Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

40 posts categorized "2014 Offering of Letters"

Food-Aid Lessons from Mangos in Nicaragua

'Fresh mango' photo (c) 2007, shankar s. - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

By David Gist

My introduction to “food aid” came in the form of mangos, and took place in Nicaragua, where my wife, Wendy, and I spent six years as Presbyterian Church (USA) mission workers. Our yard was filled with mango trees, so every morning we cleaned and bagged the fruit, then went out and looked for children selling newspapers or cleaning car windows at traffic signals and gave them the mangos.

This “mango-distribution system” sounds simple, but it didn’t always go well. Have you ever seen a mango after it’s been in a plastic bag in 95 degree weather with 90 percent humidity? We soon switched from bags to baskets. But one thing was constant—whenever we delivered our “mango food aid,” the oldest child (usually a girl) would come to our car, thank us, call other children to her, distribute the mangos among them (starting with the youngest children), and return the basket. Not once did any child try to hoard them.  Not once did the oldest children eat before serving the youngest.

Our experience delivering mangos reminded us that people in need take care of one another when given a chance. Additionally, while the mangos addressed an immediate need, we knew we had to go deeper to address the problem of hunger. But how do we go deeper? I pondered this question during my years in Nicaragua.

As the time came to leave Nicaragua, I felt myself increasingly conflicted at ending our mission. Were we abandoning God’s call to service? But I said nothing and kept my worries to myself. Our host organization held a worship service to say goodbye to us, and at the close of the service the pastors laid hands on Wendy and me. One leader looked at me and told me he knew I felt broken inside at the prospect of finishing our mission service. He went on to tell us we had it all wrong; we were only now beginning our mission service. The pastors then commissioned us as missionaries from Nicaragua sent to the United States to speak out for all those in the developing world—to go to the seat of power and advocate to bring an end to hunger, poverty, and injustice. And with that blessing, God propelled me to Bread for the World.

Today, in 2014, we have the opportunity to improve food-distribution systems. Smart, simple changes to food-aid programs would allow food aid to benefit millions more people each year—at no additional cost to U.S. taxpayers. How is this possible? Buying and distributing food in the region where people need it is much cheaper and faster than paying international shipping companies to deliver U.S. food from across the ocean. Local and regional purchasing also supports small farmers in the developing world, and they are the agents who will ultimately bring an end to hunger. Food aid, like a basket of mangos, meets an immediate need, but with reform it can do so much more and go so much further.


Learn more about the 2014 Offering of Letters: Reforming Food Aid, including worship aids and information on how to conduct an Offering of Letters, on our website.

David Gist is a regional organizer, western hub, at Bread for the World.

Reforming U.S. Food Aid: An Opportunity to Move Forward in the Appropriations Process

Dadaab 21 - 23 Nov 2007 011

U.S. food assistance has been critical in helping more than 3 billion people in over 150 countries over the past five decades. Food assistance saves lives, helps people recover from crises, and breaks the cycles of chronic poverty and malnutrition.

Unfortunately, humanitarian needs and the scope of food crises continue to expand while many countries, including our own, face increasing budget constraints. In 2011 alone, 206 million people were affected by droughts, floods, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. Globally, 870 million people are chronically food-insecure. All of this underscores the critical importance of food aid from our federal government, which has long been a leader in providing this assistance.

Food-aid reform is the focus of Bread for the World's 2014 Offering of Letters. It is a way for many Christians in thousands of churches and other faith communities across the country to collectively voice their concerns in Congress for the neighbors in God's world who live overseas.

The U.S. government must be poised to respond in the timeliest, most effective, and cost-efficient way possible. Fortunately, in January, some initial food-aid reforms were signed into law as part of the new farm bill. But those reforms can’t have any impact if they aren’t fully funded. That means Bread is looking to Congress and the Obama administration with a few key requests in the current appropriations cycle, including:

Flexibility through local and regional purchases

Having the option to obtain food closer to where it is needed would enable our federal government's food-aid programs to save more lives as well as money. The farm bill recently authorized a permanent local and regional purchase (LRP) program at $80 million a year. This money was in the president’s most recent budget request, and Congress needs to hear from constituents to be convinced of the importance of this program.

Currently, most food aid from the United States must be in the form of food grown and purchased in the United States and shipped overseas to the place of need. Shipping goods overseas from American shores is costly in terms of time and money. The alternative practice of buying food from local and regional markets for distribution, proposed in Bread's 2014 Offering of Letters, can be both quicker and more cost effective than the current practice.

Two independent evaluations by the Government Accountability Office and a congressionally mandated study by Management Systems International found that LRP programs have an average cost savings of at least 25 percent compared to similar in-kind food-aid programs. In some cases, these savings can increase to over 50 percent, as a Cornell University study documented, along with a 62 percent gain in timeliness of delivery. The flexibility, cost effectiveness, and timeliness of such programs means that humanitarian organizations can deliver food aid more quickly and at less cost to taxpayers while supporting local markets and communities in developing countries (private relief and development organizations, including those related to U.S. churches, are the entities that actually implement the programs under contracts with the U.S. government).

Other types of flexibility

One significant provision that was included in the president’s budget was language that would provide new authority to use up to 25 percent of funding in emergencies for interventions such as local or regional procurement of food, food vouchers, or cash transfers. As the president's budget request states, this flexibility ensures that emergency food assistance would be timelier and more cost-effective, thereby improving program efficiencies and performance. Bread estimates that the 25 percent provision alone would allow the U.S. Agency for International Development, the government's main implementer of food aid, to reach approximately 2.6 million more people each year with the same level of resources.


No reforms matter if funding for food assistance and nutrition programs are cut. Because there have been more conflicts and natural disasters, the needs are actually greater, not less, and require continued U.S. leadership.

Funding international food assistance is essential to building food security around the world and ensuring that aid is not a handout, but a hand up, breaking the cycles of poverty and hunger to allow for sustainable achievements in international development. Not only that, but the types of food aid distributed address nutritional needs as well, especially among vulnerable groups like children and pregnant mothers.

Take part in Bread's 2014 Offering of Letters, Reforming U.S. Food Aid, and hold a letter-writing event at your church or campus. Order your Offering of Letters kit at www.bread.org/store, or download the materials at www.bread.org/ol/2014.

[This article originally appeared in the April 2014 edition of Bread for the World's e-newsletter.]


Bill Passed by House Could Reduce Impact of U.S. Food Aid

Women carry their ration of food, after fleeing their homes in the village of Abyei, engulfed by heavy fighting between the Sudan Armed Forces and the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army. (UN Photo/Tim McKulka)

By Alyssa Casey

This week, the House passed a Coast Guard reauthorization bill, which includes a provision that could drastically reduce the number of hungry people that U.S. food aid can reach. The provision would significantly increase cargo-preference restrictions, rules requiring that a certain percentage of all cargo funded by the United States – including food-aid products – must be transported on American ships with American crews. The reauthorization bill would require 75 percent of all U.S. food aid to be shipped on U.S. vessels. The resulting increase in shipping costs would reduce funding for programs that help support U.S. humanitarian efforts.

Bread for the World’s 2014 Offering of Letters campaign focuses on the need to reform the federal government's food-aid programs so that funds are used more effectively and efficiently. Local and regional purchase (LRP) – the practice of buying food at or near the site of a humanitarian crisis – gives the United States flexibility in responding to crises, enabling us to act more quickly and save more lives, as we witnessed in the post-disaster Philippines earlier this year. The cargo-preference provision, however, would reduce funding for LRP—and food shipped under cargo-preference law from the United States takes an average of 14 weeks longer to reach people in need than local purchase. Buying local food mitigates the effects of disaster on the local economy and helps local farmers and vendors continue to support themselves and their families. LRP also uses tax dollars more efficiently and costs 25 to 50 percent less than food shipped from the United States—and reaches millions more. In short, this harmful provision could result in the United States spending more money on slower, less effective assistance to hungry people rocked by crisis, and the help we do provide has the potential to undercut local farmers and merchants—some of the very people U.S. food aid seeks to help.

Smart food aid is forward thinking. In 2012, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Nations World Food Programme (UN WFP) were able to feed more than 72,000 people in Rwanda while supporting Rwandan farmers through local purchase. This drastically reduced costs – saving $243 per metric ton on corn and $899 per metric ton on beans – and allowed food aid to be delivered months sooner than if it had been shipped from the United States.

US Port exports FY03-FY12
Since 2002, the U.S. government has reduced purchase of U.S.-grown food aid from 5 metric tons in 2002, to 1.4 million tons in 2012. At the same time, all major U.S. ports have increased overall tons exported. (Source: USAID)

The cargo-preference restrictions, added shortly before the bill was passed, are based on the argument that food aid hurts exports. However, food aid accounts for only one half of one percent of all U.S. exports. Food shipped from our shores yields about 40 cents for every aid dollar spent. The small loss in export revenue becomes much less urgent in comparison to the millions of lives saved and the long-term consequences of resilience. Building resilience in developing countries often leads to future trading partners. South Korea, once a poverty-wracked recipient of U.S. food aid, is now the United States' sixth-largest goods trading partner.

Local purchase may not be the best option in every scenario. What is important is that the United States has the flexibility to respond to each scenario by choosing the method that reaches hungry people in the shortest amount of time.

Now is the time to raise your voice in support of food-aid reform. The Coast Guard bill goes to the Senate next for consideration. Bread for the World will strongly oppose any final legislation that includes cargo-preference restrictions that decrease funding for flexible food-aid programs. We must continue to let our members of Congress know that we support legislation that saves taxpayer dollars and increases efficiency, not legislation that takes food out of the mouths of the world’s hungry. 

Alyssa Casey is a government relations intern at Bread for the World.

House Members See Food-Aid Reform at Work in the Philippines

The United States is providing humanitarian aid to help the people of the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. (IOM/J. Lowry)

Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), recently took a trip to the Philippines to see how food-aid policy authorized in Washington D.C., is actualized in the wake of a disaster.

The Philippine Star reports Royce and eight other members House of Representatives visited the country to see how U.S. food aid has impacted the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan. The typhoon, which killed more than 6,000 Filipinos in November of last year, left survivors without food and resources as they dealt with toppled towns and broken lives. U.S. food aid is a critical part of their recovery.

Royce is the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs; the authority to deliver emergency food aid and develop agricultural markets falls under the umbrella of the committee. Joining Royce on the trip were seven other members: Reps. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), Randy Weber (R-Texas), Joseph Kennedy (D-Mass.), and Luke Messer (R-Ind). Rep. Madeleine Bordallo (Guam) also travelled with the delegation.

Immediately after the disaster hit, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) committed $10 million to the World Food Program, to be used to buy food near the Philippines and in neighboring countries. The flexibility to purchase food locally was critical for a speedy response to the humanitarian disaster, and helped save lives. The funds were available through a policy that allowed for a small percentage of food aid funding to be used for local and regional purchase in farm bill legislation.

In a 2013 joint op-ed published in The Hill,  Royce and Rep. Elliot Engel (D-N.Y.) write,  

Experience shows that buying food closer to its distribution point is faster, cheaper, and helps save lives. In recent years, a small government pilot program has experimented with “local and regional purchase” efforts. The result? Aid that costs 25-50 percent less and is delivered 11 to 14 weeks faster than under the current system.

Royce and Engel are vocal champions of food aid on Capitol Hill, and helped push forward reforms, included in the recent farm bill, that are first steps in improving U.S. food aid. One policy revision includes an increase in the funding allotted to buy food locally and also makes permanent the local and regional purchase pilot. These reforms give USAID greater flexibility in how it responds to hunger.

There is much more that the United States should do to make international food aid more cost-effective and increase its reach. Churches across the country are helping this effort by participating in Bread for the World’s 2014 Offering of Letters, "Reforming U.S. Food Aid." The letters make a huge impact on members of Congress, and help keep reform opportunities on the top of the congressional agenda.

Ronan Farrow’s “The World Unseen” Looks at U.S. Food-Aid Reform

MSNBC host Ronan Farrow looks at U.S. food-aid policies, and the need to reform them, in the latest installment of his "The World Unseen" series. Farrow pays particular attention to shipped food aid—current policies mandate most U.S. food aid is in this form. Commodities, which are subsidized in the United States with taxpayer dollars, saturate the markets of developing countries, and undercut the very people the aid is meant to assist. “Tax payer dollars sent to help often do the opposite” Farrow reports.

Irene, a farmer in Kenya who struggles to feed her children, tells Farrow that the greatest difficulty farmers face is competing with U.S. food—a problem that originates with policy set in Washington, D.C. Agriculture, Farrow says, is the key to Kenya’s economic independence. "Buy local," a term often used in America to support stimulating local economies, also makes a lot of sense in the context of development. Buying food near the source of a crises supports economic independence and strengthens regional agricultural systems. Bread for the World's 2014 Offering of Letters campaign urges Congress to improve the efficiency of our food aid with more dollars available to purchase local food so we can reach millions more people

Highlighted in the MSNBC report are two of the congressional champions behind food-aid reform in the farm bill: Reps. Ed Royce (R-Calif.-39) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.-16). As we previously reported, the farm bill authorized and made permanent a provision to use some food aid funding to buy locally—a good first step. But for those provisions to be realized, Congress must also appropriate the funding.

Bread for the World will be examining the president’s fiscal year 2015 budget, expected to be released early next week, for proposals to increase funding for flexible approaches, like local and regional purchase and cash vouchers. We also want to see this flexibility reflected in appropriations bills, which the House and Senate will release later this year. Quality also matters, and supporting policy that increases nutrition will save more lives. The first step, however, will be encouraging our members of Congress to fund the authorized reforms in the farm bill. The farm bill was a start, but much more work needs to be done.

Building the political will to modernize U.S. food aid has human stakes. Irene deserves the opportunity to take care of her family, and if U.S. policies hinder that, we have a responsibility to act. It is, as Farrow says in his segment, about giving the underdog a fighting chance.

Excitement is Building: 2014 Offering of Letters

2014-OL-cover_mediumBy Larry Hollar
There's a special excitement for me when a new Offering of Letters campaign gets underway.
This year's Offering of Letters kit — a great, user-friendly resource for churches to participate in advocacy — is now available in print and online.
My email and phone traffic heats up as activists contact me to strategize about their plans to hold letter-writing events. And my Offering of Letters training workshop season begins.
A year ago, at a workshop in Philadelphia, Deacon Grace Marable of Bethel Presbyterian Church in North Philadelphia told me of her plans to do her first Offering of Letters, inviting not only parishioners in her church to write letters to Congress but also the recipients and volunteers at her church's food pantry.
Later, I sat in Grace's church with three generations of her family gathered around. She told me how the food-pantry recipients had been excited and empowered by writing letters and then getting replies from their members of Congress.
People at her church recognized something different about Grace, too. "You've found your voice," they told her. She had been changed as she gave others the chance to speak out about the needs of people who are hungry to their members of Congress.
Each year, decades-long veterans of organizing Offerings of Letters faithfully invite their church’s members to write letters to Congress. And each year, people like Grace step forward for the first time and make a difference in their advocacy for and with people who are hungry. My privilege is to support both.
How about you? Order your Offering of Letters kit today, learn more about the 2014 campaign to reform U.S. food aid, and get your Offering of Letters on your church's calendar.
The excitement is building. Can you feel it?
Larry Hollar is senior regional organizer for Bread for the World's Eastern Hub.

The Power of Handwritten Letters

Woodridge OLBy Billy Kangas

Have you ever considered making letter writing a spiritual practice? In this age of electronic communication through emails and texting, a letter written the old-fashioned way—by hand—can make a big difference in a person’s life and actually make your message stand out amid modern-day chatter.

Letters can comfort the grieving, embrace the lonely, uplift the discouraged, and carry love across the globe. A letter can also affect the lives of people you may not even know. Writing to your policy makers in Washington, D.C., can influence the decisions they make—decisions that affect millions of people both here at home and around the world.

Bread for the World's 2014 Offering of Letters campaign, "Reforming U.S. Food Aid," aims to help millions of hungry people overseas. With smart changes to the ways our federal government uses the money we already spend on food aid, we can assist millions more who are refugees, survivors of disasters, or living in a cycle of chronic poverty.

Use the sample letter below as a model for your own letter, and visit the Offering of Letters website to find out more about how you can invite others in your faith community to raise their voices with thousands of Christians around the country on this issue. Take 15 minutes today to write, and think about what it might mean to make writing letters a part of your spiritual life.

Billy Kangas is Bread for the World's Catholic Relations fellow.

Photo: Participants in an Offering of Letter at Woodridge UMC in Woodridge, Ill., on April 28, 2013 (Photo by Christine Darfler, courtesy of Pastor Dave Buerstetta)


Have Your Say in the U.S.’s Global Influence on Poverty

The author of this post stands under a boat that came to rest atop a house in Banda Aceh, Indonesia in the devastating December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. While U.S. food-aid programs have provided much-needed assistance to the country, smart reforms would make aid even more effective. (Stephen H. Padre)

By Stephen H. Padre

One thing I’ve learned from my personal and work-related travel around the world is that there is probably no place on earth that has not been touched by the United States. In many places, you see this in a commercial sense. It’s not hard to buy a Coke when you need one when overseas. And everybody knows something about the United States. “Ah, America!” is often the response when you tell someone in Africa or India where you’re from, and chances are they have seen an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie or know that Barack Obama’s family came from Kenya.

But I also learned that in the background in many developing countries, the United States, through our federal government, has been getting into a lot of places and quietly supporting a lot of people. It has been doing this through its food-aid programs. And we should remember that our federal government is doing this with our support—of us taxpayers—and on our behalf. U.S. food aid uses millions of our dollars to provide life-saving food following disasters and to improve the lives of people who live in the “silent disaster” of poverty year-in and year-out. This latter type of work isn’t as flashy and urgent as responding to disasters that get a lot of news coverage. It’s a lot of slow, long-term development focused on people’s economic and social situations. Long-term development can take many forms, from training women in new livelihoods to teaching farmers better growing techniques to educating children. It’s work that is meant to give people a better life by increasing their family’s income or giving them skills that will benefit their household or whole community.

Sure, we know that our federal government is using our tax dollars to fight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But consider that the U.S. is also using its shared, public resources in other ways—ways that for decades have helped 3 billion people through food aid. As I’ve traveled around the world and visited many places where organizations like Lutheran World Relief, Catholic Relief Services, or Church World Service are carrying out long-term development or disaster relief among people who are poor and hungry, I’ve seen the generosity of Christians in the United States who support these church-related agencies and also the generosity of Americans who support this type of work with their tax dollars. I’ve seen lives being sustained in refugee camps with American-supplied food items distributed to Somalis who fled violence in their country. And I’ve seen farmers learning better growing techniques with the help of an American-supported agency. Lives are being saved, and lives are being transformed.

You may support your denomination’s disaster or hunger program with monetary donations. When you do that, you are choosing to use some of your money to respond to God’s call to help people in need. You can also have a say in how some of your tax dollars are used in our government’s food-aid programs. Have your say by writing to your members of Congress as part of Bread’s 2014 Offering of Letters, "Reforming U.S. Food Aid." With some smart changes, these programs can be more efficient and effective, enabling them to help millions more people in poor countries. Learn about and be involved in the quiet but powerful ways that our country has touched other corners of the world.

Stephen H. Padre is Bread for the World's managing editor.

David Beckmann: Our Loving God is Moving History

More than 30 years ago, Bread for the World president David Beckmann lived and worked in Bangladesh, and saw extreme poverty while in the country. A few years ago, he and his wife went back for a visit, traveling to the northwest region where they once lived, and saw something amazing.

"What was best about this experience was that although people are still extremely poor, they are dramatically less poor than they were 30 years ago," Beckmann said during a talk at the Saint Thomas More Catholic Chapel and Center at Yale University on Feb. 9. "The changes have been spectacular."

Beckmann spoke about improvements to infrastructure, such as new roads and buildings, as well as how people's lives have changed—he saw children that looked better nourished, and met women who were taking advantage of new literacy education and microcredit programs. And these changes aren't unique to the country he once called home. "This same thing has happened in hundreds of thousands of communities in the world," he said. "The World Bank judges that the number of people in the world in extreme poverty has been cut in half in the last 30 years."

At the Saint More Catholic Chapel and Center to help celebrate the 30th anniversary of its soup kitchen, Beckmann spread the message that the dramatic progress that has been made in alleviating extreme hunger and poverty is evidence that ending hunger is within reach.

"Those of us who believe in God and can read about and understand this huge change in the world, I think we have to understand this as our loving God moving history," he said. "I've come to see this as a great exodus in our own time; this is God answering prayers on a huge scale. And I think our loving God is asking us to get with the program. Because in our time, it is clearly possible to make much, much more progress—probably to virtually end extreme poverty and hunger within a couple decades."

Beckmann also talked about what it will take to accomplish this—namely, building the political will to move our leaders and "change big systems in ways that will move us toward the end of hunger in our country and around the world."

By connecting with members of Congress—through letter writing and participating in Offerings of Letters, in-person visits, and writing letters to the editor, people learn “that we have power, we can change things," Beckmann said. "Learn how you can be an active citizen and make the world more like how you think God wants it to be."

Watch the full video of the tlak above, and then learn more about conducting an Offering of Letters, and what you can do to help move history.

Prevent Millions From Going Hungry

A girl enjoys a meal provided in rural Guatemala. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provides funding for school meals (Food for Education) in some of the most impoverished and malnurished areas. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

By Ryan Quinn

Thanks in part to your efforts, 800,000 more people could have access to U.S. food aid each year.

Over the last few months, you've sent thousands of emails to Congress asking for reforms to make food aid more effective and efficient. And modest but significant changes have come in a wide-ranging farm law just signed by President Obama and a bipartisan budget agreement. Together these bills will make it easier for the United States to buy food closer to where it's needed and provide more flexibility around "monetization," a practice in which organizations ship U.S. crops overseas, resell them, and use the money to finance nonemergency programs — something that can be costly and burdensome.

These changes are helping hungry people affected by the crises in South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and those affected by the massive typhoon in the Philippines last year.

While these changes are a step in the right direction, there is much more we can do to ensure that our federal government's food-aid policies are better able to help people in times of crisis and in fostering long-term solutions to hunger.

Your participation in Bread's 2014 Offering of Letters campaign is critical to our success. Please take a moment to email your members of Congress. Urge them to fully fund these changes in food aid while enhancing nutritional quality and increasing program flexibility.

Together, we can help ensure that millions more children and families can be reached by food aid. Having grown up living in a lot of different places around the world, I've found that it is a deep and abiding sense of faith, community, and compassion that connects a small town in America to a refugee camp on the border of Syria or Somalia.

With your faith, compassion, and voice, we will convince our nation's leaders to give international food-aid programs the agility they need to be more effective and save more lives. Thanks for speaking out!

Ryan Quinn is senior international policy analyst at Bread for the World.

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