Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

39 posts from October 2013

Let's Argue It Out: November's Bread for the Preacher

'Holy Bible' photo (c) 2009, Steve Snodgrass - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Did you know that each month the church relations department at Bread for the World produces a resource specifically for pastors? Whether you are searching for inspiration for a sermon you're writing, or just a lectionary enthusiast, Bread for the Preacher is for you.

After reading this introduction, explore this month’s readings on the Bread for the Preacher web page, where you can also sign up to have the resource emailed to you each month.

By Rev. Gary Cook

Some days, I feel like standing outside Congress holding up a sign that says, "Isaiah 1:8." God’s invitation to a rebellious people is, "Come, let us argue it out." It's an invitation that affirms a lasting relationship and invites dialog, despite having "had enough." Such an attitude would go a long way toward ending the gridlock in Washington.

As we begin the rapid rush through the holidays, many of the people in our pews are "arguing it out" with God. They are seeking to come to some agreement about faithfulness in a context of consumerism. Some understanding of "joy," "hope," and "peace" that surpasses hollow holiday pretense. Some comprehension of Jesus as both Christ child and ruler.

Beginning with the Isaiah text on November 3, the month’s lectionary texts invite such a discussion with God. I pray that your preaching will help it happen. And I ask that your congregation prays for our members of Congress, that they might "argue it out" in a way that the result is good news for hungry and poor people.

Rev. Gary Cook is director of church relations at Bread for the World.

From the Negotiating Table to the Dinner Table

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In November, many struggling Americans will find it even more difficult to put food on the table as they face the expiration of a temporary increase in food stamp benefits. Congress is negotiating a farm bill that would make even deeper cuts to the vital nutrition assistance program (movie still from A Place at the Table, courtesy of Participant Media).

This week brings Halloween and the arrival of November. The fall season includes a number of holidays that center on food for Americans. But for many people, Friday will bring new hardship and worry. On Nov. 1, a temporary increase in food stamp benefits will expire, making it more difficult for 47 million people to put food on the table. A family of four could see its benefit decrease by as much as $36 per month. 

“Thirty-six dollars a month may not seem like much, but if you are a family of four with an income of $22,000 per year, $36 means several missed meals or increased difficulty in providing for one's children,” writes Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, in a piece on the Huffington Post Politics Blog. “And if this $11 billion reduction isn't devastating enough, members of the House and Senate have begun to finalize a farm bill that will impact vital anti-hunger programs.”

Today, 41 lawmakers will meet with the goal of merging two versions of the farm bill—one that proposes a nearly $40 billion cut to SNAP over 10 years, and another that includes a $4.1 billion cut. If any of your members of Congress are sitting at the negotiating table, you have an opportunity to influence their decisions and urge them to protect the nation’s number-one defense against hunger from deeper cuts. As food prices increase and benefits decrease, more families will likely find themselves in need of charitable food donations earlier in the month, but any cuts to nutrition assistance will leave a hunger gap that cannot be closed by churches, pantries, or food banks.  

The staff and volunteers at Oregon Food Bank are concerned about cuts to SNAP and made sure that one member at the conference table–Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.)–knows they can’t fill the gap. In a recent op-ed, Oregon Food Bank CEO Susannah Morgan and board member Lisa Sedlar point out that deep cuts to food stamps would increase hunger for 100,000 Oregonians. "[T]he total meals lost in Oregon would be equivalent to the entire statewide food bank network shutting its doors for more than five years," they write in the article.

It's also important to remember that there are real people behind these cuts. The Orlando Sentinel reports that Floridian Robin Petersen, who works full time, can't afford to put enough food on her family’s table without nutrition benefits. “If I didn't get food stamps, we'd be at the food pantries every week," Peterson says in the piece. In the same article, hunger relief organization Second Harvest reports that food distribution in the area has already increased by 34 percent in the last six months.

In addition to debating cuts to food stamps, members of the committee must also make choices about international food aid. Beckmann says we must hold members of Congress accountable for their actions. “Any policies that create additional poverty among the working poor, or further impoverish hungry people around the world, are reprehensible,” Beckmann wrote in the Huffington Post piece.

On Friday, the first day of a month in which we celebrate bounty with a national feast, it is disheartening to think that some Americans will be have much less food on their tables when they gather to give thanks this year. 

Act Now: SNAP and Food Aid at Risk

Families that receives food stamps (SNAP) will see their benefits reduced starting this Friday. Email or call 1-800-826-3688 and tell your members of Congress to protect SNAP and improve international food aid. Photo: DeEtte Peck uses her EBT card to purchase food in Portland, Ore. (Brian Duss)

By Eric Mitchell

This week, every family that receives food stamp benefits will see its grocery budget shrink! In 2010, Congress voted twice to cut food stamps (also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) in order to pay for other priorities.  As a result, $11 billion in SNAP cuts will go into effect this Friday. For a family of four, this means a loss of up to $36 a month.

As millions of families are bracing for these automatic benefit cuts, members of the House and Senate meet today to finalize a farm bill that will impact vital anti-hunger programs—specifically SNAP and international food aid. 

We need your help. The voices of your members of Congress are critical in our efforts to end hunger by protecting and strengthening SNAP and improving international food aid.

Call or email your members of Congress today! Ask them to:

  1. Oppose cuts and harmful changes to SNAP. The House-passed farm bill cut SNAP by $39 billion, which could kick nearly 4 million people off the program and reduce benefits for thousands more. SNAP has already been cut by $11 billion, reducing every household’s monthly benefit and resulting in millions of lost meals. SNAP families cannot afford any cuts in the farm bill.
  2. Support the Senate-passed farm bill’s (S.954) international food aid provisions. These provisions will increase the flexibility, cost-effectiveness, and efficiency of food aid so that we can respond better to the complex challenges of global hunger and malnutrition today.

Forty-nine million Americans live at risk of hunger, and more than 1 billion people around the world live in extreme poverty. SNAP and international food aid programs must be protected in the farm bill. Email or call your member of Congress at 800-826-3688 today!

 Thank you for your advocacy.

Eric Mitchell is director of government relations at Bread for the World.

SNAP, Non-Profit Supermarket Work in Tandem to Combat Hunger

 

Last month, residents of Chester, Pa., welcomed Fare & Square, the nation's first nonprofit grocery store. Fare & Square also has the distinction of being the city's only grocery store. Chester, a city about 20 miles southwest of Philadelphia, is a U.S. Department of Agriculture-designated food desert that lost its last supermarket more than 12 years ago.

Proximity to a grocery store can force shoppers to make food purchases based on ease of transport rather than taste, nutritional value, or cost. "To bring a gallon of milk is a hardship if you have to use two buses to get home," says Bill Clark, executive director of Philabundance, in the Moyers and Company video above. Philabundance is the anti-hunger non-profit organization behind the non-profit market model.

So far, as the report explains, sixty percent of the families in Chester have signed up for a Fare & Square membership, which allows those with annual incomes equal to or less than twice the federal poverty level to receive store credit each time they shop. And sixty percent of the store's shoppers are using SNAP benefits to pay for their food. Fare & Square recognizes the importance of SNAP and similar programs in feeding the people of Chester—city residents can receive help signing up for benefits at the store.

Bread for the World activist Tara Marks once said that she didn't live in a food desert, but a "food mirage"—she was surrounded by plenty, but didn't have enough money to buy food. SNAP changed that for her. Putting a grocery store in a food desert is a huge step toward improving food accessibility, but nutrition assistance programs are critical in connecting hungry people with that food.

To learn more about food deserts, and the Fare & Square model, watch the video below, or read the full Moyers & Company report here. To find out more about what you can do to help protect SNAP, which is being debated as part of congressional farm bill negotiations that begin this week, click here or contact your Bread for the World regional organizer.

Quote of the Day: Pablo Neruda

"Hunger feels like pincers,
like the bite of crabs;
it burns, burns, and has no fire.
Hunger is a cold fire.
Let us sit down soon to eat
with all those who haven't eaten;
let us spread great tablecloths,
put salt in the lakes of the world,
set up planetary bakeries,
tables with strawberries in snow,
and a plate like the moon itself
from which we can all eat.

For now I ask no more
than the justice of eating."

—Pablo Neruda, poet, diplomat, and politician, in his poem "The Great Tablecloth."

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Tomorrow, members of the House and Senate will begin farm bill negotiations, which will include decisions that affect SNAP (formerly food stamps). If one of your members of Congress is working on the farm bill, call or email him or her, write letters to the editor of your local paper, and use social media to spread the message that SNAP must be protected. Contact your regional organizer for more information.

Photo: 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. Poverty and hunger are at the root of undocumented immigration from Mexico (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World).

Charting the Importance of SNAP

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On Friday, all households receiving SNAP (formerly food stamps) will see a reduction in their benefits, as a temporary SNAP increase included in American Recover and Reinvestment Act of 2009, more commonly known as the stimulus act, ends. Some families will see their benefits drop by as much as $36 per month.

On Wednesday, the House and Senate began negotiations around the farm bill. The two chambers must reconcile their respective versions of the legislation, including a huge difference in proposed cuts to SNAP: the Senate version of the bill cuts $4 billion from the program over 10 years, while the House version cuts $39 billion.

It's a critical time for SNAP and the 47 million Americans who rely on this vital program.

SNAP is the our nation's first line of defense against hunger. We know that any cuts to SNAP would make it more difficult for struggling families to put food on the table. Churches and charities, for all they do, can't make up the difference: one in 24 bags of food assistance comes from a charitable organization, and federal nutrition programs provide the rest, as the above graphic shows. 

If you'd like more visual proof of SNAP's importance, check out this series of infographics, from the Food and Environmental Reporting Network and Mother Jones, that illustrate the program's broad economic and public health benefits. If you have a member of Congress on the committee that is negotiating the farm bill, please ask him or her to work to protect SNAP and ensure that hungry people aren’t harmed in any final legislation. Find out if either of your senators or your representative is on the committee here.

SNAPgraphic1

 

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Quote of the Day: Rev. David Beckmann

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"Grassroots activists are doing their part, individuals are doing their part, and it is now government’s turn to do its part by setting a goal to end hunger. We must tell our leaders that balancing the budget on poor and hungry people is distasteful and careless. Job creation and food security will ensure a stable economy. Only then can we make sure that the next hundred years is a century filled with fruit and plenty, and not hunger and poverty."

—Rev. David Beckmann, in the piece "A Goal to End Hunger"

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The choices our legislators make now will affect people struggling with hunger for years to come. Please continue to urge your members of Congress to pass a moral budget that adequately funds programs that combat hunger and poverty, and replace sequestration with a balanced plan that includes revenues and smart spending cuts that won’t increase poverty.

Photo: Leylanie Rodriguez, daughter of hunger activist Barbie Izquierdo, eats cereal in her Pennsylvania home (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World). 

Singing Songs for 1,000 Days: Carrie Newcomer

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Carrie Newcomer is one of the artists who generously contributed music to Bread for the World's Songs for 1,000 Days CD (Publicity photo, Rounder Records).

By Sara Doughton

For singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer, a long-time activist for causes such as peace-building and protecting the environment, food insecurity and malnutrition are fundamental barriers to a more just and peaceful world.

“Hunger is bracing,” Newcomer says. “It gets right down to the center of the community, because if a child is hungry, they can’t grow, they can’t develop, it’s more difficult to learn. There are a lot of systemic things that happen when a person is hungry.”

When approached about contributing music to Songs for 1,000 Days, the CD compilation dedicated to maternal and child nutrition in the critical window between the beginning of a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday, Newcomer readily agreed. The Rounder Records artist offered a song from Everything is Everywhere, a joint effort with celebrated Indian sarod masters Amjad Ali Khan, Amaan Ali Khan, and Ayaan Ali Khan. All proceeds from Everything is Everywhere benefit Interfaith Hunger Initiative (IHI), a not-for-profit organization bringing together two dozen Indianapolis faith communities working to end child and family hunger.

As a long-time Quaker, Newcomer immediately understood the connection between Bread for the World’s Christian faith and its efforts on behalf of poor and hungry people in the United States and abroad.

“There’s a Quaker idea—the light of God in everyone," Newcomer says. "Each person has a piece of the light within them. Every person. No one is excluded. And when you see the world that way, something like Bread for the World just makes sense. If all the people who are walking around in this world are sacred, then treating them as such becomes an important idea. And when people aren’t doing well, or they’re struggling – if they’re hungry –we can’t ignore it.

“Caring for those who are vulnerable is one of the beautiful things about our spiritual tradition," she continues. "We have to pay attention to that and work toward eliminating hunger, poverty, and injustice whenever we can. It’s the work of the compassionate heart.”

In her work as an artist and advocate, Newcomer relies on lyrics and melodies to call for greater compassion, opportunity, and equality.

“I tell a human story…often when you stand on a soapbox, the doors to people's hearts close immediately," she says. "But, if you sing them a song that’s honest and human…then people will leave their hearts open just a little bit longer. And in that moment there’s an opportunity, and also a responsibility, in terms of what you have to offer.”

As Newcomer opens her listeners’ ears and hearts to those in need, she looks forward to partnering with Bread to raise awareness about the importance of maternal and child nutrition.

“Organizations like Bread for the World give me hope,” Newcomer says. “Sometimes people say hope and mean wishful thinking, or optimism. [But] I think of hope as being an incredibly courageous act – hope is about getting up every morning and working toward that better, kinder, more compassionate world. Hope is about not knowing how it’s going to turn out, and not even knowing if you’re going to see it in your lifetime, but working toward it anyway.

“Bread for the World is really a wonderful example of hope and love made visible. And so I’m excited to be part of this, working in community with Bread.”

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Visit the Songs for 1,000 Days web page to learn more about this project, listen to sample clips of songs on the CD, and order a copy of the CD through Bread for the World's store.

Sara Doughton, a former intern in Bread for the World's church relations department, is a student at Yale Divinity School.

Fighting Poverty By 'Transforming the Whole Pond'

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Susan and Russell Stall (Photo courtesy of Jay Spivey/FETE magazine).

Bread for the World members Susan and Russell Stall of Greenville, N.C., work to change systems and empower people. The couple recently traveled to Kenya, a trip organized by Dining for Women. Susan serves on the board of the local chapter of this global giving circle dedicated to helping women and girls in the developing world. The Stalls learned about Dining for Women when its founder addressed a JustFaith group that the Stalls facilitated in 2011.

JustFaith is a small-group curriculum that links spirituality and the church’s social justice mission. Bread for the World President David Beckmann, another speaker in the JustFaith series, also made a lasting impression on the Stalls.

“David told about meeting the mother of his adopted child,” Susan recalls. “This woman had made a contribution to Bread for the World. When David asked her what motivated the gift, the woman said that when she was a young, unwed, pregnant woman, she couldn't have survived without the government assistance that Bread for the World helps pass in Congress. Now that her life was stable, she wanted to support Bread’s work.”

“I was struck by how this person was helped—and even more that Bread for the World’s own leader was indirectly impacted by Bread's advocacy through his child’s birth mother. I was also struck by the inclusiveness David exuded when he addressed us. My son asked a question and David answered as though Hampton (the only teenager at the event) was the most important person in the room.”

In 2008, Russell founded Greenville Forward, dedicated to improving the Stalls’ home city. The effort mobilizes community conversations, leadership development, and community gardens, to name just a few. The latter is of special interest to Russell.

“Public gardens, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are becoming the new front porch, where people can see each other and visit, and grow healthy food to eat,” he says.

The Stalls are members of Triune Mercy Center, a non-denominational mission church, where affluent members sit shoulder-to-shoulder with homeless people, who make up half the congregation.  Susan calls the congregation “an incredible model.”  Triune recently hosted a large Offering of Letters.  These letters to Congress had a special significance, since many of them were penned by low-income and homeless constituents.

Susan and Russell have a son in college and another in his senior year of high school. Their oldest son, Hampton, worked as an intern at Bread for the World this past summer.

 The Stalls’ preferred mode of financially supporting efforts to end hunger is through gifts of stock to Bread for the World Institute.

“We’re not the top of the heap when it comes to income. But we do have resources,” Susan explains. “When we give appreciated stock, Bread for the World Institute gets the full amount—and we are not liable to pay capital gains tax on it. So giving stock has been a great mechanism for us. Being Bread members provides us with a way to advocate for the world’s most marginalized people.”

“Bread for the World could go out and give food to people,” Russell says. “But changing systems? Empowering people to speak out? That’s not teaching a man to fish. It’s transforming the whole pond!”

Bringing Good News of Great Joy with Bread Christmas Cards

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Bread for the World 2012 Christmas card image. (Nurun Nahar Nargish/Drik/Majority World)

By Vince Mezzera

Reconnecting with friends and family. Reminding people that you care. Spreading holiday cheer. Bread for the World members know that sending our Christmas cards can accomplish all of these things, while also delivering the good news that a world without hunger is possible.

Geneva Butz of Philadelphia says there are several reasons she has used Bread for the World Christmas cards in recent years. “First of all, they are very attractive,” says Butz, who ordered this year’s new shepherd boy design. Beyond that, Butz says it is a way to introduce her friends to Bread, "especially at the holidays when people are focusing on the needs of others around the world.” 

Long-time Bread supporters George and Kammy Young of Knoxville, Tenn., selected a previous year’s design. “When we were deciding what to use for Christmas cards to send to the clergy of the Episcopal Diocese of East Tennessee, we first thought of Bread,” George Young says. “We loved the cards available, and especially were grateful for the women's theme” of the mother praying design.

Some Bread members plan to spread the Christmas cards beyond their usual lists of friends and family. Margaret Smith of Dallas, Texas, also sends Bread’s cards to her members of Congress.  Smith says she wants to “support the wonderful work that Bread for the World does,” adding, “I am a JustFaith graduate and a RESULTS global group leader; both organizations are partners with Bread and share the same goals.” 

For Smith, the cards offer a way to connect the people in her life to her passion for ending hunger. “Almost everyone who will get a card knows that I am a champion for the end of hunger and poverty," she says. "I want the card to remind them of the importance of this goal.”

Good news, indeed.

To view all five of Bread for the World’s available Christmas card designs, visit www.bread.org/cards

Vince Mezzera is Bread for the World’s resource specialist for members and churches.

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