Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

18 posts categorized "A Place at the Table"

Faithful on the Front Lines

Students at Calvin College write letters to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich). Cameron Kritikos for Bread for the World.

By Cameron Kritikos

A few days before Thanksgiving, the Food Recovery Network at Calvin College, as well as many other hunger-focused groups on campus, gathered and decided to host a Bread for the World Offering of Letters.

Our purpose was to get students to write letters to our Michigan lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the state’s junior senator. As the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Stabenow is a critical voice when it comes to making laws that can help end hunger. The committee has jurisdiction over SNAP (formerly food stamps).

At Calvin College, students involved with the Food Recovery Network retrieve leftover food from the dining hall and  donate it to local food banks or church congregations that serve nightly meals.

85With last spring being our first semester recovering food, my leadership team and I wanted to be more intentional about seeking food justice at the systemic level. Calvin students are beginning to do this by watching documentaries, such as A Place at the Table, and writing letters.

I got involved with food justice because I was utterly fed up with the way in which people who are struggling financially are treated in this country, especially those who benefit from SNAP. We have brothers and sisters here in Grand Rapids who not only do not have the financial capital to purchase groceries, but also live in areas where grocery stores are scarce.

Hunger is a problem, and at Calvin College, we are no longer going to ignore it. We can’t.

I have a friend who has a sticker on her laptop, one that inspires me. It’s a quote from William Wilberforce, the English politician and abolitionist. It reads: “You may choose to look the other way but you can never again say that you did not know.”

Those involved with the Food Recovery Network at Calvin College can no longer say that we did not know. We no longer have the luxury of living in ignorant bliss. Instead, we  have been called to live faithfully on the front lines of food justice, fighting the cause  in this country and throughout the world.

And we will do it one plate of mashed potatoes and one handwritten letter at a time.

Cameron Kritikos is a sophomore at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. He is studying international development, Spanish, and church-based community development.

Inset photo: Cameron Kritikos for Bread for the World.


Keep the Conversation Going: A Place at the Table

Kaela and friends
Kaela Volkmer (middle) is a member of St. Wenceslaus Catholic parish in Omaha, Neb. She is pictured here with St. Wenceslaus staff. (Photo courtesy of Kaela Volkmer)

By Kaela Volkmer

On Sept. 19, as members of the House of Representatives were debating how much funding to cut from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), I had the good fortune to be in a place of positive energy, care, concern, and compassion for our hungry and vulnerable neighbors. In Omaha, Neb., about 300 concerned citizens gathered at Aksarben Cinema for a special free screening of A Place at the Table, a powerful new documentary related to hunger, health, and poverty. 

Through support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Active Voice, Hunger Free Heartland, whose mission is to end childhood hunger and obesity in our greater community, was able to mobilize an amazing team of coalition partners to host a wonderful event.  The evening included a resource fair, a reception, and a thought-provoking panel discussion following the viewing of this critically-acclaimed film. 

As a Bread for the World Hunger Justice Leader, I was humbled and privileged to be part of this collaborative effort to keep the conversation going in our community about hunger, health and public policy. Here are some of the highlights of the event:

  • Sue Arment, director of Hunger Free Heartland, pulled together and guided a strong and resourceful planning team comprised of various community partners for the event.
  • Andrea Barstow, manager of Aksarben Cinema, graciously donated the theater and reception space for our gathering.
  • Lucy Wilson of Edible Omaha moderated our panel, and her personal story of what it felt like being a child who knew the pangs of hunger touched our hearts and inspired us.
  • Our expert panel included Lauren and John Levy of the Heart Ministry Center, John Bailey from the Center for Rural Affairs, Sen. Sara Howard, and Craig Howell from United Methodist Ministries. The panelists helped us to reflect on different aspects of the film, from personal experiences to public policy considerations, and they helped us think about steps we can take to be part of the solution.
  • Whole Foods donated an amazing amount of delicious and healthy food for the public reception. 
  • More than 15 community organizations were represented at the resource fair before and after the film, offering information about how citizens can get involved in concrete actions related to hunger and poverty issues in our community.

It truly was an inspiring evening that brought us together to learn, to share, and to talk about the role we all share in contributing to the multi-faceted solutions that will bring about an end to hunger in our community.

While at the event, I received the message confirming that the House of Representatives had just voted to cut an unthinkable $39 billion from SNAP.  I took a deep breath and felt a deep sadness and sorrow in my heart, knowing that such actions will only increase poverty, hunger, and suffering in our state and in our nation. I thought about the nearly 4 million food insecure people in our country who would lose nutrition assistance under this scenario, including 2 million low-income working families and seniors. And then I looked up at the hundreds of people who showed up for the screening and the staffers from organizations who are working tirelessly with and for our most vulnerable neighbors. My heart swelled with gratitude for their presence, for their willingness to ask questions and find solutions to the scandal of hunger and deprivation that confronts more than 49 million people in our country.

As a Bread for the World Hunger Justice leader and advocate for poor and hungry people, I am deeply grateful to have been part of this event and to stand together with others who are working to create a place at the table for all people.

Kaela Volkmer is a 2012 Hunger Justice Leader who lives in Omaha, Neb.

Showing 'A Place at the Table' to My Wyoming Neighbors

Barbie cooking APPT
Hunger activist Barbie Izquierdo cooks dinner with her children. (Film still from A Place at The Table, courtesy of Participant Media)

By Libby Tedder Hugus

By the time the courtroom drama of the biblical prophet Micah’s vision concludes, the Lord is calling the mountains and hills as witnesses in a complaint against Israel. During a fiery pleading found in chapter six, the case is clear: it is not proper worship or sound doctrine or great sacrifice that is required of God’s people, but doing justice, loving mercy, and journeying humbly.

Last summer when I was trained and commissioned as a Hunger Justice Leader, I had the conversion experience of digesting the documentary A Place at the Table. I knew that as many people as possible needed to see the film. I live and minister in Casper, Wyo., and while this state has not felt the recent financial recession like others have, we still have many food insecure neighbors. When the documentary was released in March, I began to research ways and means of bringing it to Casper. After partnering with Wyoming Food Bank of the Rockies and recognizing that September was Hunger Action Month, we decided we would kick it off with an awareness and action event, including the film.

The fact that my Wyoming neighbors are going hungry motivates me to action because of my faith, my worldview, and my patriotism. My love of God is directly tied to my love of neighbor, as Jesus made clear in his undeniable greatest commandment. If my neighbors are going hungry but I am well fed with nutritious food, something is wrong.

Many agencies in our municipality generously help with emergency food assistance, but as the film so bluntly puts it, "we cannot food-bank our way out of this problem." It was my goal as a Hunger Justice Leader to see that screening this documentary would help raise awareness of the root causes of hunger. I also desired to help answer the question being asked in every food pantry and by every human services provider across town: how do we stem the tide of the hungry?            

When we gathered on Sept. 5, about 200 Casper citizens took a collective step toward justice. For some, this was a first journey. For others it was one stop on a long-time sojourn to see the end of hunger.

For those of us anchoring this discussion in faith, it is not our patriotism alone that makes hunger disturbing. The blaring injustice that anyone should go hungry in a world where we have more than enough resources to close the gap should wrench our gut with compassion. God pleaded the case against God’s people: your worship, doctrine, and sacrifice are worth nothing if you’re not doing what is right, loving mercy, and walking humbly.

I am humbled these days by my Casper neighbors who came out to watch an honest documentary about a very real problem. I am humbled by the journey we have ahead of us to address our local, state, and federal leaders with a courageous message: this is unacceptable. This is not justice for all. We will not turn a blind eye. Our neighbors will not go hungry when we have the power to close the gap between the hungry and the well-nourished.

Rev. Libby Tedder Hugus is a 2012 Hunger Justice Leader alum and is a minister with the Church of the Nazarene in Casper, Wyo.

A Hunger Justice Leader Setting 'A Place At the Table'

By now, many Bread members have viewed the eye-opening documentary A Place at the Table and are sharing it with their churches, friends, and communities. The feature-length film – now available for purchase on DVD and streaming on Netflix – tells the story of hunger in America through the lives of three people. 

Hunger Justice Leader Libby Tedder Hugus will be hosting a showing tomorrow in Casper, Wyo.,  as part of Hunger Action month. In an interview with Wyoming's KTWO News (see above), Libby said it is time to ask ourselves, "why is that in the wealthiest nation in America we have one in six of our American neighbors that are currently hungry?" For Libby, awareness is just the first step and must lead to action. "When I realized how dire the situation of hunger is in the U.S., I realized something has to be done," she said.

The 2013 Offering of Letters, also called "A Place at the Table," offers an opportunity to act.  This year, we're asking faithful advocates to sign a petition to the president in addition to writing letters to Congress. The movie has been key tool in raising awareness of the hunger problem in the United States. We have created a set of resources tied to the film – including a study guide to order or download – specifically for communities of faith.

Libby is a graduate of the 2012 Hunger Justice Leader training in Washington, D.C. The participants in this program are passionate, faith-filled leaders who, through action and awareness , work to end hunger both at home and abroad. Libby has written for the Bread Blog about her advocacy to end hunger and the faith that grounds her in the work.

With passionate and dedicated advocates like Libby, together we can work to ensure that everyone has a place at the table.

If you have shown A Place at the Table in your community, tell us about your experience, and how this tool has helped you in your efforts to build awareness and take action, in the comments below.

Reversal of Fortune: New Study Links Tax Expenditures and Mobility

Rosie, an imaginative fifth-grader, tries to distract her mind from hunger pangs as she learns and grows in rural Colorado. Her story is told in the 2013 documentary film A Place at the Table (Movie still courtesy of Participant Media).

Is the American dream dying?

The iconic images of the pioneering frontiersman or the weary immigrant gazing west from Ellis Island hold the same promise—that even if someone's immediate circumstances didn't improve by leaving hearth and home behind, their children have a chance at a better life. It was and is the hope of upward mobility.

A new study by a team of Harvard and U.C. Berkeley economic researchers shows that intergenerational mobility – making more income than your parents - may depend in part on where you live. 

Family structure, educational investments, and even income inequality correlate with mobility. But the significant variable—the one that means a child born in Seattle is more likely to move up the income ladder than one in Atlanta—is tax expenditures, specifically the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit(CTC). Bread for the World maintains that these tax credits for low-income families are a critical weapon against hunger and must be part of the circle of protection.

In the study’s summary conclusion, the researchers write the following: 

What is clear from this research is that there is substantial variation in the United States in the prospects for escaping poverty. There are some areas in the U.S. where a child’s chances of success do not depend heavily on his or her parents’ income.  Understanding the features of these areas - and how we can improve mobility in areas that currently have lower rates of mobility - is an important question for future research that we and other social scientists are exploring.

This research should make it clear that members of Congress must keep in place policies that support programs, like the EITC and the CTC, that help create those pathways out of poverty. The tax credits were extended for five years as part of the fiscal cliff deal earlier this year, but are still in danger of being cut. The credits should be made permanent.

As Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) begin proposing reform in their tax writing committees this year, it remains to be seen how they will treat tax credits for working families. In the Senate Finance Committee, Chairman Baucus and ranking member Orin Hatch (R-Utah) have called for a blank slate and are asking for input from fellow members of Congress. 

With automatic cuts already in place, and additional cuts proposed as part of budget negotiations, Bread for the World is urging Congress to take a balanced approach to our fiscal future and protect anti-poverty programs like tax credits for working families. Tax reform must also include the needed revenue to continue these and other programs that support a strong safety net.

For as much elbow grease that has oiled the American dream, sound government policies that set a course for prosperity have laid the foundation for individuals to escape poverty. This study shows that cutting and weakening the EITC and CTC could lead to a new American narrative: a reversal of fortune.

Quote of the Day: Mariana Chilton

Aidan_eats_spaghetti"The best investment of our dollars in this country is investing in very young children and their families....It's a beautiful investment."

—Mariana Chilton, director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities














Photo: Aidan Rodriguez, 5, eats spaghetti. Aidan is the son of Barbie Izquierdo, a Philadelphia native whose firsthand experiences with hunger and poverty have made her an anti-hunger activist and nationwide speaker on the topic. Barbie has worked with Witness to Hunger in Philadelphia and appears in the documentary A Place at the Table (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World).



'A Place at the Table' on Moyers and Company This Weekend

Leylanie, 7, eats a bowl of cereal. Leylanie is the daughter of Barbie Izquierdo, a Philadelphia native whose firsthand experiences with hunger and poverty have made her an anti-hunger activist and nationwide speaker on the topic. Barbie has worked with Witness to Hunger in Philadelphia and appears in the documentary A Place at the Table.(Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

When A Place at the Table co-director Kristi Jacobson began work on the documentary about hunger in America, many people she told about the project doubted that she'd have enough material for a full-length film.

"Very often in the beginning, when we set out to make this film, people would look at us and say, 'Hunger in America? There is no hunger in America, you should be doing a film about hunger in other countries—that's where we have a real problem." Jacobson recalled, speaking during Bread for the World's National Gathering on June 10. 

Of course, as Bread for the World advocates know, hunger does exist in America, and at startling rates: 50 million Americans are food insecure, one-third of them children. A Place at the Table has not only helped to bring the pervasiveness of U.S. hunger to light and underscore the importance of federal nutrition assistance programs, it has put a face to the statistics.  

This Sunday, Jacobson and Mariana Chilton, director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities, will appear on Bill Moyers’ show, Moyers and Company, to discuss the film, shatter stereotypes surrounding federal food assistance programs and the people who utilize them, and to talk about how the problem of hunger can be solved. 

Watch a preview of the show below. The episode will begin airing this Sunday (check your local listings for air times) and will be available online next week. 

A Place at the Table is now available on DVD; join the thousands of Bread for the World members who have seen the film and used our discussion guide, “No Place at the Table.”

VIDEO: McGovern, Silverbush Talk Potential SNAP Cuts

Melissa Harris-Perry, who has used her MSNBC show as a platform to bring attention to issues of hunger and poverty in America, devoted her May 26 "Taking Food off the Table" segment to the farm bill and SNAP. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), former Virginia Governor Doug Wilder, PBS NewsHour Politics Editor Christina Bellantoni, Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) President Jim Weill, and A Place at the Table co-director Lori Silverbush discussed the $21 billion in SNAP cuts in the House Agriculture Committee's farm bill.

McGovern, Silverbush, and others spoke against slashing the program, and also addressed some common misconceptions about SNAP.

"Millions and millions of people on SNAP work for a living, work full-time, but make so little that they still qualify," McGovern said. "This is not a get rich quick scheme, this is hard living."

Silverbush said that the program has expanded to address hunger, as it is meant to do. "It's a terrible economy and the food stamp program was designed to grow when the economy shrinks, and it's doing what it was designed to do," she said. "People who are trying to cut it like to point to that as if it's some example of 'it's bloated, it's full of waste'—truthfully, it's only so big because the need is so big. And as the economy recovers, food stamps are going to go down as well."  

The panel also discussed SNAP's extremely low fraud levels and the need to strengthen, rather than cut, the vital program.

"Most people, I don't care what their political persuasion is, don't want to see the burden on poor people get worse," said McGovern. Watch the entire segment below.

Bread for the World continues to fight these cuts as the bill goes to the floor of the House. Call your representative today at 1-800-326-4941 or send an email now, and tell him or her to protect, not cut, SNAP.

Woodridge United Methodist Church Holds Successful Offering of Letters

Letters written by members of Woodridge United Methodist Church during its Offering of Letters last month. (All photos by Christine Darfler)

By Kacie Greer

I recently attended a 10:30 a.m. church service at Woodridge United Methodist Church, in Woodridge, Ill., during which Pastor Dave Buerstetta led an Offering of Letters. This was actually my first time participating in an Offering of Letters. It was very moving, and the way the congregation approached the program was inspiring.

WoodridgeUMC13FINI walked into the church and was immediately greeted by members saying, "You came on the right day, we are doing something very special during service today." In front of me was a table full of letters written by members who had attended the 9:30 a.m. service. These letters were written by adults and children. When seeing letters written by children, I know that a story is being told-nothing beats seeing the truth through a child's eyes.

The service began and was led by a young boy, while the projector in the front of the sanctuary showed an image of Rosie, a young girl featured in A Place at the Table, smiling at the congregation. After a few worship songs, Pastor Buerstetta introduced Bread for the World and the Offering of Letters. A short clip of Rosie, taken from the film, then played. The congregation learned a bit about Rosie's life in rural Colorado, and how going to school hungry impacted her ability to focus on her school work. Some of the most powerful words came when Rosie described the hunger she experiences during school hours. She says sometimes all she can picture is food as her stomach growls. She sees images of bananas and other fruits while trying to concentrate on the school work.

Pastor Buerstetta began to address the congregation on the proper way to write to Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) about food aid reform. He talked about how the president's proposal allows the United States greater flexibility to respond to hunger needs around the world while also better supporting long-term development efforts in food security and agriculture. He addressed the issue of funding for proper nutrition as well, which is one of the main inequalities that Rosie faces. Overall, the congregation was very passionate about the Offering of Letters program and about working to end hunger both at home and abroad.

Kacie Greer is a Bread for the World central hub organizing intern based in Chicago, Ill.

Early Mornings and Necessary Action

Photo: A screening of A Place at the Table.  (Amanda Lucidon for Bread for the World)

By Anneke Essenburg

On April 5, I woke up at 5 a.m., and by 6 a.m., I was on the road with four other Calvin College students and two leaders of the Christian Reformed Church’s Social Justice Office, headed to Washington, D.C. Twelve hours, two stops, and many Twizzlers later, we arrived!

We went south for the weekend to attend the annual Ecumenical Advocacy Days conference. This year, the focus was on food justice, a topic that our student organization, the Social Justice Coalition, is really passionate about. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday we learned about all aspects of food justice and the farm bill, and then on Monday we lobbied on Capitol Hill.

At the conference we learned about the movie A Place at the Table, and one of the women featured in the film, Barbie Izquierdo, was there to share her story. Midway through our journey home, we began discussing how we could share what we learned with the Calvin community, in order to widen the advocacy base.

So, on Thursday, May 2, we held a screening of A Place at the Table, followed by a panel discussion. Our panelists were Marge Palmerlee from Degage Ministries, Emma Rosauer from Access of West Michigan, and Chuck Clemence, coordinator of the Grand Rapids Bread for the World team.

The first step in educating others and involving them in ending hunger is just deciding to take action. There are logistical details to work out—contacting panelists, purchasing showing rights, advertising—but it isn’t about having a perfect event, it’s about reaching out and offering knowledge.

Sure, I spent time stressing over whether or not anyone would come. But you know what? They did. Our job is not to force people to come, or to force people to care. Only God can do that. Our job is to be faithful, to act, to do something. Because if we do nothing, then nothing will change.

There are 50 million people in America who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. This is not right. We need to do something. I need to do something. You need to do something.

Anneke Essenburg is a student at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., and a leader in the student organization Social Justice Coalition (SJC).

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