Illinois Faith Leaders Reflect on Global Hunger, Call for Food Aid Reform
By Zach Schmidt
What do your faith and experience say about global hunger and how has that compelled you to act?
We are called to widen our circle of concern to serve our neighbors across the street and across the globe. This was the consensus among faith leaders in Chicago’s North Shore communities during recent discussions on faith and hunger. As part of a broader campaign to reform U.S. food aid, we have been hosting a series of conversations with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders in the Chicago area over the summer. Participants have been challenged and enriched by hearing from those of different faiths and practices. While the language and supporting scriptures differ, the leaders have found common ground in the fight against hunger.
Bread for the World’s campaign calls on members of Congress to reform U.S. international food aid, so it can better respond to humanitarian emergencies and strengthen vulnerable communities against future catastrophes. The campaign also includes statewide faith leaders sign-on letters, and the Illinois letter alone has garnered more than 170 faith leaders’ signatures and counting. We continue to urge U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk to lead on this issue.
Some of the leaders and their congregations, like Rabbi Wendi Geffen and North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe, Illinois, are already well-acquainted with advocating for reform. Rabbi Geffen’s congregation wrote letters last year in support of food aid reform in partnership with American Jewish World Service, an ally with Bread for the World on this issue. Others leaders are deeply committed to global development projects but have not yet engaged in advocacy. But once the issue is presented and the case is made that we can help millions more hungry people, more quickly, while building long-term resilience, and more efficiently utilize our taxpayer dollars, the response becomes, “Well, what are we waiting for?”
Over the past few months, there have been a handful of votes in Congress that affect food aid. Faith leaders have been briefed and have weighed in on these votes. But we can help even more people through reforms embodied in the bipartisan Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014 (S. 2421). This bill would make our food aid more flexible and efficient, freeing up as much as $440 million per year to feed up to 9 million more people faster. The bill makes common sense reforms, including ending the constraints that require our food aid to be grown in the United States and shipped on designated (and more costly) vessels. This adds substantial time and cost to the delivery of food aid, a matter of life-and-death when we are responding to hunger and humanitarian disasters in places like Haiti, Syria and South Sudan.
Faith leaders in the Chicago area—and across the country—are saying the status quo is unacceptable and indefensible, and it’s time for change. Urge your senator to co-sponsor S. 2421 and help build momentum to pass the bill.
Zach Schmidt is regional organizer in the Central Hub, which includes Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin.
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