Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

None of Us Lives Very Far From Food Insecurity

Justin Fast
Justin Fast walks through the halls of Congress to meet with his senators and representative during Bread’s Lobby Day, Monday, June 10 (Eric Bond).

By Justin Fast

Michigan is a gorgeous state and one of the most diverse agricultural states in the country—thanks in large part to the migrant workers who toil to make that possible.

Yet it's also a state where nearly as many children go to bed hungry as go to church on Sunday morning. During the recession, when Michigan had been struggling for some time, I was privileged to work with Michigan food banks connecting families with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). I also managed state and federal advocacy on behalf of these nutrition programs.

Proposed cuts to programs like SNAP or foreign aid that go unchallenged go unnoticed. And as is so often the case, those who can least afford to speak up or speak out, those without a place at the table, are the ones whose voices are silent in the history books. Their stories go untold.

So in the spirit of breaking the silence, I’d like to tell you Germaine’s story.

Germaine was born in Coesse, Ind. She grew up as a Methodist Episcopal preacher’s kid in northern Michigan during the Great Depression. Hunger was a frequent reality, and Germaine told me that truck drivers used to toss fruit from their overflowing trailers to her and her brothers.

As a grown woman, Germaine married, tended house, and ran a successful home business with her husband in rural Michigan. They raised three happy, healthy children who went on to greater things. In short, her life was fruitful.

I have no doubt that both of these experiences—growing up poor and running a home business—had a profound effect on Germaine. To call her frugal or resourceful would be an understatement. She always had a quarter cup of yogurt or a half glass of water in the fridge to keep it from going to waste. The ends of a loaf of bread were better than the silent dread of an empty cupboard.

When I knew her, Germaine wasn't a girl chasing fruit trucks or a businesswoman anymore. Well into her 80s, Germaine's struggle wasn’t putting food on her family’s table, it was putting food on her own. And at that time, when Germaine needed it most, she applied for SNAP benefits to help make ends meet. It was there for her.

Germaine is my Grandma.

I marvel that having worked for the food bank network and in SNAP outreach, federal advocacy, and SNAP education, I never knew that my own Grandma participated in SNAP.

Maybe you, like me, come from a part of the country or a part of your state where it's shameful to talk about SNAP—where people are ashamed to tell their stories, because people speak shamefully about them. But there’s no room for shame in a community characterized by grace.

The vast majority of those impacted by the largest proposed cuts in the history of SNAP are people just like my grandma: senior citizens, the disabled, or families with children. And when half of all Americans will participate in SNAP at some point in their lives, their stories can’t be that much different from yours.

None of us lives very far from food insecurity.

Nutrition programs are not the sole solution to a hungry and hurting world—nor are they the Bread of Life. But with them, the world looks a whole lot more Christlike. Thanks to SNAP, children no longer starve in the United States. And last year alone, the program helped raise nearly 4 million people out of poverty.

As you work to make our society closer to what Jesus intended through your advocacy, I challenge you to take the following actions:

  • Continue getting to know people facing hunger, people eligible for or participating in SNAP. Learn their stories.
  • Try living on the average SNAP benefit. And then imagine living on less, as do many of our brothers and sisters in developing countries—you’ll have a much better appreciation for foreign aid.
  • Help someone apply for the programs you are preserving.
  • Pray for your legislators and follow up to let them know you are doing so—even if your legislators are already supportive of these programs.

As Christians, we know God in the breaking of bread. And we know that in communion with one another we can declare God’s promise that those who hunger will be satisfied. In my tradition when the congregation has taken communion, the pastor asks “Have all been served?”

The answer is always “no.” There are more to serve.

Justin Fast is a Hunger Justice Leader and a social initiatives specialist with the Michigan Fitness Foundation. This is a shortened version of the speech that he gave at Bread for the World’s 2013 Lobby Day on Monday, June 10.


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