Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

140 posts categorized "Organizing"

A Tireless Hunger Justice Leader in Nebraska

Kaela_v_HJLBy Zach Schmidt

For Bread for the World organizers, there is a difference between our work in “remote” states and our work in the states in which we live. Understandably, we are able to be more present, more of the time, in our home cities and states. Our grassroots leaders in our various districts and states are our most valuable asset, and we identify, build, strengthen, and depend on them—especially in places we are not able to visit often.

In states like Nebraska, local leaders do the bulk of the heavy lifting when it comes to building relationships, organizing teams, and engaging their senators and representatives. When our advocacy efforts succeed in a state like Nebraska, it is abundantly clear that much of the credit goes to these local leaders. One such local leader is Omaha resident Kaela Volkmer, a mother of three and one of this year’s Hunger Justice Leaders.

Kaela has taken a lead role in our work to build Bread’s presence in Omaha and to build our relationship with Nebraska’s congressional delegation, especially Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), a member of the Senate’s “Gang of Eight.”

Continue reading "A Tireless Hunger Justice Leader in Nebraska" »

Bread Members in Nebraska Message Sen. Mike Johanns

Johanns photo 

Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) listens as Bread for the World activist Jana Prescott speaks during Bread for the World Lobby Day in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, June 12, 2012. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

By Zach Schmidt

On Halloween, dozens of men and women in the Cornhusker State wore powerful costumes. While indistinguishable from ordinary citizens on the outside, on the inside their hearts beat for hungry and poor people. They were wearing costumes that don’t come off—their advocate costumes.

This group of advocates seeks justice to pour down like a waterfall. They join their voices in calling for protection for their most vulnerable neighbors—those in their communities, their country, and their world. On Oct. 31 they joined their voices in calling the congressional office of Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.).

Through the work of a handful of leaders, more Bread for the World phone calls were made to Sen. Johanns on Oct. 31 than on any other previous call-in day! We set a sizeable goal of 50 calls, but exceeded expectations! A total of 67 phone calls were placed asking Sen. Johanns to protect domestic and international food security programs, including SNAP and WIC in the United States, and development assistance and food aid abroad.

Sen. Johanns is a member of the “Gang of Eight,” a bipartisan group of senators working on a framework to address the federal budget deficit and avert the “fiscal cliff.” The term fiscal cliff is being used to describe the combination of $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts and the expiration of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, beginning in January.

Everything is on the table for this group of senators, and they’re working hard to come to agreement. They want to be able to unveil a proposal very soon, which is why we took action when we did. We made dozens of phone calls to the senator’s Washington office telling him that Congress cannot balance the budget on the backs of poor and hungry people.

The feedback that organizers heard from callers was that the senator’s staffers were friendly and receptive to listening to them and noting their concerns. For this, we'd like to thank the senator and his staff. And most of all, we'd like to thank those who made phone calls to protect hungry and poor people—especially those who not only made calls themselves, but got others to do so, too!

Zach Schmidt is a Bread for the World regional organizer in the Central Hub, which includes Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska.

Washington Was Down but Hunger Advocates in Illinois Were Not

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Bread for the World regional organizer Zachary Schmidt (far left) meeting with Chicago pastors and community leaders to organize a call-in day targeting Sen. Dick Durbin. (Photo courtesy of David Swanson).

By Zach Schmidt

Congressional offices in Washington, D.C., shut down on Tuesday, Oct. 30, due to Hurricane Sandy, but that didn't stop hunger advocates in Illinois from pulling off a successful call-in day targeting Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

With our thoughts and prayers with those who lost loved ones to the ravages of Sandy, Illinoisans worked doubly hard to preserve the circle of protection that helps so many, both at home and abroad. Many activists placed not one, but two calls that day, making the effort to reach Sen. Durbin's district office in Chicago—which was open and operating last week—after learning that his D.C. office was closed.

Those who follow Bread for the World's issues may wonder why we focused energy on Sen. Durbin, one of the strongest champions for hungry and poor people in Congress. The answer is simple: to encourage him to “keep it up” in these turbulent times. When it comes to finding a way forward for our nation, everything is on the table, from spending cuts (including cuts to vital safety net programs) to tax increases. On Capitol Hill, there is great pressure to come to a budget agreement—any agreement—especially for Sen. Durbin, who is in a position of leadership. But we in Illinois say, “not on the backs of our most vulnerable neighbors.”

We Illinoisans say, “Senator Durbin, thank you for protecting poor and hungry people. As a leader in the Senate and with the 'Gang of Eight,' the bipartisan group of senators working on a framework that will address our nation’s deficit. Continue to push your colleagues to protect programs such as SNAP, WIC, and tax credits in the U.S., and poverty-focused assistance abroad. We support you as you do this.”

The successful call-in day started as a distant idea that steadily built momentum and force through the joint effort of Bread members and faith and community leaders. Bread's regional organizing team got to know community leaders and pastors on Chicago’s South Side and in the city’s western suburbs. These leaders know that the church is called to serve the broken both by meeting their needs and by advocating for them. They shared stories of people in need, and those stories motivated us and moved us forward together.

Continue reading "Washington Was Down but Hunger Advocates in Illinois Were Not" »

A Circle of Protection Vigil: Prayer, Songs, and Letters

Circle2newOn Saturday, Oct. 13, a group of Bread members in Albuquerque, New Mexico held a vigil to bring attention to the circle of protection and issues surrounding hunger. Bread for the World board member and New Mexico team leader Carlos Navarro led the event, and wrote about the experience for the Bread New Mexico Blog. His account is reprinted below.

There were 30 to 35 people gathered at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque for our circle of protection prayer vigil on the second Saturday of October.  Just as we did with a similar vigil last year, we had intended to start outside on the front porch of the church with candles and the song "Come and Fill," but the wind gusts were too strong and they would have extinguished our candles.  So we decided to start inside in the chapel where we could better center ourselves.

Surely enough, the calm, quiet wind of the Spirit was present inside in our prayers and reflections and songs from Taizé. We reflected on hunger, poverty, justice, and inequality, just as we did last year. And the circle of protection campaign remained the focus of our prayers and reflections.

In our reflections, we put some emphasis on the mini-campaigns in Bread for the World's 2012 Offering of Letters. And we invited representatives or volunteers from partner organizations to join us in the reflections: New Mexico Oxfam Action Corps, Roadrunner Food Bank, Medical Mission Board, Interfaith Power and Light (representing the National Council of Churches), and Sojourners.

Continue reading "A Circle of Protection Vigil: Prayer, Songs, and Letters " »

Will the Fifteen Percent Matter on Debate Night?

'Microphone' photo (c) 2009, Grant - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

By Robin Stephenson

The second presidential debate takes place tonight, providing yet another opportunity for President Obama and Governor Romney to talk about hungry and poor people. Solutions to poverty, in both the United States and abroad, have received little attention on the campaign trail, even though, according to a new poll by the American Values Network, voters prefer candidates who talk about the working poor.

Elections are about choosing the officials we think will best represent our values. As Christians who care deeply about hunger and poverty, knowing how candidates intend to work on behalf of vulnerable members of our society is an important criterion when voting. Simply put: elections matter

A couple of stark facts illustrate the seriousness of these issues and the critical need to talk about hunger and poverty in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 6 elections.

  • Fifteen percent of this country's population—or more than one in seven Americans—lived below the poverty line in 2011.
  • Almost 870 million of the world's people were chronically undernourished in the period from 2010 to 2012. The vast majority lived in developing countries, where about 850 million people—or slightly less than 15 percent of the population—are estimated to be undernourished. Progress is being made, but those numbers remain unacceptably high.

Continue reading "Will the Fifteen Percent Matter on Debate Night?" »

Michigan Activists Ask Senator to Protect SNAP

Whiteboard_messaging_michiganBy Robin Stephenson

The Flint, Michigan chapter of Church Women United (CWU) has a message for Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI): create a circle of protection around funding for vital domestic nutrition programs that meet the needs of millions of American families.

Stabenow, as chair of the Senate agriculture committee, is spearheading the Senate’s version of the farm bill, which authorizes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). This gives Michigan constituents a unique opportunity to influence the decision to either cut or protect SNAP funding as Congress works on a farm bill compromise.

The Flint CWU chapter recently sent 21 letters to Sen. Stabenow to let her know that members of her voting constituency support SNAP—and the 1.9 million Michigan residents who relied on the program during fiscal year 2011. The letter-writing event was organized by Kathryn Blake, a member of both CWU and Bread for the World, with assistance from Michelle Werner, an alumna of the Hunger Justice Leader program.

Continue reading "Michigan Activists Ask Senator to Protect SNAP" »

South Dakota Bread Team Talks Poverty With Elected Officials


Photo: Ninth grade student Abby reads her essay on poverty-focused development assistance to Karen Kunze, South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson's staffer on foreign operations. (Courtesy of South Dakota Bread for the World)

By Robin Stephenson

Last week, Bread members in South Dakota met with local and D.C.-based staff of Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) to discuss poverty-focused development assistance. Senator Johnson sits on a key committee—appropriations—which sets vital funding for programs that provide long-term poverty-reducing strategies abroad. Poverty-focused aid makes up less than one percent of the federal budget and must be approved by Congress each year in the appropriations process. The Senate FY13 appropriations-funded programs are critical to ending poverty abroad, and South Dakota Bread members asked Sen. Johnson to protect those proposed levels in any future budget negotiations.

Staff Assistant Bret Hoffman met the group of 10 Bread members at the senator's Sioux Falls office. When Bread member Cathy Brechtelsbauer called to schedule the meeting she asked if the office could teleconference with the Washington D.C., legislative assistant, Karen Kunze, who deals directly with foreign aid. Many local offices are equipped to conference with D.C. By conferencing, constituents can talk directly to key staff members about the issues they work on. This method of communication gets the right information to the right people.

The advocacy team included a ninth grader named Abby, who won last year’s Human Rights Day essay contest, which Bread for the World South Dakota sponsored.  Abby read aloud her essay, which  pointed out the fact that $1.3 billion people live on no more than $1.25 a day and that agriculture is an essential part of the solution to poverty. Staff Assistant Hoffman appreciated Abby’s grasp of the interrelation between poverty and human rights.

Others Bread activists shared stories, as well. A college student who has seen farmers struggling in Nicaragua emphasized the importance of simple but critical inputs, such as food storage systems, that increase agricultural productivity. A farmer returning from a mission trip to Haiti spoke about the importance of Feed the Future as a program that is not a handout but a hand up, lifting communities into a cycle of prosperity. And a doctor talked about working in Ethiopian clinics using the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to save lives.

Before leaving, Bread members asked what kind of support the group could provide to Sen. Johnson. Kunze encouraged the group to continue to educate others in their community about poverty-focused development assistance, and how such a small portion of the federal budget does so much good.

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

Michigan Bread Team Hosts David Beckmann


Photo: David Beckmann on the opening day of Bread for the World's 2011 Gathering in Bender Arena at American University. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

By Mary Johnson

[Editor's note: On September 19, Bread for the World President David Beckmann gave a talk at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. The event was coordinated by the Holland Bread Team.]

Late in 2011, the Holland Bread Team was approached about the possibility of hosting Bread for the World President David Beckmann for a public appearance. What an opportunity!

Preparing for David’s visit generated several spin-off efforts. We created a website and a Facebook page for our team. We recruited a Hope College intern to help with preparations and generate interest on the Hope College campus. And, in the process of publicizing David’s visit to area churches, we conducted a survey, asking about the churches’ current efforts to help hungry people and their capacity to provide an additional $50,000 per year to compensate for proposed cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps).  Our survey results were summarized in a column that appeared on the opinion page of the Holland Sentinel newspaper.  

At David’s public appearance, we had about 125 attendees. In his talk, David told us about the tremendous progress our world has made in reducing hunger and poverty over the last several decades, a sign that God is truly working in our time. In the United States, however, we have made only modest progress since the War on Poverty—which was started in the 1960s by Democratic and Republican administrations, then fizzled out in the 1970s.

What can we do to help our nation overcome the current political impasse and effectively address hunger and poverty? We must continue to educate ourselves on the issues and work to build up our movement in our corner of the world. We must continue to seek to engage our members of Congress. And, as David’s stories demonstrate, we must never forget the importance of persistence, creativity, fasting, and prayer. 



Mary Johnson chairs the Holland, Mich., chapter of Bread for the World.

Bread Member Father John Fitzgerald: A Force to Be Reckoned With


Photo: Father John Fitzgerald keeping score at a baseball game. (Courtesy of The Long Island Catholic)

John Fitzgerald was a teenager in West Hempstead, N.Y., when a local priest asked him to consider a clerical vocation. "I'd always had a leaning [toward the priesthood]—and many good role models in the priests at St. Thomas the Apostle. His asking me crystallized the idea," Father John recalls, 54 years later.

In the same way, he was introduced to Bread for the World by a priest, this one a visitor from South America. "He brought me to a meeting of the Long Island Bread group," the good natured octogenarian recalls. Father John says he was drawn to join because of Bread for the World’s faith base and "because Bread carries out the gospel imperative of caring for each other."

Every year, the Long Island Bread group puts on a dinner to recognize churches that have undertaken Offering of Letters activities. At least four participating congregations also hold soup suppers on Ash Wednesday. Although it is not their explicit purpose, the dinners also raise money to support Bread for the World. Sarah Rohrer, Bread for the World's regional staff person in New York, calls the Long Island group "incredibly well organized."

The anchor of the New York contingent during Bread's annual Lobby Day, Father John says he loves seeing so many young people involved. "We graybeards have to pass the torch!" he laughs. "Through their Hunger Justice Leader training and internship programs, Bread is encouraging young people to take up the cause."

Sarah Rohrer calls Father John "a force to be reckoned with," remembering his insistence in 2011 that the group visit a senator who had not responded to their request for a meeting. "Father John is a powerful presence, while always encouraging younger participants. He steps back so they can lead. He absolutely personifies Bread’s mission."

Formally retired at 71, Father John now resides at St. James Parish in Setauket, NY. Upon retirement, he began serving as a substitute for Long Island priests on break. "We'd seen that priests were not taking sabbaticals," he says. "Priests in our diocese were responsible for finding substitutes while they were away. I offered to make myself available for the job." Today at age 80, he has substituted at seven parishes. His favorite clerical activity is preaching.

Several years ago, Father John worked with the Evangelical Church in America (ELCA) Foundation to set up a charitable gift annuity that benefits Bread for the World Institute. The ELCA Foundation helps people arrange deferred gifts such as charitable gift annuities and charitable trusts. Since Bread for the World is a ministry of the ELCA, any Bread member may use the foundation’s services. Father John calls the annuity "a good way for me to ensure ahead of time that my money will go to institutions that I care about," he says.

"There is only so much local congregations can do," he says about why he supports Bread for the World. "Change has to be systemic. Bread for the World is accomplishing that."

Play Presidential Debate Bingo and #Talkpoverty


By Robin Stephenson

The first presidential candidate debate will be held tomorrow, Wednesday, October 3, at 9 p.m. ET, and will focus on domestic policy. The debate provides an opportunity to put domestic hunger and poverty in the spotlight, and social media can be used to drive the conversation. Fifteen percent of Americans—including one in five children—lived in poverty in 2011.  It is critical that our political leaders address the most vulnerable members of our population, and with enough grassroots urging, they will.

At Bread for the World, we have created a debate Bingo Game, which can be downloaded and printed out. Each bingo card square contains a word or phrase associated with an issue that Bread members care about: "farm bill," "SNAP/food stamps," and "Earned Income Tax Credit," for example. As you watch the debates with friends and family, mark off a square every time either President Barack Obama or Governor Mitt Romney uses one of the words.  Use the game as a tool to track how the candidates are addressing programs and policies most vital to poor and hungry people. 

Another way to amplify the message that poverty matters is to use social media channels. This month, Bread (along with many of our partner organizations) is encouraging its members to participate in the #talkpoverty campaign led by Half in Ten. 

Do you have a question you'd like debate moderator Jim Lehrer of NewsHour to pose to the candidates? Tweet it to @newshour and use the hashtag #talkpoverty.  Here are a couple of sample tweets:

My Presidential debate question @NewsHour: Will you support extending tax credits for working families? http://ow.ly/e4zj0 #talkpoverty


.@NewsHour Ask Candidates: Will you protect SNAP (food stamps), the most direct way to reduce hunger? #talkpoverty http://ow.ly/e9FVu

You can also create tweets using the facts on our Offering of Letters web pages on tax credits and domestic nutrition.  If you are holding a debate house party, playing Bingo, or tweeting, take photos of the action and post them to your Facebook page or tweet it. Be sure to tag us!

Poor people cannot be forgotten during this election season, and it will take a loud chorus of anti-hunger voices to make sure the issues of hunger and poverty receive attention.

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

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