Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

Hunger in the News: Summer Meals, World Hunger, Malawi, and Food Banks

BlogphotoA regular, non-comprehensive roundup of current news links on hunger and poverty issues from around the Web.

Campus partnership builds safety net for hungry students,” by Gretchen Kell, UC Berkeley News Center. “A comprehensive new toolkit recently unveiled at Berkeley is helping Tovar and other students with food insecurity and is the first step in a six-year strategic plan that organizers hope will create a model for other universities across the country.”

Senators: Global hunger a national security problem,” by Jordain Carney, The Hill. “A bipartisan pair of senators is pushing legislation aimed at combating chronic hunger around the world by linking the issue to national security.” 

Challenge aims to eliminate kids’ summer hunger,” by Lisa Irish, Arizona Education News Service. “For many Arizona students, leaving school for the summer also means losing their source of healthy meals. They don’t have to though, because this summer children up to 18 years old can receive free, nutritious breakfasts, lunches and snacks at over 1,100 Arizona schools and other community sites that participate in the Summer Food Service Program.”

Pope says environmental sinners will face God's judgment for world hunger,” by The Guardian. “Pope Francis has warned “the powerful of the Earth” they will answer to God if they fail to protect the environment to ensure the world can feed its population.”

 “The true cost of hunger in Texas,” by Ray Perryman, The Texas Tribune via TribTalk. “The 21 food banks in Texas are an integral part of the solution to hunger and its associated health-related problems. Recognizing the link between food security and health, many food banks now distribute free fresh produce alongside nutrition education and other health interventions. Food banks call this approach ‘feeding with impact.’ “ 

What It Takes To Lift Families Out Of Poverty,” by Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR. “Eighteen years ago, Dean Karlan was a fresh, bright-eyed graduate student in economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He wanted to answer what seemed like a simple question: ‘Does global aid work?’ Karlan says.”

Women's Health and Undernutrition in the U.S.,” by Lucy Martinez Sullivan, The Huffington Post. “Every year during National Women's Health Week, women are asked to make their health a priority. It's an important reminder as women's health issues from cancer and heart disease to mental health play out on the national stage. However, it's also important to remember that not every woman has the ability to put their health first.”

Malawi study reveals devastating cost of child undernutrition,” by Sam Jones, The Guardian. “Malawi’s development is being thwarted by child undernutrition, the effects of which continue to blight the lives of 60% of the impoverished country’s adults and costing its economy hundreds of millions a year, according to a new study.”


Child Hunger: 'It is just sinful'

Coral Gables Congregational United Church of Christ congregants write letters to their elected officials. Lena Isely for Bread for the World.

By Jennifer Gonzalez

“It is just sinful,” said Raul Hernandez, shaking his head, about the fact that some children in the United States go to bed hungry.

As he made his remark, he addressed an envelope to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla). The envelope would later be stuffed with a letter written by one of the many congregants of the Coral Gables Congregational United Church of Christ in Coral Gables, Fla., taking part in an Offering of Letters on Mother’s Day.

Tables were set up inside the church’s Fellowship Hall, as well outside the church, as a bright sun beat down on congregants writing letters. The idea was to have congregants write letters to their elected officials on behalf of the many mothers who struggle every day to feed their families.

“As a person of faith, I think there is nothing so contrary to God’s will for this world than to have people and especially children be hungry, said Rev. Dr. Laurinda Hafner, the church’s senior minister. “More than anything else, Jesus talked about feeding the hungry, so as members of a Christian congregation it is our faithful and moral imperative to do everything we can to fill the bellies of those who are without food.” LIP_0343

Bread for the World’s 2015 Offering of Letters: Feed Our Children is focused on ensuring Congress reauthorizes the child nutrition bill. The legislation is set to expire in the fall. It is vital that Congress hears from their constituents, especially since over 16 million children in the U.S. don’t always know where their next meal is coming from.

The church’s Offering of Letters was a well-coordinated effort, from the pulpit announcement to the near-precision assembly line of letter writing and envelope stuffing. Hernandez, who lives in Miami, was part of that assembly line – addressing envelopes to speed up the process.

Over 100 letters were written to Sen. Rubio and President Obama on Sunday. For Karen Newpauer of Key Biscayne, sitting down to write a letter to the senator was personal. “We are food-insecure right now,” said Newpauer, a divorced, single mom raising three daughters, including daughter Michelle Murcia, 11, who was also writing a letter to the senator.

“I try to shield the kids from what is going on,” she says. Newpauer said children should not be going to school with growling stomachs.

Sometimes you have to write a letter to correct a wrong. That’s the way Virgin Vanderblugt felt about the letter she wrote. She said too often elected officials get into office and begin to think about themselves and not their constituents.

She hopes the letters from her church will make elected officials think harder about the plight of others. “There are a lot of people who are struggling,” she said.

When Victor Tejera of Miami sat down to write his letter, he thought about the children he encounters every day as a school social worker – many who are hungry. Tejera said he connects students and their families with government services if they qualify. If they don’t, he “gets creative.”

He said he taps into his faith and nonprofit communities contacts to connect struggling families with services such as a local food pantry. He said he knows that his letter alone won’t have much of an impact, but he hopes that the sheer volume of letters elected officials receive will make enough of an impression to ensure that hungry kids get the food they need.

Bread for the World’s annual Lobby Day is June 9. Join us to make some real changes in Washington, D.C., when it comes to feeding our children. You don’t need to be a policy expert to participate. You just need to care. 

Registration is free but space is limited. Register today to reserve your spot!

Photo inset: Michelle Murcia, 11, writing a letter to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Lena Isely for Bread for the World.

World Prayers for May 17-23: Malawi and Zambia

A woman in Lusaka, Zambia, carries water from a well to her house. Margaret W. Nea for Bread for the World.

This is a weekly prayer series that appears each Friday on the Bread Blog.

One aspect of Bread for the World’s new Bread Rising campaign is prayer. The campaign is asking Bread members to pray more, act more, and give more. In this blog series, we will provide a prayer for a different group of countries each week and their efforts to end hunger.

This prayer series will follow the Ecumenical Prayer Cycle, a list compiled by the World Council of Churches that enables Christians around the world to journey in prayer through every region of the world, affirming our solidarity with Christians all over the world, brothers and sisters living in diverse situations, experiencing their challenges and sharing their gifts.

We will especially be lifting up in prayer the challenges related to hunger and poverty that the people of each week’s countries face. In prayer, God’s story and our own story connect—and we and the world are transformed. In a prayer common to all of us—the Lord’s Prayer/the Our Father—we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” This line from this prayer can also be a prayer for the end of hunger.

We invite you to join Bread in our prayers for the world’s countries to end hunger. And we encourage you to share with us your prayers for the featured countries of the week or for the end of hunger in general.

For the week of May 17-23: Malawi and Zambia

Almighty God, we give thanks for the Democratic multiparty politics in Malawi and Zambia, which have led to the peaceful transitions of leadership in these countries. For rich agricultural land and environment, the growth of the church, and Christians who stand by the poor and hungry.

Although the people of Malawi and Zambia have much to celebrate, there are those who still face daily hardships. We lift up those who are suffering from AIDS; victims of floods and drought, that food production may again flourish; the increasing numbers of school dropouts, street youth and delinquents, that they may find hope and meaning in their lives, and those affected by inflation and unemployment, that they may find work and be able to feed their families.

We ask these things in the power of your spirit, and in the name of your son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Percentage of the population of these countries living below the national poverty line (2014 figures):

Malawi: 50.7
Zambia: 60.5

Source: World Bank World Development Indicators as found in the new 2015 Hunger Report.

Bread for the World’s annual Lobby Day is June 9. Join us to make some real changes in Washington, D.C., when it comes to feeding our children. You don’t need to be a policy expert to participate. You just need to care. 

Registration is free but space is limited. Register today to reserve your spot!

Lobby Day: Use Your Voice to End Child Hunger

Bread activists on Capitol Hill during Lobby Day. Jim Stipe for Bread for the World.

By Amelia Kegan

Do you wonder whether your letters, calls, and emails to Congress break through the gridlock and partisanship on Capitol Hill? Could you use a reminder that your voice really does make a difference in Washington?

Looking at the news reports, it’s hard not to become cynical. I sometimes feel that way. But then Lobby Day comes around, giving me new energy and new inspiration. And each year, Lobby Day brings real results in the movement to end hunger.

Join us for Bread for the World’s annual Lobby Day on Tuesday, June 9, to personally and powerfully urge your senators and representative to support child nutrition in the U.S. and around the world. Registration is free and easy.

There is no better boost than Bread’s annual Lobby Day. Renew your faith in the power of your voice. Connect with other faithful advocates doing this work around the country. Get inspired.

I invite you to join us in Washington on Tuesday, June 9 for Bread’s 2015 Lobby Day. You don’t need to be a policy expert. You just need to care.

Nothing reminds me of the power of individual advocacy to end hunger like Bread’s Lobby Day. And it will be even better if you’re there with us.

Don’t delay. Register today. Registration is free but space is limited. Register today to reserve your spot!

Amelia Kegan is deputy director of government relations at Bread for the World.

Breaking the Generational Cycle of Incarceration

By Brittany K. Byrd

Editor’s note: This is the final guest blog post in a series examining how mothers and their families are affected by incarceration. The series was a partnership between Bread for the World and Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

1374671. This number will forever be imprinted in my mind. 1374671 was the number assigned to my mother by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice when she began serving an 8-year prison sentence. Even though I was 22 years old at the time, I was greatly affected by my mother’s incarceration.  Fortunately, I was able to support myself and did not have to experience the poverty or hunger often associated with having a parent in prison; however, I was hungry in a metaphorical sense — starving for my mother’s hugs, her voice, her presence.  Brittany byrd (BKB)

I will never forget the first time I visited my mother in prison. Being in that cold place was so uncomfortable. Some of the guards treated the offenders’ families as if they were in prison. My mom looked so out of place. I kept thinking to myself, My mom is not a hard-core criminal, she does not belong here. Yet I knew she had to pay for the crime she committed. During that first visit we cried a lot. Then we laughed some to keep from crying even more. And we prayed for God to give us strength to get through this journey. 

I also remember observing younger girls during visitation, and their interactions with their mothers. The strength of the mother-daughter bond was evident in the way the young girls gazed into their mothers’ eyes and hugged them tightly. To those girls and others like them, the women they visit are much more than 7-digit inmate numbers. These women are their mothers and the love is unconditional.

I believe there was a reason for experiencing my mother’s incarceration and having the blessings of a good education and relationships with great people. I think I had these experiences so that God could position me to establish Girls Embracing Mothers (GEM), a Dallas, Tex. non-profit organization. GEM’s mission is to empower girls with mothers in prison to break the (generational) cycle of incarceration and lead successful lives with vision and purpose. My vision is for girls with mothers in prison to overcome barriers they may encounter, such as poverty, so that they can fulfill the meaning of their own creation by using their stumbling blocks as stepping stones for a brighter tomorrow.

Imagine being a girl as full of potential as any; now imagine that your mother is in prison – and feeling like no one else can possibly understand what that’s like. When a girl’s mother is in prison, there is something significant missing from her life. Disturbingly, studies show that children of incarcerated parents are among the most at-risk, yet least visible, populations of children. GEM supports girls with incarcerated mothers, but I also want to see a world with fewer people in their position – a world with less incarceration overall, and more alternatives to keep mothers and daughters together. Sentencing reform is one piece of that puzzle, and one we should all be supporting today.

On Thursday, Bread for the World is delivering a Mother’s Day Card with over 4,100 signatures to Sen. Chuck Grassley, the chair of the Judiciary Committee. He decides which criminal justice bills move forward and which ones don’t.

Thanks to everyone who signed the card and asked Sen. Grassley to allow sentencing reform to advance in the Judiciary Committee.

Brittany K. Byrd is a corporate attorney in Dallas, Tex. and founder of Girls Embracing Mother, a non-profit dedicated to empowering the lives of girls with mothers in prison. 

Photo inset: Brittany K. Byrd. Photo courtesy of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM).

Overcoming Poverty Focus of Summit Led by Faith Groups

President Obama speaking at Georgetown University about poverty and race. Photo courtesy of the White House.

By Jennifer Gonzalez

President Obama spoke yesterday during the Catholic-Evangelical Leadership Summit on Overcoming Poverty at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

The panel discussion was sponsored by several faith-based and nonprofit organizations including Bread for the World and the Circle of Protection. Bread President Rev. David Beckmann attended the event as well as other Bread staff members from the Church Relations and Government Relations departments.

The following are excerpts of President Obama’s comments during the panel discussion:

On poverty:

“I think it’s important when it comes to dealing with issues of poverty for us to guard against cynicism, and not buy the idea that the poor will always be with us and there’s nothing we can do -- because there’s a lot we can do.  The question is do we have the political will, the communal will to do something about it.”

On the effects of the free market:

“We don’t dispute that the free market is the greatest producer of wealth in history -- it has lifted billions of people out of poverty.  We believe in property rights, rule of law, so forth.  But there has always been trends in the market in which concentrations of wealth can lead to some being left behind.  And what’s happened in our economy is that those who are doing better and better -- more skilled, more educated, luckier, having greater advantages -- are withdrawing from sort of the commons -- kids start going to private schools; kids start working out at private clubs instead of the public parks.  An anti-government ideology then disinvests from those common goods and those things that draw us together.  And that, in part, contributes to the fact that there’s less opportunity for our kids, all of our kids.”

On bridging gaps:

“I think that we are at a moment -- in part because of what’s happened in Baltimore and Ferguson and other places, but in part because a growing awareness of inequality in our society -- where it may be possible not only to refocus attention on the issue of poverty, but also maybe to bridge some of the gaps that have existed and the ideological divides that have prevented us from making progress.

On the church and faith-based organizations:

“I think that faith-based groups across the country and around the world understand the centrality and the importance of this issue in an intimate way -- in part because these faith-based organizations are interacting with folks who are struggling and know how good these people are, and know their stories, and it's not just theological, but it's very concrete.  They’re embedded in communities and they’re making a difference in all kinds of ways.”

“And there’s noise out there, and there’s arguments, and there’s contention.  And so people withdraw and they restrict themselves to, what can I do in my church, or what can I do in my community?  And that's important.  But our faith-based groups I think have the capacity to frame this -- and nobody has shown that better than Pope Francis, who I think has been transformative just through the sincerity and insistence that he’s had that this is vital to who we are.  This is vital to following what Jesus Christ, our Savior, talked about.”

Jennifer Gonzalez is the associate online editor at Bread for the World. 

Gearing Up for Election Season and Tax Reform

The earned income tax credit gave Heather Rude-Turner an opportunity to move her family out of poverty. Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World.

By Robin Stephenson

For many Americans, neither elections nor taxes are relished topics of conversation, but both are inevitable, and both affect hunger.

Income inequality in the United States and the social fury seen in Baltimore has put tax reform center stage in the national dialogue. Several of the presidential hopefuls are already taking positions. During a January forum, Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.), Rand Paul (Ky.), and Marco Rubio (Fla.) all agreed that income inequality was an urgent issue, although they split on how to modify tax policy as a solution.

For the faithful, tax policies matter because they are part of the equation that ensures governments have the adequate resources to fund priorities. Low-income tax credits help bridge the income gap in both the short and long term. Bread for the World recommends the earned income tax credit (EITC) be made permanent at its current level.

In 2013, about 28 million taxpayers benefited from the EITC, a refundable credit available to low-income workers; the majority of beneficiaries are families with children. The average return is a little over $2,000, and the tax credit moves more children out of poverty than any other government program. Studies also show that children who benefit from refundable tax credits do better in school, attend college at higher rates, and earn more pay as adults.

Candidates should support strong tax credits for low-income working families as one step toward a hunger-free future and reducing the equality gap.

Whoever sits in the Oval Office after the 2016 elections will influence our nation’s tax policy and the future of low-income tax credits - as will the members of Congress who become the arbitrators of any policy change. Bread intends to engage candidates on issues like these before newly elected members take their seats in 2017.

“We are gearing up our 2016 elections work because so much is at stake,” said Stephen Hill, senior organizer for elections at Bread.  “If we want lawmakers that make ending a hunger a priority, then voters must make it clear that is what they expect.” 

Hill went on to point out that we are at a turning point in history and people of faith have a critical role to play. “We have all the tools to end hunger.  But more than that, we have a moral imperative to act,” Hill said. “When it comes to building the political will, the voices of people who follow the example of Jesus to care for the hungry are vital if we want to build a more equitable future for everyone.”

Hill is currently seeking advocates who want to engage in election work, especially in Florida, Arizona, Ohio, and Virginia. If you are interested, email Stephen Hill to learn more about how you can make hunger a priority in the 2016 elections.

For more resources on elections and taxes read: Elections Matter and Faithful Tax Policy.

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

Let's Build Food Security For Women and Children Everywhere

Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World

By Beth Ann Saracco

If you have a garden, you are probably enjoying flowers or are seeing green shoots this spring. In Washington, D.C., the seeds you planted with your advocacy through Bread for the World are also taking root and growing.

Just last week, the Senate introduced S. 1252, The Global Food Security Act. This legislation makes permanent the U.S.’s food security program, Feed the Future. It also calls for a first-ever comprehensive U.S. strategy to address hunger and malnutrition in developing countries.

Let's move this legislation forward! Call (800/826-3688) or email your U.S. senators and urge them to support and cosponsor the Global Food Security Act (S. 1252).

Last month, the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed H.R. 1567, the Global Food Security Act, a companion bill to S. 1252. This was no small feat, and thanks to you and other Bread members, our advocacy continues to push these bipartisan bills forward in the legislative process. Now, with a bill also introduced in the Senate, not only are these seeds taking root, but we can also envision the fruit they will soon bear.

These acts could improve the livelihoods of over 500 million small-scale farmers in the world, many of whom are women. The legislation’s efforts to address nutrition among mothers and children will help the U.S. achieve its goal to end preventable child deaths, almost half of which are caused by malnutrition.

Feed the Future is already successful. In 2013 alone, more than seven million smallholder farmers grew more food, and more than 12.5 million children received nutrition interventions.

However, Feed the Future is currently not a permanent program. In order to ensure it continues beyond the current administration, Congress needs to pass the Global Food Security Act, and the president must sign it into law. Call your U.S. senators today, and ask them to cosponsor S. 1252. Let’s bring our advocacy efforts to fruition!

Beth Ann Saracco is a senior international policy analyst at Bread for the World.

'A Mercy Management System'

Pope Francis in the Philippines earlier this year. Benhur Arcayan/Malacañang Photo Bureau via Wikimedia Commons.

By Bread Staff

In September, Pope Francis will make his first visit to the U.S. He will meet with President Obama and address a joint session of Congress. He will then travel to New York to speak at the United Nations. His presentation will be a part of the deliberations that will seek consensus on new international goals for ending hunger and extreme poverty by 2030.

The pope's trip to the U.S. and his advocacy for a global commitment to end hunger reflect recurring themes of his papacy. From the beginning, and even in his choice for his name as pope, he has sought to bring about a "poor church for the poor." He has also challenged other leaders in the church to be "ministers of mercy." In praising a book by Cardinal Walter Kasper, Mercy: the Essence of the Gospel and the Key to the Christian Life, Pope Francis has said that "mercy changes everything; it changes the world by making it less cold and more fair."

In a recent interview in Commonweal magazine, Cardinal Kasper explains, "... the Latin term misericordia means mercy. Misericordia means having a heart for the poor — poor in a large sense, not only material poverty, but also relational poverty, spiritual poverty, cultural poverty ... "

Cardinal Kasper continues, "But mercy is also not opposed to justice. Justice is the minimum we are obliged to do to the other to respect him as a human being — to give him what he must have.  But mercy is the maximum — it goes beyond justice ... Mercy is the fulfillment of justice because what people need is not only formal recognition but love."

This intersection of mercy, justice, and love is at the heart of Bread for the World's work. Only as we are grounded in God's love in Jesus Christ can we persist in urging our nation's leaders to fund specific measures to end hunger by 2030.

The Lutheran theologian Edward Schroeder characterizes the good news that the "kingdom of God has come near" (Mark 1:1-15) as the announcement by Jesus of "a new mercy management system." Jesus offers a new way of living in which people don't get what they deserve — including death — but rather forgiveness and new life (Mark 2:5). In the Gospels, the authority (in Greek, both authorization and power) for this new mercy management system is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We hear that good news in first sentences of Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel: "The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness, and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew."

Bread has invited all of us to increase our commitment to pray, act, and give. From that wellspring, we press our nation's decision makers to join other nations in ending hunger once and for all. In this work, we draw strength and purpose from God's mercy that fills us with joy each day. Born anew through the water of our baptisms and nourished by the Bread of Life in the Eucharist, we share the joy of Zechariah in Luke's Gospel (1:78-79):

By the tender mercy of our God, 
   the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death
   to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Advocates Spring Into Action to End Hunger

By Margaret Tran

About a hundred people from nonprofit organizations and churches in New York put pen to paper last month and wrote letters to their member of Congress, urging them to reauthorize the child nutrition bill.

Bread for the World and Catholic Charities of New York organized an Offering of Letters at St. Peter’s Church and New York Catholic Youth Day, both in Yonkers, and at St. Cecilia’s Church in East Harlem. Catholic Charities Community Services of Rockland County in Haverstraw plans to host one in the future. GuadalupeandJoyceMerino

It is vital that Congress hears from their constituents, especially since over 16 million children in the U.S. don’t always know where their next meal is coming from.

This fall, the legislation that funds child nutrition programs will expire. The bill funds five major programs: National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Summer Food Service Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program, and the WIC Program. These programs serve roughly 40 million adults and children nationwide.

New York high school students were busy during New York Catholic Youth Day. They were simultaneously involved in a Feeding Our Neighbors food drive and an Offering of Letters. The students and their youth group leaders donated hundreds of pounds of food to local pantries and wrote letters to members of Congress, urging them to support the child nutrition programs.

Youth groups were eager to write letters since they personally know students who struggle with hunger and depend on school meals every day as their only source of nutrition. Leaders were eager to have their entire parish act to end hunger, planning to take what they learned that day back home to encourage a parish-wide Offering of Letters.

At St. Peter’s, our message of advocacy was translated into Spanish. Parishioners learned about child hunger during our presentation at Plaza, a social gathering area after Spanish mass where parishioners sell home-cooked lunches. While their children played nearby, the parents were inspired to write letters after hearing that 1 in 5 children in the U.S. struggle with hunger.  Father Jose Felix Ortega, priest at St. Peter’s, blessed all the letters during mass the following Sunday before they were sent to Congress.

The senior leaders of the various ministry groups at St. Cecilia’s also participated in an Offering of Letters. After huddling to pray over the letters with Father Peter Mushi, the leaders were empowered to lead an Offering of Letters for their respective ministry groups in the coming weeks. Flor Abad, case manager for Catholic Charities Community Services at St. Cecilia’s, said she was pleased that all the leaders were enthusiastic about advocacy since so many in the community are struggling.

“At St. Cecilia’s food pantry, I see families in need. I hear people who have 5, 6, 7 children in the house and don’t have food,” Abad said.

Catholic Charities Community Services of Rockland County (CCCSR) will host a future Offering of Letters that will engage youth from county parishes to write letters to Congress. The goal will be ambitious – 1,000 letters ahead of CCCSR’s annual September hunger awareness action event.

“Policies and community efforts to increase access and provide education and resources is needed. Our goal is to build a greater sense of community awareness and build an advocacy group to end hunger,” said Martha Robles, executive director of CCCSR.

Margaret Tran is a regional organizer at Bread for the World.

Photo inset: Guadalupe Merino, a St. Cecilia parishioner, writes a letter to Congress, while her daughter, Joyce Merino, takes a nap in her arms. Margaret Tran/Bread for the World.

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