell of NETWORK Lobby, and Jennifer Butler of Faith in Public Life, at a press conference in front of the U.S. Capitol for the Loaves and Fishes Day of Action. (Nina Keehan/Bread for the World)

By Nina Keehan

Yesterday, faith leaders gathered in Washington, D.C., and in 13 states across America, for a “Loaves and Fishes” day of action. The effort emphasized the need for Americans to demand that their political leaders protect hungry and poor people during federal budget negotiations.

In a country that’s blessed with abundance, the faith leaders argued that what America really needs is not more food for the hungry, but a budget that doesn’t ignore the most vulnerable citizens. The event culminated in activists delivering baskets containing loaves of bread and fish to lawmakers on Capitol Hill and to local offices of members of Congress around the country.

“We are standing here to tell our elected officials that there is enough food to go around if we share,” said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, during the D.C. press conference kicking off the action. “Sharing is the way forward.”

Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness, emphasized the importance of pushing for a budget that considers all Americans, not just the rich. "How can we declare that the haves in America should have more while the have-nots should have less? We are better people than that."

Bread for the World’s Bishop Don Williams, associate for racial-ethnic outreach, stated the importance of looking out for others. “We live in something called the ‘real world,’” he said. “For some people that means living in a real nightmare. Fifty million people live in poverty and hunger. And we can spout numbers all day, but behind each one of those numbers is a face and a family.”

As the Biblical story goes, Jesus was able to feed five thousand with just five loaves and two fish—a miracle. Yet feeding everyone hungry in America doesn't require a miracle, just a mandate.

Nina Keehan, a media relations intern at Bread for the World, is a senior magazine journalism and public health dual major at Syracuse University.

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