Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

137 posts categorized "Organizing"

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.

Will Hungry and Poor People Be Remembered in the Presidential Debates?

Photo: Flickr user _kaway_ via Flickr Creative Commons

October is a busy month for people who care about ending hunger and poverty. With the elections just a little over a month away, the biggest issues facing our nation are being debated on the public stage. We need to make sure that hunger and poverty are part of the discussion.

While Bread for the World can lead the way by providing you with election resources, when it comes down to it, your voice is the one that must be heard and that will make a difference for hungry and poor people. A Bread member once wrote a line that has been driving me all year long: "Silence is approval."

So what are our priorities? Right now, we want to use the upcoming presidential and vice-presidential debates as opportunities to make sure that hunger and poverty are part of the national dialogue. The first presidential debate will take place on Wednesday, October 3. It will be moderated by Jim Lehrer of PBS Newshour and will focus on domestic policy.

Continue to share the Circle of Protection presidential videos and talk about the candidates' statements. Hold a house meeting, inviting family, friends, co-workers, and members of your church congregation to watch the debates and engage in a discussion of the issues. Talk about what the candidates are saying, but also share stories of poverty in your community and discuss how, as people of faith, you are compelled to act.

For more guidance in pulling together a house meeting, check out the "How to Host a House Meeting" resource on our elections page.

If you and your group are social media-savvy, amplify your house meeting on Twitter. Some of our partners, led by the Half In Ten campaign, are starting a wave of poverty talk through social media channels, submitting debate questions by tagging @newshour and using the hashtag #talkpoverty.

Elections matter and as people of faith we must lead the way in making sure people who are poor and hungry are part of the conversation during campaign season. But, while elections and the debates are the center of attention in October, it is also crucial that we remain focused on the lame duck session.

During the lame duck—the period between the November elections and January 2013, when newly-elected officials come to Washington—Congress will be making decisions about programs that are critical to people struggling to put food on the table, both in the United States and abroad.

As Amelia Kegan, senior policy analyst in our government relations department keeps reminding us, “The framework for the budget is being decided now; waiting until after the elections is too late.” We must let members of Congress know that it is essential to form a circle of protection around programs for the poor and hungry. Even if you have already written, tweeted ,or called your member of Congress, do it again. 

By participating in discussion surrounding the presidential and vice-presidential debates, and continuing to engage our members of Congress leading up to the lame duck session, we let the public and our politicians know that poverty matters!

Debate schedule for October:

October 3 , 9:00 – 10:30 EST (Presidential – Domestic Policy)
October 11,  9:00 – 10:30 EST (VP – domestic & foreign)
October 16, 9:00 – 10:30 EST (Presidential – Town Hall format)
October 22, 9:00 – 10:30 EST (Presidential – foreign policy)

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

Twin Cities Bread Team Meets With Elected Officials

RepErikPaulsen2012 002

The Twin Cities Bread team meets with Rep. Erik Paulsen last month. Pictured: (front row, l to r) Audrey Johnson, Ed Payne, Brad Pepin; (back row, l to r): Gerry Peterson, Dick Johnson, Rep. Paulsen, Judy Waeschle, Carol Dubay, Lois Troemel. (Photo courtesy of Twin Cities Bread team)

By Robin Stephenson

It is critical for lawmakers to hear from their constituents as we head into a lame duck session, during which members of Congress will make choices about programs for hungry and poor people. Bread teams know that a personal visit is the most influential type of contact with a member of Congress, so our activists across the nation have been setting up local meetings.

In Minneapolis, the Twin Cities' Metro Area Team used the fall recess as an opportunity for in-district meetings with Rep. Erik Paulsen and Rep. Betty McCollum. In a recap of their meeting with Rep. Eric Paulsen’s office, the team outlined its approach:

“Our district coordinator, Carol Dubay, arranged the meeting for September 5 and contacted each of us to meet a few minutes ahead of time in order to plan what we would emphasize. Of course, we framed our discussion in terms of the Circle of Protection for the poorest among us. But since the Congressman is on the committee that makes decisions on taxation, we emphasized the need to maintain the benefits of the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit programs.”

[Read more of the recap on the Twin Cities' Metro Area Team's website.]

The team that met with Rep. McCollum’s office included three young hunger activists:

“Fourteen people, including three preteens, visited the local office of Minnesota representative Betty McCollum during the August recess.  They urged her to continue nudging her House colleagues to remember those they represent who are people living with poverty and hunger. 

"The young people explained their concern using a visual they had made showing how little of the federal budget goes to help people in need.  The group urged Rep. McCollum to remember to keep the 'circle of protection' around specific programs which provide the most effective help to those with less means than most of us but who are may be members of her constituency and are certainly all God’s children.  The meeting with the legislative director, Peter Frosch, was one filled with issues, listening, personal stories, encouragement from all sides, and a sense of being of one mind about the needs and some of the solutions. 

"Fourteen people went home feeling empowered and willing to visit this office and the offices of senators again.”

If you would like to set up a local meeting like ones the Twin Cities Metro Team arranged, contact your regional organizer. After your meeting, please let us know about it.

Robin Stephenson is Bread for the World's social media lead and senior regional organizer, western hub.

Bread Experts Talk Elections and Hunger—With You

'Office phone' photo (c) 2009, Karolina Kabat - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/
Will the issues that poor and hungry people face every day be addressed in this election? The answer depends on how loud, persistent, and informed we are as an electorate. 

In July, with the Circle of Protection partners, Bread for the World urged Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to answer one question: what about hungry and poor people? Last week, their video responses were released. Now it's time to ask the same question of our members of Congress and others running for office during this election season.

The U.S. Census Bureau released its most recent poverty figures last week, and one thing was clear: the safety net is critical during these tough economic times. The official Census Bureau poverty numbers do not account for programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which help dramatically reduce poverty. If the data accounted for SNAP, it would show that 3.9 million fewer people would have been in poverty in 2011, and if it accounted for the EITC, then 5.7 million fewer people would have been in poverty, including 3.1 million children.

During the lame duck session of Congress our elected officials will be making tough choices about the budget. They can choose to protect programs vital to poor and hungry people or they can choose to drastically cut funding to those programs that have kept food on millions of tables as so many Americans struggle to find adequate employment. They can choose to cut poverty-focused foreign assistance, which would cost lives, or save lives abroad with an investment of less than one percent of the federal budget. We can influence the right choices. We must maintain the integrity of SNAP, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), tax credits for low-income families, funding for food aid, and poverty focused development aid

Please join Bread’s expert organizing and policy staff on Tuesday, September 18, as we discuss why this year’s elections are so important and talk about our different tools for engaging your elected officials.

Register now for one of two conference calls, at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. ET (adjust for your time zone). Check Bread's event calendar for more information.

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