Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

577 posts categorized "Advocacy"

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)

Sample_letter

Enough is Enough: Protecting SNAP in 2014

Nadine_fridge
Nadine Blackwell, a former nurse and Philadelphia resident who receives SNAP (food stamps) surveys the contents of her refrigerator. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

It’s no secret the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program (SNAP, or food stamps) has been dealt a series of crushing blows over the last several months. We’ve seen unprecedented cuts to the program, including an $11 billion cut that took effect on Nov. 1, and impacted more than 47 million Americans. Earlier this month, an additional $8.6 billion cut to SNAP included in the farm bill was signed into law. As a result, 850,000 SNAP households in 15 states and the District of Columbia will see their benefits cut by about $90 a month.

Let’s not mince words—these cuts will have dire consequences for millions of hungry Americans. They will affect people like Nadine Blackwell, a disabled former nurse who dedicated years of her life to helping others. She now relies on SNAP and other safety net programs in her time of need. Faced with deep cuts to her SNAP benefits, Nadine may be able to turn to friends, neighbors, and food pantries for some additional help, but churches and charities are struggling to fill the gaps in most families’ grocery budgets. (Watch Nadine’s story)

With a farm bill signed into law, Bread for the World members have asked us for next steps regarding SNAP. If the last several months offer any indication, attacks against SNAP will continue. The farm bill fight may be finished, but our work to protect and strengthen the program is far from over. Although we are tired and frustrated, we cannot let our feelings of disappointment become feelings of defeat. We must tell Congress that enough is enough, and redouble our efforts to fight any additional cuts to the program.

The SNAP cuts in the farm bill are a huge blow to those families who will see their food budgets shrink, but our voices have made, and will continue to make, a difference.

Faithful advocates successfully blocked harmful provisions that would’ve lead to millions of people not just experiencing cuts to their benefits, but losing them altogether. We stopped policy changes at the federal level that would have banned convicted felons from the program for life (a move that would’ve affected millions of children in the process), punished people for not finding work in a tough economy, and allowed states to drug test every applicant. Those provisions, if enacted, would’ve affected people like Nate, a young father in Ohio who is working hard to provide for his baby daughter. For Nate, a returning citizen who has had trouble finding work, SNAP has been a vital lifeline, allowing him to feed and care for his daughter as he gets back on his feet. (Watch Nate’s story)

We could see more votes to cut SNAP in the coming months; the program will likely remain at the center of a bitter congressional tug-of-war. But advocates must continue to bust myths about SNAP and spread the message that it helps children and struggling families eat. In a nation that has more than enough food to go around, no one should have to go hungry because Congress wants to find budget savings.

With so many families seeing their SNAP benefits reduced, our work to protect other anti-hunger and anti-poverty programs takes on even greater importance— protecting WIC, school meals, and tax credits, and reinstating emergency unemployment insurance will be crucial to making sure that families reeling from the SNAP cuts don’t fall deeper into poverty as a result.

And we will continue to tell members of Congress that they must protect SNAP. Families struggling to put food on the table must be our lawmakers’ top priority. Enough is enough.

Getting Your Congregation Involved in an Offering of Letters

Obama_letter_e
Children in the Sunday school at Erwin First United Methodist Church in Syracuse, N.Y., wrote letters to President Obama about ending hunger as part of the congregation’s participation in the 2013 Offering of Letters.

As we enter a new Offering of Letters season, Bread for the World organizers are often asked, "How do I get started with the Offering of Letters?" Organizing a letter-writing event to urge our leaders to help hungry people around the world is easier than many think. Here are two examples of congregations that conducted their first letter-writing events in 2013 and how they got involved in that important first advocacy step.

Deacon Grace Marable of Bethel Presbyterian Church in North Philadelphia has been a long-time activist and church leader. Illness prevents her from pursuing paid employment, so her volunteer work is her passion — one she shares with three generations of family members, including four-year-old great-grandson Devin.

Several years ago, the hunger action leader in Philadelphia’s presbytery introduced Marable to Bread for the World. She realized that advocacy, along with a strengthened food cupboard at her church, was a key response to hunger and that the two could be linked in creative ways.

Marable attended an Offering of Letters workshop last April in downtown Philadelphia and vowed that 2013 was the year that she would organize an offering among the recipients and volunteers at her church’s weekly food cupboard. She tailored the sample letter to each group and got an enthusiastic response from all who participated. One pantry recipient even returned after finishing his letters and asked, "Are there more letters to write?"

After the offering, Marable gathered all of the letters, got in her car, and drove to Washington, D.C., to give the letters to other Pennsylvanians attending Bread's 2013 National Gathering last June. She asked them to hand-deliver the letters to members of Congress during Bread's annual Lobby Day that week. After some time had passed, Marable had a pantry recipient excitedly run up to her, waving the response she had received from one of her senators. The woman was undeterred that the senator was not supportive. She was actually proud to have taken part and eager to do more.

Since becoming an active part of Bread, Marable speaks about hunger and justice advocacy each Sunday in worship and with the church’s women’s group, which she helps lead. Members of her church often remark that she has “found her voice.”

Sometimes "outside voices" draw advocates to Bread. Rev. Karen Bellimer, minister of music at Erwin First United Methodist Church in Syracuse, N.Y., says she and her husband first learned about Bread when they saw Jon Stewart interview the producers of the hunger documentary A Place at the Table on The Daily Show.

Moved by what she heard, Bellimer ordered the video and showed it twice — in a local theater and later at her church. With that grounding, in May 2013 she organized the church’s first Offering of Letters, building on its existing food pantry outreach and engaging children and adults alike. Children in the Sunday school at Erwin First United Methodist Church wrote letters to Obama about ending hunger as part of the congregation’s participation in the 2013 Offering of Letters. During worship, one family in the congregation shared that its members receive federal food assistance through SNAP (formerly food stamps), and they talked about their own journey with hunger, sparking a good conversation in worship. Now, the Erwin church has pledged to make hunger and advocacy a key part of its ministry.

These are just two examples of creative ways to take that first key step toward advocacy in your church or campus. Contact your Bread for the World regional organizer for more suggestions and resources to deepen your connection to Bread and the 2014 Offering of Letters campaign. Thousands of other hunger activists in churches and on campuses across the country have found their voices through Bread, and you can too.

God Calls Us to be Advocates for Life

Houghton-students-on-cap-hill-main
(Left to right) Amanda Wojcinski, Wynn Horton, Moeun Sun, Aminata Kanu, Rebecca Lang, and Robert Mauger, students at Houghton College in upstate New York, navigate Capitol Hill during Lobby Day on June 11, 2013. The students met with their senators and representative and urged them to preserve funding for food assistance in the farm bill (Eric Bond).

By Shirley A. Mullen

It is not difficult to attract Christian college students to advocacy. They are on the lookout for causes to believe in. Most of them are idealists. They believe the solutions just can’t be all that complicated.

For some, advocacy is like a onetime cross-cultural experience, which takes them temporarily into an exotic world of the "other" but that leaves them virtually unchanged. They know it is a good thing to do, but they do not intend to be an advocate.

For some, advocacy is another way of "coming of age." It is a way of demarcating themselves from their own history, of making a statement in their own voice, apart from their parents' faith or political beliefs. But, in the end, it is all about them and not about those for whom they are speaking.

For some, advocacy is a way of exerting their gifts of persuasion and organization to come out on top. Yes, it is all for a good cause. But the main thing is the winning. It is all about being "right" and proving that to the rest of the world.

Describing these forms of advocacy in no way discounts their potential for good. Sometimes things turn out much better than we planned for or expected. Imperfect people can be agents in accomplishing very good things in the world. More often than not, however, our efforts do not yield what we had hoped, at least not in the short run. Far too often, well-intentioned and hardworking people do not see the results commensurate with their efforts.

God calls us to be advocates for life — not for a season. As believers, we are to be there for the "stranger" (Deuteronomy 15), for the "widow and orphan" (James), for those who "are in prison, naked, and hungry" (Matthew 25:35). The challenge for college students, and for each of us, is to allow advocacy to become a way of life and not a one-time experience that inoculates us against a lifetime of truly seeing the needs speaking faithfully for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Advocacy is tiring work. Results are not immediate. The work is never done. Even with occasional dramatic victories, changing the law is a long way from changing culture or changing hearts.

Sustained faithfulness in advocacy must be grounded in a larger life of discipline, humility, and Christian hope if it is to endure for the long haul. We are sometimes called to invest our lives in causes that seem to go nowhere, because it is the right thing to do, because the tapestry of history is longer in the making than our short lives, and because we know that nothing is wasted in God's economy.

God offers to work through us, finite and broken as we are, in his redemptive plans and purposes in this world.

On-faithShirley A. Mullen is president of Houghton College, a liberal arts and sciences institution in western New York associated with The Wesleyan Church.

 

 

 

 

Results Founder and Author Sam Daley-Harris on Creating Champions for a Cause

Final Front Cover PanelSam Daley-Harris knows quite a bit about using advocacy to effect social change. He is the founder of the anti-poverty nonprofit RESULTS, the organization's Microcredit Summit Campaign, and the Center for Citizen Empowerment and Transformation—as well as a longtime Bread for the World member. Daley-Harris is also the author of Reclaiming Our Democracy, in which he offers ordinary citizens strategies to become powerful advocates. He recently released the 20th-anniversary edition of his book, which issues a challenge to organizations to provide a deeper level of empowerment to their members.

"There needs to be an understanding on how to coach volunteers to go deeper with their advocacy," he says. "I spent the first 31 years of my life like most people — hopeless about solving big problems. I got involved in [California anti-hunger nonprofit] the Hunger Project in 1977 and met my member of Congress, the late Bill Lehman (D-Fla.) about a year later. He’s the one who told me about Bread and urged me to join."

Daley-Harris says he "cut his teeth" at Bread for the World, where he was introduced to advocacy work, then went on to found RESULTS in 1980, and wrote the first edition of Reclaiming Our Democracy in 1993, based on what he'd learned about grassroots activism. The updated version of the book still focuses on strengthening advocacy efforts but includes new information on using current technologies and social media in advocacy work. Daley-Harris says that although social media has expanded advocacy efforts in many ways, it's still important for nonprofits to offer their volunteers a way to engage that goes beyond a mouse click. Namely, organizations must offer their activists "a deep curriculum and rich support" — in other words, prepare advocates with useful information and offer them help in engaging with their elected officials.

He says the Bread model of not just asking advocates to sign an online petition or send a form email, but encouraging them to contact members of Congress through personal letters, phone calls, and in-person meetings — as well as writing letters to the editors of local papers — is key to "creating champions in Congress and in the media."

"If someone is in an organization that does significant online 'mouse-click advocacy,' I’m not saying to stop that," he says. "I'm just saying that if you have a million members, or half a million members, or 100,000 members, or 50,000 members, there's a small percentage of your members who want to go much deeper than that. And if you allow them to do that, major change is possible. [Those are the things] that get to the root of changing a member of Congress' position and really dealing with things like climate change and global poverty, which are systemic issues."

Letters to the editor, in particular, Daley-Harris says, are a tool that many organizations are no longer emphasizing, even though they are still incredibly effective. "Are newspapers struggling? Yes. Are they cutting back on the number of their editorial writers? Yes," he says. "But when I wake up in the morning, the first thing that I do, I wake up and I read my emails, I read Google news, and I read the New York Times online. I think we all still go to the newspaper — we just might not go to the front yard to pick it up." (See Bread's guide to writing a successful letter to the editor.)

Finally, Daley-Harris says, he learned from his time at RESULTS and his early work with Bread that advocates are capable of, and want to do, a tremendous amount of work for worthy causes. Too many organizations are afraid of giving their grassroots too much to do, but there will always be a core group who wants to do more, not less. "People really want to make a bigger difference," he says.

Quote of the Day: David Beckmann

"U.S. food aid has played a significant role in preventing hunger and starvation, but we can do better. With smart improvements, our government can respond more quickly when disaster hits. We can provide food that is more nutritious, especially to women and children in the critical 1,000-day window between pregnancy and a child’s second birthday. We can better support small-scale farmers in other countries by buying food closer to where it is needed. This is why I am asking you to use the power of influence God has entrusted to each of you to help our neighbors around the world."

—Bread for the World President David Beckmann on reforming U.S. food aid

Bread for the World's 2014 Offering of Letters, "Reforming U.S. Food Aid," invites you to urge Congress to make changes that would allow food aid to benefit 17 million more people each year — at no additional cost to U.S. taxpayers.

Join us by conducting an Offering of Letters with your congregation, on your campus, or with one of the groups with which you participate. We can provide you with the resources you need to successfully organize an Offering of Letters and engage your members of Congress. The 2014 Offering of Letters will be available in mid-January. The kit will also be available online at www.bread.org/OL.

Learn more about this year's Offering of Letters during this afternoon's grassroots conference call and webinar (RSVP for today's event).

Photo: Catarina Pascual Jimenez (center) feeds her two twins. Catarina works odd jobs such as washing clothes and menial labor in order to earn a few Quetzales (Guatemalan currency). She is the mother of four. She and the children were abandoned by her husband which left her and the children without income. She manages to feed her children through small rations provided by a USAID program designed to help mothers and children (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World). 

Praying for Change and Being Changed

Prayer_wave
Those in Washington, D.C., gathered in the Capitol building on Dec. 10 to participate in the wave of prayer. Three members of Congress attended the brief prayer service, even though the federal government was shut down due to a snowstorm that day (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World).

Hundreds of thousands of Christians in the United States – and many more throughout the world – prayed for an end to hunger on Dec. 10 as part of an international "wave of prayer" led by Bread for the World and other organizations fighting hunger.

"We are in front of a global scandal of around one billion people…one billion people who still suffer from hunger today. We cannot look the other way and pretend that this does not exist. The food available in the world is enough to feed everyone," said Pope Francis in a video that the Vatican released on the eve of the day of prayer.

The day of prayer came at a critical time, with Congress considering deeper cuts to SNAP (formerly food stamps), the most successful anti-hunger program in the United States. Cuts that took effect on Nov. 1 are already taking away approximately 10 million meals a day that would have fed working poor Americans and families struggling to lift themselves out of the recession. This loss is more than all the food charity that churches and food banks provide.

"We prayed to God for the end of hunger, which is clearly possible in our time. We asked God to guide Congress and to deepen our own commitment," said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World.

"The global wave of prayer changed my own prayer life, and I hope that many Bread for the World members will continue to pray on an ongoing basis for the end of hunger," continued Beckmann. "I have found it helpful to ask for the end of hunger every time I say, 'Give us this day our daily bread.'"

Bread heard about Pope Francis’ plans to encourage a global wave of prayer to end hunger from some of Bread’s board members with ties to Catholic leaders in the United States and the Vatican. After consulting with Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bread reached out to other Christian and interfaith leaders, encouraging them to involve their members in the day of prayer.

At least 17 religious denominations and organizations urged their members to engage in prayer on Dec. 10. This included the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Salvation Army, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), American Jewish World Service, Willow Creek Church, the Islamic Society of North America, the Salvation Army, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, American Baptist Churches, and the National Association of Evangelicals.

Despite a snowstorm that closed federal government offices in the Washington, D.C., area on Dec. 10, Bread and its partners in the Circle of Protection came together in a brief prayer service in the Capitol. Three members of Congress participated.

Although it is not known how many people around the world prayed that day for an end to hunger, the event garnered nearly 159 million media impressions in the U.S. articles that appeared in the Huffington Post, the Washington Post, The Hill, Catholic News Service, and Reuters.

In addition, 7,222 Christians sent emails to their members of Congress asking them to protect funding for hungry and poor people.

"We must empower the poor to shape their own destinies. We need the voice and moral force that Pope Francis – and leaders from all the world's faiths – can provide," wrote Dr. Jim Yong Kim in a blog post after Bread reached out to him for the event. "We need all of you. Together, we can build a global movement to end poverty."

The Dec. 10 prayer wave was the launching event of the "One Human Family, Food for All" campaign of Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of 164 Roman Catholic charities working in 200 countries. The 15-month campaign focuses on the right to food, with an advocacy goal of having the United Nations call a special session on the topic. 

[This article originally appeared in the January edition of the Bread for the World newsletter.]

They Are Talking About Poverty

Barbie cooking APPT
Movie still of Barbie Izquierdo and her children from A Place at the Table, courtesy Participant Media.

By Fito Moreno

Mention the presidency of LBJ, and people who lived during that time will probably remember one of two wars that are his legacy—the Vietnam War and the War on Poverty. Fifty years have passed since President Johnson began fighting the latter battle.

The War on Poverty spawned many well-known social programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, and Pell Grants, as well as modern food stamps and WIC nutrition programs. Poverty and hunger where on their way to becoming a distant memory until the mid-70s hit.

Today, an economy in recession, brinksmanship over the budget, and a focus on reducing government spending have all contributed to the increase in poverty, which in 2008 was higher than it had been in 1973. But a key factor that has led to the weakening of the social safety net is the lack of poverty on an administration’s agenda.

Some presidents since Johnson have legacies from their time in office that include an aspect of poverty—Carter and another deep recession, for example—but no president since LBJ has elevated the issue like Johnson did. As for the parties, Republicans today have focused on cutting anti-poverty programs, a stark contrast from the Nixon era. Democrats have focused more on aligning themselves with the middle class than acknowledging the 46 million Americans who live in poverty.

No one, president or party, has talked seriously about ending poverty in the last half century since something as strong as a war was declared on it. Even the word itself has been left in the shadows and ignored. It was almost taboo to mention in the media until just a few weeks ago.

It is easy to focus on the negative fallout that came after the Johnson/Nixon era in regard to poverty. But the programs that came out of that time have helped millions survive during the hard times of the past 50 years. Poverty surged after the financial crisis of 2008, but anti-poverty programs have done much to moderate the hardship.

Seeing my Google alerts blow up due to the sudden use of the word poverty is encouraging. Both parties are not only talking about it but proposing bold steps to reduce and end poverty. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) proposed shifting the management of anti-poverty programs to the states, but did not talk about cutting the funding for anti-poverty efforts as had been the case in previous months.

Hopefully Obama’s upcoming State of the Union address will be filled with this current anti-poverty fervor. Hopefully both parties can put aside the brinksmanship that has plagued this Congress and embrace the spirit of helping their fellow human beings. Hopefully we can all urge our politicians to do the right thing and make the eradication of hunger and poverty a top priority. Other countries, some in worse economic positions than the United States, have done this, why not us? If the presidents of my day can declare war on terror or weapons of mass destruction, why can’t they fight poverty again with the same spirit?    

Fito Moreno is a media relations specialist for Bread for the World.

Register for February’s Justice Conference

Bread-JusticeConf

By Jared Noetzel

The Justice Conference is just over a month away, and here at Bread for the World we’re getting excited! Every year at The Justice Conference hundreds of justice seekers gather to listen, learn, and take action to pursue justice. This year, the conference will host a stellar line-up of speakers, from N.T. Wright and Jim Wallis to Richard Stearns and Dr. Bernice A. King. These and so many other folks have spent countless years struggling to seek the Kingdom of God and see even some small part of it realized among us in the here and now. I’m proud to be joining this movement of committed Christ followers Feb. 21-22 at the Orpheum theatre in downtown Los Angeles.

If you haven’t registered for the main event yet, take a minute to do it now! While you’re at the conference, be sure to stop by Bread’s exhibitor booth or join us for our pre-conference workshop titled Voices that Challenge Injustice: Food Aid, led by Krisanne Vaillancourt-Murphy, interim director of church relations at Bread for the World.

If you’re looking for a reason to spend a bit more time in L.A., then stick around on Sunday, June  23 for The Justice Conference Film Festival. Bread for the World will be participating, and the award-winning film “A Place at the Table” will be featured. You can get your tickets here.

This year, as we gather in L.A. for the main event, thousands more will come together at venues around the country to experience a simulcast of the L.A. main stage events. Justice Conference partner sites represent a unique opportunity for long-time activists and the newly inducted to gather to learn and grow together.

We would love to keep you up to date on The Justice Conference and so much more! You can do that by following us on Twitter, liking our page on Facebook, or checking back here for the latest blog posts. While you’re at it, you can let your decision makers know where you stand by writing them a quick email. We firmly believe that pursing justice requires faithful advocacy, so thanks for standing up and speaking out!

Jared Noetzel is an Evangelical Engagement Fellow at Bread for the World

 

Make At Least One More Resolution

OL writer
Consider facilitating an Offering of Letters in your church or community as one of your 2014 resolutions. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World).

 
If you’re the sort of person who makes resolutions—to eat better, exercise more, learn a new skill— then you probably already have your list made. But why not add one or two advocacy resolutions that can help end hunger?

Pick one or more of the suggestions below. If you have a idea for something not listed here, let us know in the comments.

For 2014, my advocacy resolution is to:

  • Organize an Offering of Letters at my church. The 2014 Offering of Letter campaign on reforming U.S. food aid launches later this month.
  • Call my members of Congress on each Bread action alert and encourage three more friends to join me.
  • Organize a meeting with my member of Congress this year about an important issue that affects hungry people.
  • Develop a relationship with the local and D.C.-based staff of my members of Congress.
  • Organize a local Bread team.
  • Attend a town hall and ask a question about a program that helps hungry and poor people.
  • Write an op-ed, letter to the editor, or blog post that educates on hunger issues in my area or around the world, or on the biblical basis for advocacy.
  • Use social media to engage more people and members of Congress in a conversation about ending hunger. Follow Bread for the World on Facebook and Twitter and share action alerts.
  • Create an educational event around hunger issues and invite my member of Congress.
  • Join a local anti-hunger coalition and represent Bread for the World.
  • Host a viewing of “A Place at the Table” in my church or community.
  • Invite three friends or family members, and two other churches, to join Bread to enhance our advocacy impact.
  • Come to Bread’s  National Gathering and Lobby Day June 9-11 in Washington, DC.

We all know that making a resolution is easier than keeping one. A good way to remind yourself of your advocacy resolution is to print out this page, circle your resolution, and then put it up on your fridge.

And here’s the great thing about Bread advocacy resolutions: they come with trainers! If you need help getting started or have any questions, just give your regional organizer a call.

Stay Connected

Bread for the World