Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

22 posts categorized "Field Focus"

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.


Bread Pioneer Barbara Howell

By Patricia Bidar

Barbara Howell is like a cherished friend at a dinner party — she came early to help set up and stayed long. The North Carolina native was one of Bread for the World’s very first staff members. Her impressive 25-year tenure as director of government relations made a powerful impact on ending hunger in God’s world.

In 1973, Howell was working as a journalist in Singapore. A college classmate who was visiting her from India knew of her interest in international issues and her Capitol Hill experience at the Council of Churches. When the classmate told her about a hunger advocacy group that had just moved from New York City to Washington, D.C., Howell was intrigued.

“I felt strongly about Christian ways to work and about helping end international hunger,” Howell remembered. When she met Rev. Art Simon and read The Politics of World Hunger, the book he wrote with his brother, Paul Simon, who would later become a U.S. senator from Illinois, Howell knew her next step.

Soon Howell was installed at Bread’s office in the Methodist Building, right next door to the Supreme Court. Opened in 1924, the United Methodist Building is the only non-government building on Capitol Hill. The building has incubated some of the most widespread justice movements of the 20th century.

“I shared an office with a young mother who worked for the Friends of the Filipino People. She worked with her baby beside her, installed in a desk drawer!” Barbara recalled. “Terry Martin and Brennan Jones were helping Art Simon to create a policy group. When they came from New York, they’d sleep in the office.”

In those days, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) was still a pilot program. Introduced by Sen. Hubert Humphrey and Rep. Carl Perkins, WIC provides healthcare and nutrition for low-income pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and infants and children under the age of five.

In the 1980s, when efforts to cut food programs began in earnest, Bread began holding Offerings of Letters aimed at ensuring that all who needed WIC’s help could access it. Bread members got creative, with Mother’s Day cards that read, “Remember the mothers who need this help.” “Another time, we sent small candles with the message, ‘Keep WIC lit!’” Howell said.

“We always pointed out the benefits. For each dollar invested in the program, you’d save $3.50 in medical care. We constantly needed to push that cutting WIC meant costing more money and hurting child development. What satisfaction there is that such a wonderful program has remained strong and so many helped!” Yet Bread remains on watch for WIC and other child nutrition programs. Its 2015 Offering of Letters will return to this issue.

Howell is well-known as a mentor to the many interns and young staffers she worked with during her years at Bread. “I used to be envious of the interns and young staffers who worked with Barbara,” said one of Howell’s fellow staffers, Kimberly Burge. “She was there to do her job—and also to equip others to accomplish great things. Her interns did not lick stamps or file papers. They were on Capitol Hill, attending policy meetings.”

Today Howell is retired and enjoys spending time with her three grandsons. She has been an active member of Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church as long as she’s been involved with Bread, including as a member of the congregation’s mission committee. The congregation holds an annual Offering of Letters and is a Bread Covenant Church, providing an annual donation.

“Barbara was with Bread for over 25 years, a duration of service almost unthinkable today,” Burge said. “In this day and age, people expect instant change. This work can be frustrating, because changes are so incremental. Yet she found a way to stay energized for two and a half decades. Her quiet strength continues to provide inspiration!” 

Patricia Bidar is a freelance writer

Bread Rising in New Mexico: Celebrating the Past, Looking to the Future

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(Left to Right) Debbie Steffen, Joan Brown, Anne Hanke, Terese Bridges , Rev. Steve Miller,  Mark Peceny, Erik Medina, and Bill Miller (photo courtesy of Carlos Navarro).

I do not understand the mystery of grace -- only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us. -Anne Lamott

By Carlos Navarro

How did we get here? What did we accomplish? Where are we going? Those central questions were part of our simple but very meaningful celebration of prayer, reflection, and song on Saturday, October 25, which we called Bread Rising in New Mexico. Several dozen people joined in the celebration at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church that afternoon.

We came together to observe Bread for the World's 40th birthday. More importantly, we put together a celebration that allowed us to stop and think of how that long history of Bread applied to us here in New Mexico. Just as all politics is local, all grassroots advocacy is rooted in local activity.

We asked St. Andrew to host the event because this congregation has been a part of Bread for the World's history in Albuquerque from almost the very beginning. (We could have also held our celebration at St. Paul Lutheran Church, with whom we also have a long relationship).

With a slide show we celebrated the decision of Jim Brown, a member of the Christian Brothers, to take on the role of  volunteer state coordinator in 1984. We rejoiced as we remembered how a group of Bread members, including Lutheran Campus Pastor Howard Corry, decided to create a local group in 1989 and then promote Offerings of Letters among churches in Albuquerque. Then we lifted up the dozens of churches that stepped up over the years to hold  letter-writing Sundays (and sometimes Saturdays and weeknights) in New Mexico, including Smith Memorial Presbyterian Church in the tiny community of Truchas, Peace Lutheran Church in Las Cruces, Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in downtown Albuquerque, St. John's United Methodist Church in Santa Fe, and many, many others. Here is a video of my introduction to the slide show.

Celebrating People

Our advocacy over the years went beyond the pen and paper (and more recently the computer). We viewed pictures of Bread members from New Mexico who took our message directly to members of Congress and of candidates with direct visits in Albuquerque and Washington. We also used the occasion to recognize one of our own members of Congress, who has been an "Outstanding Anti-Hunger Adovcate for New Mexico."

Our slide show also celebrated dozens of individuals who have long been the core of Bread New Mexico over the past 30 years, including those who were involved in the 1990s, the 2000s, those who are part of our current leadership team, and the local members who have become involved more recently. And how can we forget our regional organizers?  Emily Abbott, Zelinda Welch, Matt Newell-Ching, Holly Hight, and Robin Stephenson. We also expressed gratitude for the partnerships that we forged with the Lutheran Advocacy Ministry, The New Mexico Conference of Churches, New Mexico Oxfam Action Corps, and the CARE Action Network.

Our walk down memory lane also included scenes of those times when we came together for worship in ecumenical services, Circle of Protection prayers and songs, and to heed the call from Pope Francis to pray for an end to hunger. Because we come from diverse Christian faith traditions, our ecumenical choir was an important part of our celebration. And fittingly, the opening and closing song was Bread for the World, a piece composed by Marty Haugen on the occasion of Bread's 35th anniversary. We also have a video of the choir performing Pan de Vida (Bob Hurd).

Looking Ahead: The Bread Rising Campaign

Our review of our history was very important for the other purpose that brought us together in this sanctuary: the Bread Rising campaign, which aims to end hunger by 2030. David Miner, national chair of the Bread Rising campaign and an anti-hunger activist in Indianapolis, was a special guest at our service.

The campaign urges Bread members and supporters around the country to take three important actions: 1) increase our commitments to ongoing prayers for the end of hunger; 2) redouble our commitment to advocacy; 3) provide the resources to help our organization leverage the big changes that are needed to end hunger. We asked local Bread members to prepare reflections on those three actions as well as the goal to end hunger in our country by 2030. Those reflections are included in a separate piece that we will be posting soon.

Carlos Navarro has been a Bread member for over 20 years and has led Bread’s presence in New Mexico for the last decade. He maintains the Bread for the World New Mexico website and blog, and serves on the Bread for the World board of directors.

Reprinted with permission from the Bread New Mexico blog.


A Pastor Uses Social Justice Ministry, Social Media to Advocate for Hungry

Pastor Dave Buerstetta blesses an offering of letters at the Woodridge United Methodist church outside of Chicago, Ill. Assisting him are Jason Shubert (l) and Tim Waynick. (Photo courtesy of Dave Buerstetta).

Pastor Dave Buerstetta did not always make the connection between his Christian faith and advocating for hungry people. “I had kind of a conversion experience in seminary,” he says. “I met the Jesus who cares, the one who breaks down the barriers, who helps people who need help.”

“That is the Jesus that I’m in love with. That’s how I knew to live the life that I was called to.“

An ordained American Baptist minister, Dave Buerstetta serves as a pastor at the Woodridge United Methodist Church, in Naperville, Ill., where he lives with his wife, Joann, and two children. At Woodridge, Pastor Dave focuses on youth ministry, outreach, and social justice. He is a thoroughly 21st century pastor, maintaining a popular blog and using social media to share his homilies and fight hunger, poverty, and human trafficking.

Despite ministering to a solidly middle-class congregation, Pastor Dave has seen the hidden hunger that exists in most communities. “Even here they have a lot of need,” he says, relating the story of a family who volunteered at a local food pantry for years and now needs help. Unfortunately, the stigma of hunger and poverty drove that family to seek help outside of the community instead of turning to the pantry at which they had assisted for so many years.

That stigma is a barrier that people of faith need to erase, according to Pastor Dave. He points to the new documentary “The Line” as an important resource for understanding that hunger can happen to any of us. It puts the lie to any notion that people who are struggling are lazy,” he says. (“The Line” is a new Bread for the World resource that can be accessed at www.bread.org.)

In Pastor Dave’s experience, the faces behind the statistics give him power as he advocates as “the hands, the feet, and the voice” for hungry people. He recounts the feedback that he received from a legislative aid for Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) “She said that it’s not enough to tell a moral story. In the current climate, we have to tell stories of people we know in congregations who are receiving assistance. It’s not just millions … it’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith who can’t feed their daughter.”

Since getting more involved with Bread after the 2008 National Gathering, Pastor Dave he has become a seasoned advocate, lobbying in person and on the phone and making the Offering of Letters a major focus in the worship service. He also maintains a one-person Offering of Tweets, sending messages to Congress and informing the world about social justice issues through his Twitter account.

Pastor Dave has seen the positive effect of his lobbying efforts and of the Offering of Letters. When visiting Representative Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) with three other Bread members, she told them that they had received hundreds of letters from Bread and that the letters had make a difference. She also told them that she was cosponsoring a bill to strengthen poverty-focused development assistance.

“It’s experiences like that that help me see the value of lobbying,” says Pastor Dave.

This article originally appeared in the November-December 2012 issue of Bread for the World's newsletter. 

Why I Walk to the Polls On Election Day

Woman_walking_in_haitiBy Larry Hollar

On a morning twenty-five years ago, I woke before dawn and, in the faint early light, watched scores of people quietly walking miles along dusty, rural roads to vote.  This was in Hinche, a town in the central highlands of Haiti, and I was an election observer on a team that Bread for the World had co-sponsored to monitor Haiti’s first national election in many years. Despite threats of violence and intimidation, proud people walked resolutely on in the brightening morning.

At the polls, they stood cheerfully in line for long periods, pored through the complex paper ballot, and then, with smiles, proudly displayed their inked fingers showing that they had voted. Suddenly, in mid-morning, word came by radio of violence and killings at the polls in the capital and other cities, and then of the cancellation of the entire election. With sad faces, waiting voters left the lines and quickly disappeared. We tried to offer hope, but fear had changed the atmosphere in an instant.

From that election, there’s a poster in Kreyol in my office that reads: “Pou chak dwa konstitisyon an bay, gen yon devwa. Al vote.” Roughly translated it means: “For each right the constitution gives, you have a duty. Vote!” The Haitian people took that challenge seriously; today too many in our country ignore the duty part.

Since then, I’ve chosen to vote by walking, not driving, to the polls early on Election Day, rain or shine, because of the bravery of the Haitian people I met that day. Thank God our lives are not on the line as we vote today, but the life of our democracy, our nation, and our world is on the line at election time. So in remembrance and gratitude, I invite everyone to join in walking resolutely on once more. "Al vote!"

Larry Hollar is Bread for the World's senior regional organizer for the Eastern Hub.

Photo: A woman walks on a road in Haiti. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

Keeping Children Nourished in Nepal


Sharmila Chaudhari feeds her daughter Sanjana, 19 months, at the Nutrition Rehabilitation Home (NRH) in Dhangadhi, Nepal, on Sunday, April 29, 2012. This Nutrition Rehabilitation Home in the western part of the country is run by an NGO in Nepal called the Rural Women's Development and Unity Centre (RUWDUC). Children eat meals and snacks at 7 a.m., 10 a.m., 1 p.m., 4 p.m., and 7 p.m., and they drink milk at 10 p.m., 1 a.m., and 4 a.m.

Forty-one percent of Nepali children under age 5 are short for their age (stunted), according to the preliminary 2011 Nepal Demographic and Health Survey. Stunting is an indicator of malnutrition, so ensuring children are properly nourished in the 1,000 days between pregnancy and age 2 is vital to a child’s development.

Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World

Postcard from Bangladesh: Front-Line Health Workers

Mukul Begum, a shasthya shebika (community health worker) for BRAC, stands in front of her home in Barisal, Bangladesh. Begum delivers basic health care, counseling, and treatment to people in her community.

Text by Molly Marsh / Photos by Laura Elizabeth Pohl

BARISAL, BANGLADESH---Mukul Begum reaches into a plastic jar for tuberculosis medicine and brings it to 70-year-old Amjed Ali Sikder, who sits on a bench outside her front door. She pours a glass of water from a clear pitcher, watching closely as he puts the pill in his mouth and swallows it. Satisfied, she gives him the water.

Begum, 37, is a shasthya shebika, one of about 80,000 health workers trained by BRAC, an international nongovernmental organization, to deliver basic health care, counseling, and treatment to people in their communities. BRAC’s social, health, and economic empowerment programs operate in each of Bangladesh’s 64 districts, reaching about 110 million people.

Shasthya shebikas such as Begum are the engines of BRAC’s work—in 2010, they treated 1,650,673 people, the vast majority in rural areas where medical information and care is limited.

For five years, Begum—a formidable but jolly woman—has made door-to-door visits to counsel people in Barisal, a district of Bangladesh, about safe sanitation, basic hygiene, and nutrition. She currently looks after 263 households; 2 percent of these receive what BRAC calls “Directly Observed Treatment Short-Course.” In other words, if Sikder hadn’t come to her house to take his medicine, she would have gone to his to make sure he took it.

People in the community also visit Begum’s house, a low concrete building that sits under a thick canopy of coconut trees, for help with a variety of ailments. Begum listens and then reaches for a shasthya shebika’s constant companion—a small blue plastic bowl that holds medicine for fever, dysentery, diarrhea, gastric ulcers, skin diseases, and allergic reactions. It also contains home pregnancy tests and pills for calcium, vitamin B, and birth control.

Begum purchases the medicine from her local BRAC office, which she can then sell to her patients at a slight profit. She also receives money when pregnant mothers deliver their babies in a hospital or when patients complete treatment—for example, she’ll receive 500 taka (about $6.50) when Sikdar finishes his 6-month treatment for tuberculosis.

Before they embark on their caregiving, shasthya shebikas receive 15 days of training at a BRAC learning center on health basics and communicable diseases. They also gather for refresher classes once a month, in which they and shasthya kormis (health supervisors) review training themes and discuss issues that have arisen in their communities. Shasthya shebikas also meet once a month with a BRAC manager to report their activities.

It’s a role Begum seems to enjoy. “In the community, people believe I’m a doctor,” she said through a translator. She stands in her front doorway; behind her a clothesline stretches down the hallway, filled with colorful clothes. To the left of her house sits a small shack with items for sale, including toilet paper, candy, bread, and snacks.

BRAC’s main health program, called Essential Health Care, targets poor people—especially women and children—with medical care using seven different components. They include programs that focus on malaria, tuberculosis, and vision problems, and on the needs of pregnant mothers, infants, and children.

Shasthya shebikas are critical to each of these efforts, in many cases receiving additional training to be able to diagnose and treat malaria, for example, or identify vision problems. Begum and others are the front line of care in their communities—not just in dispensing medicine but also referring people to clinics when ailments are beyond their expertise.

Molly Marsh is managing editor and Laura Elizabeth Pohl is multimedia manager at Bread for the World. You can follow Laura on Twitter at @lauraepohl.

Postcard from Bangladesh: A Day in a Mother’s Life

Tohomina Akter washes pots and dishes in a pond near her home on the morning of Thursday, April 19, 2012, in Char Baria village, Barisal, in southern Bangladesh. Tohomina participates in a maternal and infant nutrition program called Nobo Jibon administered by Helen Keller International. The program stresses proper nutrition in young children.

Photographs by Laura Elizabeth Pohl / Text by Molly Marsh

BARISAL, BANGLADESH---The afternoon hours are Tohomino Akter’s favorite time of day. That’s when she can take a break from her household tasks, rest, and play with her 17-month-old daughter, Adia. Like any toddler, Adia much prefers movement.

Adia runs through the four rooms of their home, her pink sundress and plastic pink shoes contrasting against the gray tin walls. First is her parent’s bedroom, then the room where her father’s parents and brothers sleep. Then a small room that contains clothes and dishes, and finally the kitchen, a skinny corridor that opens to the outside on one end, where her mother prepares their food over a fire.

Adia stops suddenly at the front steps, looking out at the familiar faces of Char Baria, a village in the Barisal district of Bangladesh. In front of her lies Tohomino’s garden, a 25-foot square of spinach, amaranth, chili, and pepper plants, an important source of nutrients for Adia and her family. Spinach and red amarinthe are Adia’s favorites.

Tohomino planted the garden after receiving training in “Nobo Jibon,” a program administered by Helen Keller International, a nongovernmental organization that works in several Bangladesh districts. The vegetables she harvests have increased the nutrients available to her family, especially her daughter. What’s more, the extra money the family earns selling the surplus vegetables goes toward buying additional food for Adia.

In the program, Tohomino learned why a diverse, healthy diet is important, and also about the importance of breast-feeding her daughter. Tohomino attended classes for almost two months, hearing from health workers the benefits of giving Adia only breast milk during her first six months of life.

Tohomino has stuck to that schedule, introducing supplementary foods only after the initial six-month period, and she’ll continue to breast-feed Adia until she is 2.

“I did not do many things [before taking the class],” Tohomino said through a translator. “But after learning, I am keeping things clean and hygienic to prevent diseases, and cooking nutritious foods to keep me and my family healthy.”

Tohomina Akter grows amaranth, spinach, peppers and other vegetables in her garden. The vegetables are enough to feed her family and have enough left over to sell in the local market.

The neighborhood well is a 30-second walk from Tohomina Akter's home. Here she rinses vegetables with the help of Khaleda Begum (right).

Tohomina Akter prepares spinach and borboti, a long bean, in her family's kitchen as her 17-month-old daughter Adia attempts to help her.

Dry leaves fuel the fire in Tohomina Akter's kitchen.

Tohomina Akter feeds her 17-month-old daughter Adia. The nutrition programTohomina participates in stresses exclusive breast-feeding until six months and breast-feeding plus supplementary feeding from six months until 24 months.

Neighbors stop by Tohomina Akter's kitchen to talk.

Adia, 17 months, is reluctant to be washed by her mother.

Tohomina Akter cleans herself at the neighborhood well.

After washing herself and her daughter, Tohomina Akter attempts to dress a squirming daughter Adia, 17 months.

Molly Marsh is managing editor and Laura Elizabeth Pohl is multimedia manager at Bread for the World. You can follow Laura on Twitter at @lauraepohl.

Poetry That Helps Us See: Short-Order Cook

'Peterborough Diner 2' photo (c) 2010, liz west - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

As a fan of poetry, I often wish I had the writing talent of a poet. I admire how poets can bring readers into the world of their subjects, without the excess of prose, straight to the heart of a story, issue, or perspective with one perfect line of description.

At Bread for the World, we are constantly wondering how we can evoke the imaginations of people who might not fully understand the danger that some people on the brink of poverty experience daily. That's why we share stories of people we meet along the way who have been there -- people who have fought tooth and nail to scrape together enough money to buy some food for themselves and their kids.

With that in mind, I thought I'd go out on a limb here and share this poem with you called "Short-Order Cook," by Jim Daniels. It depicts a short-order cook at a diner, but speaks to the daily fight some of us go through to overcome great obstacles.

Take some time to read the poem, and share your own favorite poem in the comments section below.

Short-Order Cook
Jim Daniels (b. 1956)

An average joe comes in
and orders thirty cheeseburgers and thirty fries.

I wait for him to pay before I start cooking.
He pays.
He ain't no average joe.

The grill is just big enough for ten rows of three.
I slap the burgers down
throw two buckets of fries in the deep frier
and they pop pop spit spit . . .
pss . . .

The counter girls laugh.
I concentrate.
It is the crucial point—
they are ready for the cheese:
my fingers shake as I tear off slices
toss them on the burgers/fries done/dump/
refill buckets/burgers ready/flip into buns/
beat that melting cheese/wrap burgers in plastic/
into paper bags/fries done/dump/fill thirty bags/
bring them to the counter/wipe sweat on sleeve
and smile at the counter girls.
I puff my chest out and bellow:
"Thirty cheeseburgers, thirty fries!"
They look at me funny.
I grab a handful of ice, toss it in my mouth
do a little dance and walk back to the grill.
Pressure, responsibility, success,
thirty cheeseburgers, thirty fries.

Jeannie-choiJeannie Choi is associate editor at Bread for the World.



7 Billion: How Did We Get Here? And Will We Survive?


I am terrible at grasping scale. Ask me how many people were at a concert and I couldn't tell you if it was 1,000 or 10,000. So when I try to conceive of 7 billion people living on this earth, it's enough to give me a splitting headache.

But this is an important concept for all of us to understand. Why? Because 7 billion people means that the hunger crisis in our global community has the potential to get worse. According to a United Nations report, the expected growth has increased concern that the number of hungry and poor people around the world will rise, particiularly as grain and global food prices continue to increase. 

This NPR video provides a visual demonstration of how population growth was accomplished in some countries struggling to survive. It's fascinating to note that food, medicine, and better health care--essentially, higher standards of living--are able to stop the constant "drip" of death, disease, and starvation in developing nations.

And that is what our goal should be. I celebrate our growing planet, and I hope that this will only encourage globally conscious people to fight even harder to keep foreign aid and poverty-focused development assistance in our nation's federal budget

+Act now and protect foreign aid for hungry people around the world.

Watch the video below, and share your thoughts in the comments section:

Jeannie-choiJeannie Choi is associate editor at Bread for the World.


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