Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

45 posts from April 2013

The Difference a Ride Can Make

Girl_carrying_groceriesBy Sarah Godfrey

Sterling Farms, the buzzed-about grocery store chain started by Wendell Pierce, the actor best known as "Bunk" from the HBO show The Wire, is now open for business.

Pierce, along with his business partners, has been working to place markets and convenience stores in food deserts in his native New Orleans. Sterling Farms is not just putting nutritious, fresh food where there was none before—the people behind the business are working to figure out how to tackle the problem of food access from many different angles. One perk the stores offer is especially greatthe chain gives free rides to those who spend more than $50.

When I first saw the clip below, I was watching TV with a good friend who once received SNAP, and she thought the ride program was a brilliant idea. She told me that when she received benefits, trying to find a way to get to the store was a monthly source of stress.

She lived near an upscale supermarket, but the prices were high—her money stretched further if she could get to Shoppers Food Warehouse, Aldi, Bottom Dollar, or one of the other bargain grocery store chains in Virginia. Unfortunately, those stores weren't easily reached by bus. Besides, a bus ride meant her food purchases were determined by what she could carry, rather than personal taste, nutritional value, or cost. Every month she had to find a ride to the store, come up with a few bucks of gas money to offer the driver, and then worry if the person would actually come through for her. 

Lack of transportation can be an insurmountable barrier to food: Bread for the World has explored how the suspension of school bus service during the summer affects the effectiveness of school lunch programs during those months, and the ways in which cutting city bus service can hinder the ability of people to get to food. 

As we work to ensure that everyone has a place at the table by petitioning the president and writing to Congress, it's nice to know that businesses are thinking about how they too can tear down the obstacles that stand between hungry people and affordable, nutritious food. 

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

Quote of the Day: Bishop Don DiXon Williams

"Fifty million people [in America] 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.”

—Bishop Don DiXon Williams, associate for racial-ethnic outreach at Bread for the World

Photo: Heather Rude-Turner depends on EITC (earned income tax credit) to help support her family: Mark Diamond, 32; Naomi, 5; and Isaac, 3. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl)

Greece: Is it a Cautionary Tale?

Schoolchildren in Athens Greece, 2007. Photo by flickr user Tran's World Productions.

By Robin Stephenson

The stories of hunger out of Greece are heartbreaking. It is not as if poverty and child hunger is something new, but recent reports of children in Athens picking through trash cans for their school lunches are shocking—perhaps because the country's fall from relative prosperity has taken just five years or perhaps because children eating from trash cans is simply a perversion of God’s will.

When I think of Greece, I think of families around dinner tables crammed with savories like spinach-stuffed pastry with salty chunks of feta cheese and fragrant bread dripping with thick olive oil—everyone showing love while sharing food. 

But the reality for many Greeks today is scarcity—unemployment rates of 27 percent leave dwindling options for many families. As reported in the New York Times, the new image of Greece, filtered through a shroud of austerity where pasta and ketchup are the evening meal, is an inversion of the country's rich cultural heritage, a good deal of which is linked to food. The garbage can is now the table for some it seems.

I have written previously that austerity as an answer to plummeting economies has failed in the past, bringing only vicious cycles of decline as it ignores the complexities of the root causes of poverty. Well-constructed safety nets make it easier to rebound in better times.

Current proposals in the U.S. Congress call for measures of austerity from the most vulnerable populations – those measures include crippling the safety net with disproportionate cuts, as the House Budget Resolution would do if implemented.

When the cupboard at home is empty, Greek children, not unlike American students, go to school hungry. There is no succor for the hunger pangs of the Greek child—no school lunch if her family can’t provide it. In the United States, by contrast, children from low-income families have access to subsidized lunch, a resource we provide with our tax dollars. Not every child is reached and child hunger is still a problem in this country, but our nation made a moral choice and decided that having healthy children is an American value— at least for now.

The economy in the United States is not in free fall, as it is in Greece. We have an opportunity to improve our economy if our members of Congress will come together and act. We can still make sensible choices, such as replacing the sequester and reducing the deficit by balancing cuts with slight increases in revenue, thereby protecting policies and programs that reduce poverty.

The U.S. narrative coming out of the recession has been this: our safety net has worked. During a period of increased unemployment and underemployment in America, food insecurity has remained relatively stable as poverty has risen. The worst decision our nation could make is to abandon effective programs that make it easier to recover.

The future will be complex, but the image of an abundant table contrasted with children searching for scraps gives me pause. God’s vision of a world where all have a place at the table requires the political will to make our children’s health a moral priority. The stories out of Greece remind us that the choices we are making today can change our story tomorrow. 

Act today and tell Congress to make the right choice for tomorrow. 

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

Quote of the Day: Art Simon

"When we are rich and others are hungry or impoverished beyond description, justice calls for ending this imbalance."

—Art Simon, founder, Bread for the World

Photo: A Bangladeshi boy carries one of the family's goats. (Todd Post)

Washington Update for the Week of April 15, 2013


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

Call to Action: Ask members of Congress to stop procrastinating and include taxes as part of a big budget deal. Urge your senators and representative to enact a deficit-reduction deal that replaces sequestration, raises sufficient revenues, and addresses entitlement spending. 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 and the impact of your letters and phone calls is already being felt in Congress. Below is a list of current proposed legislation affecting programs for hungry and poor people.

Budget: As previously reported, the House and the Senate passed their respective fiscal year 2014 budget resolutions earlier this month. The White House released its FY2014 budget last week. Both the Senate’s and president’s budgets would replace the sequester. The president’s proposal includes his last offer to House Speaker John Boehner during the fiscal cliff negotiations for a grand bargain, which raises revenue and reforms entitlements. 

The president’s budget proposal also includes a proposal for food aid reform that could enable up to 4 million more people to be reached with comparable resources. Bread for the World welcomes the reforms, and has joined other organizations in issuing a statement of support.

The House and Senate are now negotiating the conference process whereby a single compromised version of the budget is agreed upon by both chambers. While it’s unclear if the chambers will actually conference a FY2014 budget resolution, this could provide a path for the grand bargain and a replacement of the sequester.

Sequestration: The sequester is still in place and poised to cut programs on which vulnerable populations rely. Sequestration will impose roughly a 5 percent across-the-board cut to federal programs, including WIC and poverty-focused development assistance (PFDA), for the remainder of fiscal year 2013. This is in addition to a small (less than 1 percent[H1] ) rescission to some discretionary programs included in the final funding bill for 2013, 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. "

Taxes: The idea that cutting effective programs is necessary in order to reduce deficits is false. Our government could bridge the gap with more revenue. Bread for the World advocates for slight increases in revenue balanced by responsible spending cuts.

The Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee, the committees with jurisdiction over the tax code, are both moving on tax reform. Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) has issued a series of overhaul proposals over the past two years and has promised legislation for comprehensive rewrite by the end of the year. The Finance Committee is putting together options for tax reform. Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), also eager to see tax reform, has been holding meetings with Camp and other Republicans. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) have been topics of discussion within both committees. Bread for the World sent a letter to the Ways and Means Committee, stressing the importance of these refundable tax credits. The letter urged Congress to protect these credits, make the 2009 improvements permanent, and strengthen the credits for low-wage workers.

Bread members who have senators and representatives on those committees will need to be especially persistent in messaging their members as we continue to urge Congress to include revenues so we can adequately fund programs that help people who are hungry or living in poverty.

Farm Bill/SNAP:  Congressman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) recently reintroduced a resolution in support of SNAP, H. Res. 90. 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 102 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.

Both the House and Senate agriculture committees are expected to begin markup of their bills within the next two weeks.  As dates are firmed up, we will let you know via Bread Blog when it is time to contact your members of Congress.

Immigration Reform:  Bread for the World will act as an ally on immigration reform, mobilizing people of faith and aligning with partners who seek reform that respects the dignity of immigrants in the United States while addressing poverty and hunger overseas. To learn more about Bread for the World’s priorities for immigration reform, please visit www.bread.org/immigration.

The Senate “Gang of 8” on immigration reform—Sens. Rubio (R-Fla.), McCain (R-Ariz.), Flake (R-Ariz.), Durbin (D-Ill.), Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Bennet (D-Colo.)—released its immigration reform proposal this week. The Senate Judiciary Committee begins hearings on immigration reform legislation today and will continue into next week. The House will go through an independent process.

Petition the President

We now have more than 10,000 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.

Evangelical Day of Prayer and Action for Immigration Reform

How Effective Are SNAP Doubling Programs at Farmers' Markets?

Marie Crise is able to use her SNAP benefits to purchase fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables at the Abingdon Farmers Market in Abingdon, Va. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl)

By Nina Keehan

Food stamps, you might be surprised to learn, were originally intended to be used to buy fresh produce and other staples at farm stands.  It was only after the 1984 introduction of the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) system, which gave participants debit cards to make purchases, that food stamps were shunned at farmers' markets. Vendors could not afford the technology necessary to authorize payments.

Luckily, over the past few years, farmers' markets have returned to the days when food stamps were readily accepted, and some even offer a special benefit for those making purchases with SNAP (formerly food stamps) dollars.

Some farmers' markets have started to double SNAP (formerly food stamps) benefits, meaning if you buy $10 worth of produce at a participating farmers' market, you get another $10 free! This sort of incentive is vitally important, since fresh fruits, vegetables, and local products are so much more expensive than the processed foods sold at convenience and grocery stores.

Last month, I visited a Washington, D.C., FreshFarm Market to see if doubling programs are effective. The Penn Quarter farmers' market has been doubling benefits through its Matching Dollars Program since 2009--it's one of several FreshFarm markets that doubles benefits up to $15.

While not all of the markets can afford to double benefits, FreshFarm decides which ones will support the incentive based on neighborhood data and past response to the program.

Bernie Prince, co-executive director and founder of FreshFarm Markets, said that offering double benefits for SNAP, WIC (Women, Infants and Children), and SFMNP (Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program) coupon holders has drawn a lot of new customers to the market, many of whom become frequent and loyal visitors. Last year, FreshFarm gave over $47,000 in benefits to shoppers.

The Matching Dollars Program is not just beneficial for the customers—the farmers and other vendors at the market are seeing increased sales without having to pay for the transaction technology themselves. FreshFarm handles all SNAP transactions from a table at the market and charges a $2 fee for shoppers using a credit card--that money is immediately folded back into the Matching Dollars Program, which allows the $15 benefit to be self-sustaining.

Programs that double benefits often require a lot of outreach because many communities don’t realize the programs exist, so FreshFarm goes directly to the source, by promoting in benefit agencies and senior centers. It is also expanding to reach more people: In 2013, FreshFarm will make its Matching Dollars Program available at several additional D.C.-area markets.

Doubling programs have an enthusiastic, but limited market following. While more than 1,150 farmers' markets accept EBT cards, only a fraction of them do any form of SNAP matching. But data from Wholesome Wave’s Double Value Coupon Program (DVCP) has indicated it is one of the most effective ways to draw in SNAP customers, with participating farmers indicating a “300 percent increase in SNAP and WIC use at farmers markets with the introduction of double voucher incentive programs.”

Hopefully, as successful programs such as FreshFarm and DVCP continue to thrive, more farmers' markets will participate and help make fresh fruits and vegetables a staple, once again, for low-income shoppers.

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

Quote of the Day: "Lazarus"

Aiden_eats_spaghetti"Bread should be like air, so free/ Always there for you and me/ Surely God who made us all/ Intended us to share ..."

— "Where Shall I Find Bread?," a song from the musical Lazarus.

A new reworking of the musical Lazarus will be performed at Bread for the World's 2013 National Gathering, "A Place at the Table," June 8-11 in Washington, D.C. Register and join us!











Photo: Aidan Rodriguez (pictured) is the son of Barbie Izquierdo, a Philadelphia native whose firsthand experiences with hunger and poverty have made her an anti-hunger activist and nationwide speaker on the topic. Barbie has worked with Witness to Hunger in Philadelphia and appears in the documentary A Place at the Table. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

Immigration is a Hunger Issue

Marvin Garcia Salas and his son, Jesus-500px

Marvin Garcia Salas eats breakfast with his son Jesus, 4, in Chiapas, Mexico. Marvin was once an undocumented immigrant in the United States, where he had moved without his family to better support them. Hunger, and a lack of economic opportunity are at the root of much of the undocumented immigration from Mexico. Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World

“Immigration is a hunger issue,” emphasized organizer David Gist during Bread’s monthly grassroots webinar and conference call yesterday. Mixing personal narratives with biblical principles and policy, the call focused on today’s release of a bipartisan Senate bill on immigration reform.

Since 2010, Bread for the World Institute has researched immigration’s connections to hunger and poverty. Moving forward, Bread for the World will act as an ally on immigration reform, mobilizing people of faith and aligning with partners who seek reform that respects the dignity of immigrants in the United States while addressing poverty and hunger overseas. We recognize that poor conditions in home countries is a major cause of unauthorized immigration to the United States, and we have identified five principles (PDF) that are crucial to craft policy that addresses hunger as a root cause of immigration.

Illustrating the often stark choices that drive migration to the United States, organizer Tamela Wallhof told the callers about Antonio, a man with whom she worked in Hilipo, Nicaragua. A subsistence farmer, Antonio was driven from his land by a combination of Nicaraguan and international policies that encourage large cash-crop farming in place of family-farming for local consumption. If Antonio had stayed in Nicaragua, his only option would have been to work for one of the large coffee plantations for less than a dollar a day, a sum that would not feed his extended family. Facing that future, Antonio was willing to risk entering the United States without authorization. 

Later in the call, Ana, a woman in her 20s,  spoke about her parents who left Peru nearly 15 years ago amid threats of kidnapping. Her parents left because of their concern for the wellbeing of their children. Ana escaped danger in Peru, but now lives in the United States without authorization. As her tale unfolded, Ana expressed raw fear about the fact that she could be deported from the only home she has ever known. She lives with that reality every day.

These stories show the human faces behind immigration and speak to our hearts. Bread for the World is driven by a biblical call to love our neighbor. And the Bible is full of immigration stories.

“We are called to ground our treatment of the stranger in scripture,” said Rev. Walter Contreras during the call. The Bible instructs us on how we should treat strangers. The model is hospitality, from the stories of God’s people as immigrants in Genesis to Jesus's teachings in Mathew 25—in which he tells us that what we do for the stranger we do for the savior.

As a faith-based organization dedicated to ending hunger, immigration reform falls squarely in Bread’s mission. Situations that push families like Antonio's and Ana’s to migrate are far too common and illustrate poverty beyond our borders.

But as David Gist points out, “it’s also a hunger issue here in the U.S. Thirty-four percent of U.S.-born children of unauthorized immigrant adults lives in poverty—34 percent! That’s almost double the rate for children of U.S.-born adults.”

There is a lot of work to be done and the introduction of a Senate bill is just the first step. The House of Representatives will go through an independent process, but it is important people of faith to talk to Congress:  reformed policies must respect human dignity and alleviate hunger and poverty both here and abroad.

“The opportunity for immigration reform process to move forward is now,” says government relations director, Eric Mitchell.

Today offers such an opportunity as religious leaders visit Capitol Hill for a day of prayer and action and you can join them. Learn more here.

Pray and Act for Compassionate Immigration Reform

Jeanette Salguero is co-pastor at the Lamb's Church in New York City. Photographed on Sunday, October 28, 2102. Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Tomorrow, April 17, Bread for the World President David Beckmann will join other religious leaders and Christians from across the country for the Evangelical Day of Prayer and Action for Immigration Reform in Washington, D.C. The event comes at a critical time—tomorrow, the U.S. Senate will release its draft bill for broad immigration reform. 

After a morning prayer-filled worship service, participants will visit Capitol Hill and tell lawmakers that it is time for just and compassionate immigration reform. The Bible tells us that God has a special concern for those from foreign lands (Deut.10:18, Psalm 146:9). God also commands others to display special concern and compassion for immigrants, and to remember our own immigrant history (Lev. 19:33-34, Ex. 23:9).

As part of the Day of Prayer and Action, members of the Evangelical Immigration Table (of which Bread is a member) will proclaim a biblical vision of immigration reform that respects the rule of law, reunites families, and upholds human dignity. If you are unable to attend, set aside a quiet moment in your day tomorrow and pray the "Prayer for Our Immigrant Sisters and Brothers" (below) or one of your own. You can also follow the event on Twitter, using the hashtag #IWasAStranger.

Make sure to call your members of Congress and tell them to support immigration reform that respects the human dignity of immigrants in the United States and addresses the poverty and hunger overseas, which are major causes of unauthorized immigration to the United States. You can call them using our toll-free number: 1-800-326-4941. 

Another way to message your lawmakers is through social media. Tweet your message to your member of congress or write on their Facebook wall. (Sample tweet: I pray and act for just & compassionate #immigration reform. Do you? @SenMikeLee #dayofprayer #IWasAStranger).

If you want to learn more about immigration issues, and Bread for the World's priorities for immigration reform, please join our expert organizing and policy staff today, for our monthly national grassroots conference call (and webinar), where we will explore the theme "Why Immigration, Why Bread, Why Now." Learn more about the immigration issue, its connection to hunger, and why we all should care. Register for either the 4 p.m. ET or the 8 p.m. ET call.


Prayer for Our Immigrant Sisters and Brothers

Blessed are You, Lord Jesus Christ.
You crossed every border
between Divinity and humanity
to make your home with us.
Help us to welcome you in newcomers,
migrants and refugees.

Blessed are You, God of all nations.
You bless our land richly
with goods of creation
and with people made in your image.
Help us to be good stewards and peacemakers,
who live as your children.

Blessed are You, Holy Spirit.
You work in the hearts of all
to bring about harmony and goodwill.
Strengthen us to welcome those
from other lands, cultures, religions,
that we may live in human solidarity
and in hope.

God of all people, grant us vision
to see your presence in our midst,
especially in our immigrant sisters and brothers.
Give us courage to open the door to our neighbors
and grace to build a society of justice.

(Source: Pax Christi)

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