Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

11 posts categorized "Education"

Growing Up Poor in Rural America


By Robin Stephenson

Clark Fork, Idaho is an idyllic rural community nestled near the northern tip of the state. The town has a median income of just under $28,000 a year and a population of 530. In November, the school district said it could no longer afford to serve hot meals at Clark Fork Junior-Senior High School.

Chris Riggins, the town's mayor, is concerned about food-insecure students. "The hot lunch that they receive here at school, a lot of them, this is the only hot meal they get during the day," Riggins told a local news station. 

Roughly 35 percent of rural populations live in high poverty, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Rural areas are defined as having populations of fewer than 2,500 and not adjacent to a metro area. More than 25 percent of all rural children live in poverty – significantly higher than their urban counterparts.

16160848070_43f57f9ce4_kThe National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a nutrition intervention tool that provides food to children who need it – food that gives them the fuel to learn. But a growing number of rural schools are struggling to make the program work for them.

The Bonner County Daily Bee reports that the numbers don't add up for Clark Fork. The school averages about 100 enrolled students a year and nearly half qualify for the federal government free and reduced-lunch program (available to students in a family of four that earn roughly $44,000 annually). About 20 students opt into the program on a regular basis. The federal government reimburses the school $2.58 for reduced lunch and $2.98 for free lunches. The $70 in revenue, however, is not enough to cover the $395 a day it takes to run the program.

Volume helps cut costs in schools with larger student populations.

Community eligibility, a provision in the 2010 child nutrition reauthorization bill, has the potential to help many struggling schools. If over 40 percent of students qualify for free lunch, all students get free lunch for schools that opt in. By eliminating application and fees, the streamlined process eases the burden on schools and increases the total reimbursement. Unfortunately, for a small school like Clark Fork, the numbers are not in their favor: Only 30 percent of the student body qualifies for free lunch.

The obvious solution to child poverty is stable, living-wage employment for parents. In the absence of adequate work, safety net programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), the earned income tax credit, and child nutrition programs increasingly bridge the gap between income and cost of living. Nationally, the child poverty rate stands at 18 percent. Without government interventions the rate would be 33 percent, according to a recent analysis.

Kids deserve the chance to reach their potential no matter where they live. Anti-poverty programs like SNAP and school lunch, which keep hunger at bay, must be strengthened and protected for the sake of our children.

Urge Congress to strengthen our child nutrition programs, particularly the summer meals program. Tell Congress to also protect SNAP and other anti-poverty programs from harmful budget and funding cuts. Call (800/826-3688) or email your members of Congress today.

Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and a senior regional organizer at Bread for the World.

Make Connections at the 2014 Justice Conference


By Jared Noetzel

I wouldn’t be working at Bread for the World if it wasn’t for the Justice Conference.

A year ago, I was sitting in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, interning for Paz y Esperanza, a Bolivian-run human rights organization. One day, as I was doing some reading online, I saw an ad for the conference. After some browsing, I sent an email to a group of interns from Wheaton College, who were working for organizations around the world on the same program that took me to Bolivia. Eventually, we decided that the conference was worth the 13-hour road trip from Wheaton, which is in Chicago, to Philly, and we bought tickets.

We’ve all received career advice, and often it has to do with polishing a resume or sharpening answers to interview questions. Maybe some advisers give you inside scoop on networking, but no one tells you to go to conferences with your friends. In other words, I didn’t walk into the exhibitor hall looking for a job.

Then, I walked up to Bread for the World’s table and met Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, the head of national evangelical church relations for the organization. We shook hands, and she made a simple offer: sign this petition, and we’ll give you a shirt. Now, as a college student, a free shirt is a pretty good reason to do most things, but in this case it was an easy decision. The petition was aimed at President Obama, urging him to follow up on his 2012 election pledges to address hunger and poverty, both in the United States and abroad.

Only then did I have the good sense to ask Krisanne a bit more about Bread. She gave me her card and I promised to follow up.

A month or so later, I sat on my friend’s couch and typed out an email to Krisanne. I joked that "this email is going to get me a job!" My friend and I were both graduating seniors, staring down the job market without serious prospects. I hit "send," and went back to editing a paper.

Krisanne got back to me, and we set up an interview. After some consideration on both our parts, I committed to an internship after graduation. In those three months, my work presented a steep learning curve. But, it turned out that I fit in pretty well, and Bread offered me a position to continue engaging evangelicals in the movement to end hunger from Bread’s office in Washington, D.C.

The Justice Conference served as a transition point for me. In Bolivia, I walked with our brothers and sisters in their faithful efforts to challenge unjust systems and create lasting change. Now, as a young professional, I have an amazing opportunity to apply the lessons I learned in Bolivia to Bread’s advocacy here in the United States. It’s an immense privilege, and the Justice Conference played a huge role in getting me here.

If you, your church, or campus would like to help channel burgeoning professionals into the work of justice, please consider joining the Justice Conference, which will be held in February 2014, as a partner site. You’ll receive access to top-notch content from the event in Los Angeles, and support from the Justice Conference team as you organize your own local gathering of justice seekers.

For more information about the Justice Conference, and to register, visit thejusticeconference.com.

Jared Noetzel is Bread for the World's evangelical engagement fellow.

Students Advocate for the Hungry During Teach-In for Justice

Billy_Kangas_and_friendBy Billy Kangas

Last weekend, hundreds of Catholic youths descended on Washington, D.C., for the Ignatian Family Teach-in for Justice, an annual gathering of college and high school students from Jesuit institutions. They prayed together, networked, reflected, and learned about working for justice in the world. The speakers were inspiring, but even more inspiring were the students! They were bright, passionate, engaged, informed, energetic, and deeply committed to letting the love of Jesus spill out of them in both their personal lives, and in their public service and advocacy. They inspired, rejuvenated, and showed me the face of Jesus over and over again.

As Bread for the World’s Catholic relations fellow, I was given the opportunity to put together a team to hang out with hundreds of these amazing young people, who are looking to explore what it means to be an active Catholic with a public voice.

My fellow Bread staff members and I presented at a number of workshops. Amelia Kegan, a domestic policy analyst at Bread, and I talked about creating a "circle of protection" around essential safety net programs here in the United States, and how to take action by urging policy makers to strengthen programs that help hungry people. Bread’s international policy analysts, Beth Ann Saracco and Ryan Quinn, led a session on maternal and child nutrition, and how providing proper nutrients to women and children during the 1,000 days from the beginning of pregnancy through a child’s second birthday is essential for preventing disease, improving education, strengthening health, and saving lives. These 1,000 days are key!

We also invited participants to come to share with us how they are involved in ending hunger in their own communities, and in the world at large.

On Sunday, we were able to address the group as a whole to discuss the importance of protecting SNAP (food stamps) in the farm bill. We trained groups of students in how to talk to their policy makers when they gathered at the Capitol building on Monday for prayer, praise, and advocacy meetings with their congressional representatives.

We also encouraged the students to message their members of Congress using Twitter, and other forms of social media. Take a look at some of the messages these students tweeted to their representatives as part of our social media campaign:

All of this was very encouraging, but the most powerful takeaway I left with was hope. The media is filled with stories that condemn this young generation, calling them lazy, unmotivated, and unwilling to speak up to change the systems that keep people hungry and poor. But this group, and others like it, is proof that their generation is not only engaged, but immensely creative with their activism and eager to help those suffering from hunger and living in poverty.


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

Photos: (top) Billy Kangas and a friend at the Ignatian Family Teach-in for Justice (Gary Cook). (Bottom) The group of Jesuit students gathered on the mall for the event (Billy Kangas).

JustFaith: Transforming Churches

Banquet table
A banquet Table at Bread for the World's June 2013 National Gathering in Washington, D.C. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World).

"But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”  Luke 14: 13-14 (NIV)

Many Bread members have introduced their churches to JustFaith, an adult education program that explores the biblical prescription to heal our broken world and foster congregational and individual wholeness. The 30 weekly sessions are carefully planned for faith sharing that includes prayer, study, and immersion. Each week’s curriculum deepens the participants' understanding of the biblical basis for advocacy. 

Bread members Bob and Janet Raes facilitated the program at West Linn Lutheran in Oregon and saw how it transformed lives. 

The immersion part of the program helps break down invisible barriers that hide suffering in the world. Bob and Janet recalled how simply listening to a homeless couple’s experience opened up a new world to their group. The homeless couple told a story of selling bracelets on the sidewalk with their dog and feeling that they weren't treated with dignity. A passerby offered them money to feed their dog, but ignored them as people. The message to the couple was that the dog deserved compassion, but they did not.

"Our groups said 'we are going to really see people,'" said Janet. "Some ride the bus now and that has just changed them."  Their congregation sponsored 3 months of rent to transition a homeless family into stable housing, and spent the time to help them move in and listen to their goals. Bob and Janet know that compassion is relational.

Through JustFaith, participants learn about both charity and advocacy—the latter is often harder for churches to embrace. "People are so allergic to the word 'advocate'—instead of advocating we say we are 'seeking justice,'" said Bob. JustFaith has helped their church to take a deeper look at the root causes of hunger and write letters as part of Bread for the World’s yearly Offering of Letters campaign, which asks Congress to create programs and policies that end hunger and poverty.

Even though participants in JustFaith are a small subset of any congregation, as other parishioners see the group transform it leads to changes in the church. “It’s an invasive species,” said Janet, with a smile.

With fall—the typical starting time for a JustFaith group—just around the corner, many churches are posting information and forming groups.  If you would like to learn more and find out how you can start a group, contact your regional organizer.

An Afternoon at the D.C. Central Kitchen

DC Central Kitchen resize
Bread for the World interns Katy Merckel, Theresa Martin, and Hampton Stall volunteering at D.C. Central Kitchen. Bottom photo: Bread for the World interns assembling salads at D.C. Central Kitchen. (Photos by Bread for the World intern Donald Soffer) 

By Theresa Martin

Clad in aprons and hair nets, Bread for the World interns were busy chopping onions and arranging salads on the eve of July 4. While our time at Bread is usually spent working on advocacy in the office rather than direct service, we spent the afternoon volunteering at D.C. Central Kitchen.

D.C. Central Kitchen is an organization that focuses on providing both food and skills training for those in need. However, as its website reads, it is “not a soup kitchen.” Through programs like the 14-week culinary job training program for the unemployed, D.C. Central Kitchen provides those it serves with tools for ending the cycle of poverty. Rather than just offering food, the organization teaches others how to prepare food and then deliver meals to food pantries and other agencies around the city. Fresh Start Catering, D.C. Central Kitchen’s revenue-generating arm, which employs culinary job training program graduates, catered Bread for the World's 2013 National Gathering.

As volunteers, we had the opportunity to work alongside culinary students and to get to know some of the people we advocate for and with at Bread.

DC Central Kitchen resoze2

“D.C. Central kitchen gave me a great chance to get to work for a good cause while learning a lot about the people I [volunteered] with!” says Bread intern Hampton Stall. 

Intern Sara Doughton said the experience “was a powerful reminder that, although we may seem to be on different paths, or using different tools, we’re traveling together – and with countless others – as we work to end hunger.”

It was encouraging to learn about the work of the DCCK, and above all, it was a reminder to be creative in the pursuit of a just food system. Through their passion for cooking, the founders of D.C. Central Kitchen’s culinary training program have "changed the lives of over 1,000 men and women." Are you passionate about cooking? Writing? Politics? Music? Use what YOU are passionate about in the fight against hunger!

Theresa Martin is an intern in Bread for the World's Church Relations department.

No Child Should Work for Food

'Classic school lunch. Yum.' photo (c) 2010, Ben+Sam - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

By Nina Keehan

Ray Canterbury, a Republican member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, recently proposed that children should have to work for their free school lunches, an addition he wanted included in the Feed to Achieve Act (Senate Bill 663). The bill, which passed by overwhelming majority without his additions, makes breakfast and lunch available for free to every K-12 student in West Virginia through foundations that collect private donations and grants.

"I think it would be a good idea if perhaps we had the kids work for their lunches: trash to be taken out, hallways to be swept, lawns to be mowed, make them earn it,” Canterbury said during the debate. “If they miss a lunch or they miss a meal they might not, in that class that afternoon, learn to add, they may not learn to diagram a sentence, but they'll learn a more important lesson.”

Although Canterbury's proposal was roundly criticized by his fellow delegates, with both Republicans and Democrats voicing opposition, the controversial idea continues received national media attention, and the general public has continued the debate.

The government’s efforts to improve child nutrition through school feeding programs, as the Feed to Achieve Act aims to do, should be supported by all lawmakers who want students to excel regardless of their family’s income. Kids who eat breakfast and lunch perform better in school and have fewer behavioral issues in class, putting them in a better position to succeed.

The last thing we need to do is make it harder for the kids who need assistance to get it. Already, child nutrition programs don’t reach everyone who needs them. Today, 20.6 million schoolchildren receive free or reduced-price lunches, but 11 million of those don’t receive any breakfast assistance. Having a “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” mentality will keep millions of America’s children from realizing their true potential.

Nina Keehan, a media relations intern at Bread for the World, is a senior magazine journalism and public health dual major at Syracuse University.

Advocacy Is About Relationships

Two men chatting at Bread for the World’s 2011 National Gathering. (Alisa Booze Troetschel)

By Mary Getz

When I was in college, I had the opportunity to spend a month in Honduras on a service-learning trip. We worked on a variety of projects and spent time talking to those alongside whom we worked. We learned about culture, agriculture, and the economy.

One afternoon after our group had finished putting in a concrete floor to a community building and we were feeling pretty proud of ourselves, we heard chuckling from some of the men with whom we had been working. We could tell that we were the source of their amusement. When we asked to be let in on the joke, the answer turned our perspective on the day upside down.

The men explained that while we did a fine job on the floor, they were capable of doing it more quickly without us. They said that the important work that day was the friendship we built and the details we learned about each other’s lives.

The men told us, “You have something that we don’t have. You have a voice. You can go back to the United States and tell our story.

"Tell about what it means to be a small farmer here. Tell about what you’ve learned about how trade in your country affects people in our country. Tell our story.”

Our friends’ call to us that day mirrored Proverbs call to action:

Speak out for those who cannot speak,
for the rights of all the destitute.
Speak out, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:8-9)

We are called to advocacy—to work for justice—to speak out for those that cannot. 

Advocacy is about building relationships to achieve goals. We tend to focus upward towards our elected officials when we think of advocacy. But that focus can obscure the important relationships that are at the heart of our advocacy—people who are hungry or living in poverty. Our most authentic advocacy is done when we are in relationship with those that we are assisting.

In Matthew we read,

for I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
I was naked and you gave me clothing,
I was sick and you took care of me,
I was in prison and you visited me.  (Matthew 25: 35-36)

By meeting Christ in those around us, especially those who are in any kind of need—and by being in relationships with them—we can learn their stories and share those stories with people in power.

We can speak up for those who cannot.

Mary Getz is the grassroots and online communications officer for the Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations. She manages the Episcopal Public Policy Network, a grassroots network of Episcopalians committed to the active ministry of public policy advocacy.

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

Teaching Abundance and Scarcity


A street vendor selling vegetables in Vietnam. (Robin Stephenson/Bread for the World)

By Robin Stephenson

On Fridays, Bread Blog will highlight an activity, for either adults or children, that can be used by Christian educators. This activity, and others like it, can be found in the Engaging Church section of Bread’s website.

If you have ever been to a hunger banquet, you probably know that participation in one of these events often results in an “aha” moment around the issues of global hunger and food disparity. 

At a hunger banquet, a group of people share a meal, but the quality and quantity of the food and water varies. The meal that you eat is determined at random.

We are often presented with grim statistics about hunger. We hear that 925 million people face their days hungry, and are floored by that figure. But how can those who live in abundance even begin to grasp what that statistic really means? Attending a hunger banquet gives attendees at least a sense of how large the global food gap truly is.

My first hunger banquet was on a college campus. The hosts separated us into three groups.  The group representing the developed world ate large portions of protein, vegetables, and rice—a typical American meal. This group sat at a table and used flatware. Needless to say, there were only a few people in this group. The middle income group sat at a smaller table with few aesthetic details. Food was basic, but nourishing—a meal of rice and beans and clean water to drink.  There were more people at this table. The largest group sat on the floor with only one small bowl of rice per person, and no utensils or clean water.  This is how the majority of the world lives. 

I sat at the fancy table, but I could hardly eat my meal. I thought to myself, why in a world of so much do so many go without?  How did I get so lucky to be born into such abundance? 

I thought of the scripture Luke 12:48:

"From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

It can be difficult for instructors to convey the concepts of abundance and scarcity in the world during a 45-minute Sunday school class or youth group. In the "Make Hunger History" curriculum there is an exercise that sparks a conversation using M&Ms. "Getting A Fair Share:  A Distribution Exercise" targets grades 7 through 9 and goes beyond just visuals and statistics and asks students to think about the root causes of hunger. 

Robin Stephenson is social media lead/senior regional organizer, western hub.

"Is There Enough for Everyone?" Activity


On Fridays, Bread Blog will highlight an activity, for either adults or children, that can be used by Christian educators. This activity, and others like it, can be found in the Engaging Church section of Bread’s website.

In the "Is There Enough for Everyone?" activity, students are encouraged to work together to share increasingly scarce resources. This activity, which is appropriate for younger students, is designed to foster discussion about sharing and how people treat one another.

The children start by playing a traditional game of musical chairs—one chair and one student are eliminated each time the music is stopped. The children then play a second round of musical chairs, during which a chair is removed each time the music stops, but all students continue playing. As the game progresses, more and more people must find a way to sit on fewer and fewer chairs until, finally, everyone must sit on one remaining chair.

Once the commotion dies down, ask everyone to sit down, and think about how they acted toward one another in each of the games: How did it feel to have enough chairs, and then to slowly lose them until there wasn’t enough room for everyone? What would it be like if this was the amount of food you had to eat, instead of the number of chairs you had to sit on? How would this affect your life?

After the discussion, the activity ends with a prayer about sharing:

"God, thank you for this wonderful world and all the blessings of our lives. Teach us how to share with one another so everyone has enough. Amen."

Read the entire "Is There Enough for Everyone" lesson plan from Bread for the World's "Making Hunger History" children's curriculum for more details. If you're interested in addressing the same general topic with teenagers or adults, consider a book group discussion of Bread for the World founder Art Simon's How Much Is Enough?

Photo: Two girls study inside a church in Mexico. (Margaret Nea/Bread for the World)

Let’s Go to Africa on Sunday School Airlines


On Fridays, Bread Blog will highlight an activity, for either adults or children, that can be used by Christian educators. This activity, and others like it, can be found in the Engaging Church section of Bread’s website.

This week, African-American Voices for Africa released a new public service announcement that encourages African-Americans to support programs that help citizens of African nations lead more prosperous, stable, and healthy lives. Bread for the World’s Offering of Letters Campaign continues to urge Congress to create a circle of protection around  poverty-focused foreign aid, funding vital programs that save lives and help improve conditions for millions more by giving them the tools they need to lift themselves out of poverty.

How do you teach children about people and countries so far away?  This week, consider taking them on an airplane ride—a virtual one—to Africa. 

In this activity, children hear how Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer because he wanted them to pray but also to pray for others. After learning many facts about Africa, and taking an imaginary plane ride to the continent, the lesson culminates in learning the prayer below. 

Read the entire Praying for Children in Africa lesson plan from Bread for the World's “Helping Hungry People" children's curriculum for more details. 

Our Prayer For Africa

We thank you for all children,

Near and far away.

Today we learned about Africa,

And we learned that we must pray.

The children need clean water

And healthy food to eat.

They also need medicines.

In schools they want a seat.

Take care of those in Africa.

We know you love them too.

As we continue to pray for them,

Show us more that we can do.

Photo: A young girl holding a collection plate filled with letters after an Offering of Letters workshop. (Bread for the World)

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