Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

37 posts from November 2013

Reflections on Advent as a Time of Preparation


By Billy Kangas

Advent is a time of preparation and expectation for the coming of Christ, the time before celebrating the "joy to the world" that God's incarnation becomes. In advance of a celebratory Christmas season that follows Advent, we often take time to reflect on the themes of hope, peace, joy, and love, which gets us ready for a world that Christ has entered. The faithful remember the story of what God has done and look toward where God is going.

G.K. Chesterton wrote, "Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances that we know to be desperate." It is not a blissful ignorance or wishful thinking but a subversive cheer that refuses to let circumstance triumph over courage, doubt overcome faith, or adversity conquer compassion. This is not easy; it is not our default setting. When we hit brick walls, the first emotion that naturally arises is generally not hope. Hope requires a strength that comes from focusing on a greater vision than what is wrong. We may not have every problem figured out, but we serve a God who loved this world enough to join us in it. We trust that when Jesus said, "Behold, I am making all things new," he meant it.

Biblical peace is a more than a cessation of wars. It is a reconstituting of reality where mercy and justice reign, power becomes subservient to hospitality, and governance is driven by grace. It confronts rulers with a vision: God's way of life. Advent invites us to see the peace of God as a way of life.

Joy comes upon us unexpectedly. It jumps out at us from behind sunsets, peeks out in the smile of a stranger, and takes hold in a child’s laughter. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit biologist and philosopher, once wrote, "Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God." If this is true, every moment of joy is like a little Christmas in our lives. Advent is not only a time when we hope for the coming of Christ in great history-changing events. It is also a time where we hope for little moments of joy, and invite God to use us as instruments of joy for the world.

In the fourth century, Saint Augustine wrote, "What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men." Advent gives us space to step back and love. By taking the focus off ourselves we are able to see the needs of others.

Billy Kangas is the fellow for Catholic Relations at Bread for the World.

Photo: A girl sits on her mother's lap during church (Laura Elizabeth Pohl).

High School Students Help in the Fight Against Hunger

Teenagers at Historic Christ Church in Alexandria, Va., organized a special post-card writing event the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Parishoners sent messages to members of Congress, asking them to protect programs that help vulnerable people (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World).

Just days before Thanksgiving, at a time when many teenagers are focused on holiday plans, a group of Northern Virginia high school students organized an effort to help people in need. After learning that more than half of all youths in their city live in households that sometimes struggle to put food on the table, teenagers at Historic Christ Church in Alexandria, Va., asked parishioners to send messages to Congress in support of anti-hunger programs.

The teens wanted to offer church members an opportunity to take action at a critical moment, when many in their community, and across the country, have been impacted by cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the ongoing negative effects of sequestration, and a tense budget climate that has placed many safety net programs on the chopping block. They decided to ask church members to send their members of Congress postcards, each one with a message about protecting programs that help hungry families. In addition to the postcards, the teens organized some of the younger students at the church to sort food contributions into a Thanksgiving meal food pantry for the church’s Lazarus ministry, an outreach program that will provide meals for 185 families today.

Their advocacy event was planned to coincide with two Nov. 24 pre-Thanksgiving sermons given by Bread for the World President Rev. David Beckmann, a Christ Church parishioner.

Beckmann told the congregation that the SNAP cut that took effect on Nov. 1 will eliminate 300 million meals for needy people by the end of this month. “This is not a good way to celebrate Thanksgiving," he said.

“Congress is in the process of finalizing deeper cuts to food stamps,” Beckmann added. “The House of Representatives has voted to cut food stamps by $40 billion over ten years…about $4 billion a year. All the food charity that all the churches and food banks in the country mobilize comes to about $4 billion a year in groceries, so the House’s proposed cut would be roughly equivalent to eliminating all the food charity in the country for ten years.”

After each of Beckmann's sermons, the students issued a call to action and asked everyone to write postcards. Parishioners at Christ Church filled out about 250 postcards on Nov. 24, and there will be another postcard-writing event on Dec. 1.  The messages will be delivered to Capitol Hill next week.

Read a full account of the day’s events in the Alexandria News. For more information on how you can organize a letter-writing event in your church, community, or campus group, read more about Bread for the World's Offering of Letters and Bread for the World Sunday events.


Quote of the Day: Joel Berg

At Bread for the World's 2013 National Gathering in Washington, D.C., participants wrote letters to Congress, urging members to  to protect programs that alleviate hunger (Joe Molieri/Bread for the World).

“We know exactly what works in fighting hunger, and America has been doing precisely the reverse. We know that creating living-wage jobs and ensuring an adequate safety net will end hunger in America, as it has in much of the rest of the Western developed industrialized world. And yet we are killing all programs to create new jobs and we are cutting back on the food stamps — the SNAP program — even though it reduces hunger and aids the economy.”

— Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, on the Nov.7, edition of The Takeaway radio show. Listen to the full story, “Annual Feast Is A Reminder of America’s Hungry," below.

As we join together with families and friends today, many of our neighbors will be facing a leaner Thanksgiving because of cuts to the SNAP program (formerly food stamps) that took effect Nov. 1.  Remember people who are hungry around the world by praying this prayer:God, empower us and inspire our leaders to fill the hungry with good things.”

Although Congress is not in session today, you can still email your representative and senators over the holiday. Take a moment to tell your members of Congress to fill the hungry with good things as they continue to negotiate funding levels for the SNAP program as part of the farm bill. With a proposal to cut the program by nearly $40 billion being debated, faithful advocates must speak up to ensure that everyone has a place at the table.

Giving Thanks for Being Able to Help Others

(USDA photo)

By Fito Moreno

Waking up to the smell of a marinated turkey baking in the oven is what solidified Thanksgiving as my favorite holiday. My family’s Thanksgiving dinner table has always held dishes from many countries. There are pupusas, patatas bravas, stuffing, cranberry sauce, sofrito, tamales, and, of course, the turkey.

Growing up Hispanic, food was always at the heart of all gatherings — graduations, first communions, birthday parties, and especially Thanksgiving. The one concern my mom has always had is making sure everyone has enough to eat and enough to take home. Yet for many families, making sure everyone has enough to eat is a privilege.  

Data released yesterday shows that in 2012, more than 35 percent of Latinos lived 130 percent below the poverty line, and 3.6 million Latinos lived in food-insecure households.

At a glance, those statistics are just numbers. But as I reflect on previous Thanksgiving dinners, I imagine the family members and friends behind those numbers. My mom has always been concerned about making sure everyone has enough to eat because some of our friends and relatives sometimes just don’t have enough. Sometimes friends would be ashamed taking food home, but my mother wouldn’t hear of it. She believes that it is wrong to invite people to your home and have them go hungry; if you are able to feed them, then you are obligated to do so.

As a country, we have the same responsibility. We invite the tired, the poor, the huddled masses; it is our job to ensure that they have enough to eat. 

As I pack my bag and get ready to go to my mother’s place for Thanksgiving, I am thankful to live in a country where I can be a gracious host, and help ensure that all are fed. I am thankful to living in a country where I can have an impact on my government by reaching out to my members of Congress and urging them to ensure that people of all means are nourished.

Fito Moreno is Bread for the World's media relations specialist.

Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform

Participants in the Fast for Families, join together in prayer (photo courtesy of Fast for Families).

In February 2004, Sang Hyuk Jung left Korea and came to the United States, full of hope for a better future. He had visited the country a year earlier to prepare his paperwork and meet with several  "experts," who told him that everything would be fine as long as he paid his "immigration fees." 

Several years passed, and Jung learned that his case had gone nowhere. He was out a huge sum of money, and the "immigration consultant" he'd been working with threatened to turn him in to authorities if he contacted him again. Jung later applied to change his visa status through the proper channels, but his application was denied. He fell into a deep depression and even thought about going back to Korea, but didn't want to uproot his children, who had been living in the United States for five years at that point. He continues to live in this country without legal documentation.

Jung is one of people participating in Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform. On Nov. 12, faith, immigrant rights, and labor leaders launched the fast in an effort to move the hearts of members of Congress, and inspire them to pass compassionate immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Bread for the World is one of the sponsors of Fast for Families, and several Bread staff members are fasting.

Jung says he is participating because he is tired of living in the shadows.

"I don’t want to be ashamed of who I am," he wrote in a recent blog post. "I want to tell you, tell others that we should not be discouraged. I know how difficult it is to live as an undocumented immigrant. Yet, I (and my family still) have hope. I believe we can pass comprehensive immigration reform together.

"I also have a message to the members of Congress," he continued. "We, the undocumented, are not different from you. We are just like your friends and families. We also work hard and pay taxes to make this nation better. We’ve been a part of this great nation. If you continue to deny our rights as human beings, if you use us for your political advantage, if you continue to break our families, you will find yourself isolated and you will be held responsible when immigrant families stride to polling places."

We ask that you join us in standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are seeking U.S. citizenship. Sign up to fast, participate in an action in your area, and be sure to contact your representative and tell him or her that it's time for the House of Representatives to move immigration reform forward.

Hunger Can't Wait in the Wake of a Storm

Emergency relief supplies flown into the airport in Tacloban City in the Philippines are trucked to a nearby warehouse to be sorted. From here, the Philippine Department of Social Welfare and Development, the lead local agency in charge charge of aid distribution, gets the commodities out to affected municipalities. (USAID photo/Carol Han, OFDA)
By Ryan Quinn
Generosity and compassion are Christian values exemplified in our willingness to respond to people who cry out in need. Often people in need are those caught in disasters. It takes only a moment for a disaster to happen, but it takes weeks and months for help to arrive. Hunger can’t wait.
American generosity through food aid has saved billions of people since the 1950s, but it’s time to update policies to respond to a changing world.
People who survived Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines or who are displaced because of the war in Syria desperately need the life-saving assistance of food aid, but outdated laws make it more difficult for it to arrive quickly. There is an opportunity to change those laws in the farm bill being negotiated now. But Congress needs to hear from you.
Currently, American food aid products must come from the United States and be shipped on U.S. vessels. This practice can add to program costs and delay the arrival of food aid up to six months when compared to local purchases. Instead of being used to fight hunger, funds get caught up in overhead costs and fees.
We must do better.
You can make a difference in helping to feed millions more people like those in the Philippines or Syria. Tell Congress that hungry people can’t wait — that food aid must be reformed in the farm bill today.
As you do your last-minute grocery shopping for Thanksgiving and gather around your table to celebrate the holiday, I encourage you to remember people who are hungry around the world by praying this prayer: God, empower us and inspire our leaders to fill the hungry with good things.
Use Bread’s toll-free number — 800-826-3688 — to call, or email your members of Congress, and urge them to do the right thing and lift the unnecessary restrictions on U.S. food aid.
Ryan Quinn is a senior policy analyst at Bread for the World.

Food Aid and Haiyan: Offering Emergency and Long-Term Help

USAID Phillipines
USAID photo of beneficiaries of U.S. food aid in Tacloban City in the Philippines (photo courtesy of USAID: IOM/J. Lowry).

It took only a moment for Typhoon Haiyan to destroy any semblance of normal life when it pummeled the Philippines on Nov. 8, leaving hunger and loss in its wake. Those who survived the storm now face an uncertain future.

American generosity and compassion shine in the immediate aftermath of natural disasters, but what happens when the cameras are aimed elsewhere? What happens when the global shock wears off, but hunger remains? Do U.S. food aid policies address long-term solutions to rebuild lives and address hunger? Passing needed reforms in the farm bill would allow U.S. food aid to better assist those in need for extended periods of time.

Being yesterday's news is something displaced Filipino families worry about. "What will happen to us when this kindness ends?" Maribel Villajos, a woman who fled a ravaged Tacloban City in the wake of the typhoon, asked one reporter. Villajos, a mother of three, made her way to Manila, and found temporary shelter and food aid there, but she worries about the future.

As infrastructure in the Philippines is rebuilt, the Villajos family, and other survivors of Haiyan, will need continued assistance.

Since the 1950s, when the United States began the international food aid program, billions of lives have been saved, but policies that dictate how aid is delivered are inefficient and outdated. Using aid dollars to buy food locally is one way to rebuild economies and help farmers rebound by marketing their produce. But since the U.S. Agency for International Development(USAID) has exhausted the bulk of its allotment for such local and regional purchase (LRP), most additional food sent to the Philippines will be shipped from the United States.

Increasing the option to buy food locally, and address both hunger and nutrition, could be an important part of the post-disaster reconstruction in the Philippines—especially with 1.5 million children at risk of acute malnutrition. In a New York Times report, Eric Munoz, a policy analyst with Oxfam International, cautions that without reforms, food aid can destabilize local economies, undercut farmers, and make recovery that much more difficult. Common sense fixes would give USAID experts the flexibility to match resources to the best local solutions.

And while the United States acts quickly to respond to natural and humanitarian disasters in the world, reforms could make our government's response time even faster, and decrease the cost of emergency food aid.

Some U.S.-donated rice has already reached the Philippines, because of prepositioned emergency aid, which was put in place in Sri Lanka before the disaster. Additionally, an LRP pilot program (included in the 2008 farm bill) that has allowed for a small amount of food aid to be purchased locally has been essential in helping hungry survivors. But, by law, most U.S. food aid consists of commoditized crops that are shipped from this country on U.S.-owned vessels. A “rush” shipment of rice to the Philippines from the United States would not arrive until late January or early February. In the face of debilitating hunger, that is too long to wait.

The profound loss in the wake of a disaster like Haiyan is heartbreaking, but our collective willingness to help in the face of tragedy speaks volumes about human compassion. Asking our senators and representatives to ensure that U.S. food aid is used as effectively as possible must be  part of our compassionate response. As Congress negotiates a new farm bill, they need to hear from you that food aid must be reformed.

Hunger won’t wait, and neither should help.

Quote of the Day: Dominic Duren


"People fail to realize the pain and embarrassment that comes from not being able to feed your family."

—Dominic Duren, director of HELP, at the Nov. 25 launch of Bread for the World Institute's 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America. HELP is a Cincinnati, Ohio, program that helps returning citizens in the community find jobs that enable them to provide for themselves and their families.

Because a good job is still the best way out of poverty, helping individuals with significant barriers to work improve their prospects for employment is one of the recommendations of the 2014 Hunger Report. Read more in Chapter 3 of the report.

Photo: Dominic Duren and his son, Dominic Jr., are featured on the cover of this year's print report. Here, they take a photo in the basement of St. Francis De Sales in Cincinnati, Ohio (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World).

Ending Hunger in America: The 2014 Hunger Report

HR14-cover-highrez_resizeEnding hunger in America is possible. It is not an impossible dream. If we decided we really wanted to do it, we could wake up one morning in 2030 and be living in a country where hunger is rare and temporary, not the shared experience of millions of Americans that it is in 2014.

Bread for the World Institute releases its annual Hunger Report today. This year's report, titled "Ending Hunger in America," lands just days before Thanksgiving, at a time when the House of Representatives is pushing to cut food stamps by $39 billion--a proposal that would increase hunger for six million Americans. 

“Only this Congress would think that Thanksgiving is a good time to make it harder for people struggling to feed their families amid a weak economy,” says Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World and Bread for the World Institute. “Instead of making detrimental cuts to key programs, which would only increase hunger in America, Congress should focus on creating jobs and spurring economic growth.”

The 2014 Hunger Report proposes bold steps to end hunger in the United States by 2030.  Returning the economy closer to the full employment level of 2000 would also decrease hunger from today’s rate of 14.5 percent. By making jobs a priority, it would be possible for President Obama and Congress to reduce hunger in America by 25 percent by 2017. In addition to investing in good jobs as a way of ending hunger, the report also recommends ending the political brinkmanship that led to the sequester or automatic budget cuts and focus on investing in people, strengthening the safety net and encouraging community partnerships .

 “Developing countries have made great strides towards ending hunger since 2000,” says Asma Lateef, director of Bread for the World Institute. “However, U.S. hunger has increased, as evidenced by the record number of Americans receiving food stamp benefits today.”

 The 2014 Hunger Report calls on the U.S. government to work with the international community to establish a universal set of goals to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expire in December 2015. New global development goals must include goals to end hunger and extreme poverty, and achieve global food security and good nutrition for all by 2030.

Beginning at 9 a.m. today, we'll be live-tweeting the Hunger Report launch, which will include a panel discussion on the issues explained in the report. Participate in the conversation virtually by following the #hungerreport hashtag, and both the @bread4theworld and @breadinstitute Twitter accounts.  For more information, and to download a copy of the 2014 Hunger Report, please visit www.bread.org/hungerreport

November’s Conference Call and Webinar: "Time is Running Out"

Watch this informative video on sequestration, "Stop the Cuts," created by NDD United, a Bread for the World partner organization.

"Enough is enough," said Amelia Kegan, Bread for the World senior policy analyst, during November's grassroots national conference call and webinar.

Sequestration – the automatic cuts enacted by default because Congress was unable to negotiate a budget last year – is harming Americans and increasing the numbers of families that experience hunger. Recent cuts to SNAP (food stamps), the program that helps 49 million struggling Americans put food on the table, will be felt just days before a national holiday that celebrates abundance. And immigration reform, which could boost the economy and decrease hunger for more than 11 million undocumented workers, languishes in a "new normal" of delays and partisanship bickering.

Kegan's frustration with Congress makes sense – it's likely a feeling many of us share. It is frustrating for Christians to watch this Congress act to reverse the automatic cuts that inconvenienced air travelers, while our seniors who depend on Wheels on Meals, and mothers who participate in the WIC nutrition program, continue to suffer. It sends a message that reducing wait times to board airplanes trumps the alleviation of hunger and poverty.

But the efforts of compassionate advocates have helped keep many cuts at bay. The next couple of weeks will require a vocal outpouring of protest from anti-hunger advocates. We must tell Congress that we have had enough.

"Time is running out," Kegan told participants on the call. Congress must pass a 2014 budget and finalize the farm bill before the end of the year, or we face the possibility of another government shutdown. The budget conference must provide a compromise by Dec. 13, which means they have fewer than 10 legislative days to reach an agreement. Kegan worries legislators will be in such a hurry that they may not reach a compromise that protects SNAP, reforms food aid, and replaces sequestration with a balance of revenue and smart cuts.

Kegan highlighted the report "Faces of Austerity: How Budget Cuts Have Made Us Sicker, Poorer and Less Secure," which tells the stories of people who have been affected by these cuts. We forget that federal investments maintain the health and wellbeing of our communities. Sequestration – now lauded by some in Congress as efficient deficit reduction – has had profound costs for individuals, communities, and our nation, creating a drag on the economy and hampering job growth.

An increase in jobs is the economic boost this country needs – an idea that is central to the 2014 Hunger Report, which will be released Monday. Immigration reform with a path to citizenship will also help the economy and take a bite out of hunger. Many organizations, including Bread for the World, are participating in Fast for Families, a movement to pressure the House to act on immigration reform.

Every month, we hold a conference call and webinar to update our members.  The next call will be Dec. 17 at 4 p.m. EST.  Slides from this week’s call can be seen below.

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