Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

Recap: #WorldFoodDay Twitter Town Hall

A Mercy Story

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Silliman University church. (Adlai Amor)

By Adlai Amor

Bread staff are often invited to preach in congregations across the country. For Bread for the World Sunday, Adlai Amor, director of communications, was invited to preach at the Union Church in Waban in Newton, Mass., and to make a presentation on "Advocacy in a time of Hyper-Partisanship." Here is an excerpt of his sermon when he shared an experience of mercy and compassion during one of his family's most difficult times.

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? 

Micah 6:8

Justice. Mercy. Humility.

I often do not share my mercy story in the United States, other than if I am among Filipinos. But since the late Philippine senator Ninoy Aquino, father of current Philippine president Noynoy Aquio, spent the last years of his life here in Newton, I will share it with you.  

I was just a high school student at Silliman University when Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972. Ninoy Aquino, other opposition senators, and hundreds of student activists including many from my alma mater (established by Presbyterian missionaries) were arrested.

The economy tanked amid all the uncertainty. I remember my father, a lawyer, earning only the equivalent of $2 in October, November, and December that year. Two dollars to feed, clothe, and educate a family of 7 children in three months. We made it only because of the compassion of friends who had more than we had and my father’s family pooling all their resources to see us through until better times. 

It was a time when I, driven by a sudden lack of freedom, began to take my faith more seriously. But we were luckier than many. Other students, family and friends who were arrested by the military suffered much more. In our worship services, our pastor often drew on Micah 6:8. He stressed that in those times, mercy, compassion, and kindness were our best weapons in fighting injustice and in ensuring that our imprisoned families and friends were cared for.

Several Silliman Church leaders were models of compassion – being kind not only to those who were imprisoned, but also to their jailers. Young soldiers who did not fully understand what they were doing there and why these people were in a military jail.

Thinking back on it, I realize that many members of the Silliman Church and the university community were actually modern Micahs, but working quietly underground. Their roles were certainly not minor, but huge to those who were in prison and to those who imprisoned them. Our weapon of choice was kindness and mercy. Kindness and mercy not only to our friends and family, but also to our foes, the jailer-soldiers and their military commanders.

Justice. Mercy. Humility.

These are what God requires of us. Not just one of them, but all three. I must confess that advocacy is hard work. Advocating justly, mercifully, and with humility is especially difficult to do. There are times when I doubt that God has called me to be an advocate, but God refuses to give up on me. With such love, I cannot simply give up on God.


October Webinar Recap: Elections to Lame Duck

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Congress returns to Washington, D.C. November 12.  (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

By Robin Stephenson    

The halls of Congress remain relatively quiet as members are in their home districts and states during the last couple of weeks before the midterm elections. They will return to Washington, D.C., on November 12 to get back to the nation’s business. Will they bring back a new commitment to end hunger?

Stephen Hill, Bread for the World’s senior organizer for elections, says that depends on how Bread members are engaging current and potential members of Congress in the next two weeks.

Speaking to Bread for the World members during the monthly legislative update, Hill said, “Making hunger an elections issue requires advocates to build capacity, build relationships, and build for the future.”  Hill has been pioneering new practices to make hunger an election issue in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, just outside Washington, D.C.

Bread for the World believes we can end hunger by 2030 by building political will to make ending hunger a priority for our nation’s lawmakers. Sending lawmakers to Washington, D.C., with a mandate to end hunger begins on the campaign trail when voters engage them on the issues publicly.  Hill urged advocates to use the election resources designed to make hunger an issue in the next few weeks and in the next couple of years as we head toward the presidential elections of 2016.

Senior domestic policy analyst Christine Meléndez Ashley told Bread members what to expect in the post-election landscape. 

In November, Congress will return to the nation’s capital for what is referred to as a lame duck session:  the final session of the previous Congress before the newly elected 114th Congress begins work in the new year. The first order of business will be the budget, which was extended earlier in the year but expires on December 2. Congress must also pass the fiscal 2015 National Defense Authorization Act and work on a bill to renew $85 billion in tax breaks for individuals and businesses before the short session ends, which is expected to be on December 11.

Several issues that affect hungry people remain unresolved in the 113th Congress.

With two pieces of legislation affecting international hunger, Meléndez urged Bread for the World members to continue asking their members of Congress to cosponsor key bills: In the Senate, The Food for Peace Reform Act (S. 2421) would free up much-needed food-aid resources to feed millions more people in need. Also in the Senate and House is The Feed the Future Global Food Security Act of 2014 (S. 2909/ H.R. 5656) – legislation that will give the U.S. government the tools and resources it needs to better combat chronic hunger and malnutrition as well as to expand and better coordinate U.S. investments in improving global food security. Bread for the World will continue to press members on passing immigration legislation that addresses hunger both here and in sending countries.

The next national grassroots conference call and webinar is scheduled for November 18.

 

No Longer Homeless, but Still Left Hungry

 
A woman serves dinner at a soup kitchen. (Screen shot from A Place at the Table, courtesy of Participant Media)


by Donna Pususta Neste

One of the problems with hunger is that it’s often hidden or invisible all together, so it can be easy to deny or ignore. Another social problem—homelessness—is more apparent, but often the two go together. Take away one, and you still might have the other.

During the winter season a few years ago, when I was working as the neighborhood ministries coordinator for an inner-city church, I was picking up one of the youth participants of our afterschool program from a shelter. By springtime, his family was able to rent an apartment in the same neighborhood in which they lived before they were homeless. I wanted to think of this as a success story. However, since his family moved out of the shelter, almost every time I picked him up, he complained of being hungry. The family solved the problem of their homelessness, only to encounter the new problem of not enough money to buy food after paying the rent.

One afternoon early into the summer program, the kids were working on an indoor project. This boy again complained of being hungry. I ran upstairs to a small kitchen used by the staff to retrieve a plastic bag containing 10 hardboiled eggs. They were given to me after one of the church’s community meals, and I put them in the refrigerator for anyone to eat. I came back to the work area with the eggs along with some forgotten cinnamon buns. This little boy ate four eggs in a row and a few of the buns. I sent the rest of the food home with him. I used to drop him off last so that I could go into the church and find some food to send home. There was always something left over from a meeting or community meal.

On one of those days, I began to think that maybe he was just not liking what he was given to eat at home, but I responded to his complaints despite my misgivings. Before dropping him off I ran into the church and came back to the car with a to-go box with 15 hot dogs left over from the latest community meal. My feelings of being “played” immediately dissipated when I watched him tear into the box and quickly eat one of the hot dogs cold.

Even people like me who work or once worked close to the bone of poverty are sometimes in denial about hunger in the United States. It’s hard to see the face of hunger in a nation that seems to parade affluence and well-being every place we go.  If we can’t see it, then perhaps others, like our legislators, might miss it as well. So that’s why one thing we can do—those of us who are close to the problem or are aware of it because of our work or faith—is to speak up about it. By telling elected officials where hunger exists and how deep it is, we can make it visible. Make a point to speak to your current or potential members of Congress about hunger now—during their campaigns for office. Maybe their eyes will be opened to what is already there.

Donna Pususta Neste is a Bread for the World board member and former coordinator of Neighborhood Ministries in Minneapolis. 

 

Arkansas: The Hungriest State

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Congress should raise the minimum wage so that a full-time, year-round worker can support a family of four above the poverty line. (Joseph Mollieri/Bread for the World).

By Alyssa Casey

A decent home life and three good meals a day is what Gregory Stewart, 36, of Little Rock, Arkansas wants to provide for his daughters. Yet in order to provide the basics, even though he works two jobs at minimum wage, Stewart told The Newshour he had to move in with his extended family.

Struggling to make ends meet is not uncommon in the state designated as the hungriest in the United States. In 2013, more than 1 in 5 Arkansas households were at risk of hunger. More than 19 percent of Arkansans lived in poverty, including more than 1 in 4 children. If you visualize five houses or apartments neighboring yours, at least one of those households struggles with hunger. And in your child’s class of 32, more than eight of his or her fellow students live in poverty.

When we hear such staggering statistics, two questions often come to mind: Why are hunger and poverty so high in Arkansas? And what can be done to change this?

Hunger and poverty are complex issues that lack a simple cause or silver bullet solution. However, Bread for the World’s research shows that unemployment and low wages tell part of the story.

Currently 6.3 percent of Arkansans are unable to find work. This is down from 7.3 percent a year ago, but still higher than the pre-recession level of just over 5 percent. Even if unemployment rates drop, low wages often mean that a full-time job is not enough to keep a family out of poverty.

Across the United States, most of the jobs added during the economic recovery have been low-wage jobs. Arkansas echoes this trend. The median annual salary – the middle point in Arkansas’ salary range – is $37, 340. Eight of the ten occupations expected to add the most jobs in Arkansas through 2015 will pay $10,000 less than the median salary.

With a minimum wage of $6.25 per hour, Arkansas is one of three states with a minimum wage below the federal level of $7.25 per hour. When state and federal laws have different wages, the higher standard does apply. However, even someone working full-time, year-round at $7.25 per hour earns an annual income more than $8,000 below the federal poverty line to support a family of four. While legislation was introduced in both the House and Senate to raise the federal minimum wage, the Senate bill failed to pass and the House never even brought their bill to a vote.

The Arkansas Senate race between incumbent Mark Pryor and U.S. Representative Tom Cotton is considered a toss up, but whoever wins should use their position to end hunger. With such important races likely to be decided by only a few votes, Arkansans have a unique opportunity to influence a path out of poverty and help families like the Stewarts who are hungry for jobs that pay a living wage.

As these candidates canvas the state and ask for your vote, ask them what their plan is to address hunger and poverty in Arkansas. Look at their recent votes on hunger and poverty issues. If they are voting to end hunger, thank them. If not, ask them to explain their votes against policies that would help make hunger history.

With all of us pitching in by demanding accountability from our elected officials – whichever state you live in - Bread for the World believes we can end hunger in communities across the country by 2030.

See how hunger and poverty are affecting the 10 hungriest and poorest states.

Alyssa Casey is Bread for the World’s government relations coordinator.

Webinar Today: Elections Prognosis for Anti-Hunger Advocacy

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By LaVida Davis

The November elections are a little over two weeks away. The outcome could shift the make-up of Congress, significantly affecting our advocacy efforts to end hunger in the United States and around the world. What is the prognosis, and what can you do in the coming days to promote anti-hunger champions in Congress?

Join us today for Bread for the World’s monthly national call and webinar. Hear the latest news from Capitol Hill, and get our elections predictions as they relate to ending hunger.

We hope you can join us today, Tuesday, October 21 at 4 p.m.(EDT).

Submit your questions ahead of time to Tyion Miller at tmiller@bread.org. Check out our comprehensive how-to guide on the webinar conference call and register today.

Lavida Davis is  the director of organizing and grassroots capacity building at Bread for the World

Voting Ensures Communities are Fed, Safe, and Economically Stable

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(Theresa Thompson, Creative Commons)

By Angelique Walker-Smith

How many times have we heard about the tensions between local African-American communities and the police in recent months? Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., Ezell Ford in Los Angeles,  Eric Garner of New York City, and John Crawford III in Beavercreek, Ohio, are a few of the names in the headlines in recent months.  With the use of new technologies that support grassroots photo and video journalism, there appears to be no end in sight of making sure these kinds of stories are told. Such tensions are not the only challenges in the African-American community.   

Hunger and poverty in the African-American community have declined recently, but our community still has one of the largest percentages of hungry people and persons living in poverty. The U.S. Census Bureau’s annual report, Income and Poverty in the United States: 2013, showed that, in the African-American community, poverty declined slightly from 27.2 percent to 27.1 percent, compared to the decrease of 25.6 percent to 23.5 percent in the Hispanic community.  Nationally, poverty decreased slightly—by 0.5 percent—last year. It is the first time a decrease has been seen since 2006. The bureau announced that 14.5 percent of Americans lived in poverty in 2013. Additionally, child poverty declined for the first time since 2000, from 21.8 percent to 19.9 percent.

One of the most important ways we can change these unacceptable numbers of African-Americans who are hungry and living in poverty and at the same time address the incidents of violence between local authorities and the African-American community is to get out and vote. Voting leads to structural changes that can transform communities. Voting for candidates who clearly represent the interests of our communities and not voting only for personalities is important in achieving this goal.  Voting is how we put public servants in office to work to transform our communities so that there is, for example, employment that affirms the dignity of God’s people, a supportive safety net to feed hungry people, and clear strategies for healthy engagement between the police and communities. Voting is how we advance strategies of positive change that come out of mutual conversations, negotiations, and partnerships.  

Sadly, however, African-Americans do not vote in high  numbers, especially in the midterm elections. When we do not vote, we remain silent. Our silence prevents us from addressing the issues that face our communities and from electing a leaders who are in tune and consistent with the needs of our communities.

In  Blacks and the 2010 Midterms: A Preliminary Analysis, presented by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, Dr. David A. Bositis points out that national turnout in the 2010 midterm election was up slightly from the 2006 midterm election, with African-Americans contributing to 10 percent of the share of votes and 25.3 percent of African-Americans participating. But this was still a drop from 30.1 percent of African-Americans who voted in 2008 with Barack Obama on the ballot. Additionally, a recent study by the Pew Research Forum's Religion & Public Life Project found that almost three-quarters of the American public—72 percent—believes that religion’s influence is waning in public life, the highest level in Pew Research polling over the past 10 years. This contrasts with further findings from the study that “a growing share of the American public wants religion to play a role in U.S. politics.”

Some of the largest African-American denominations that partner with Bread for the World are responding to this challenge. Freedom Sunday 2014, held on Sept. 21, is being followed by Turnout Sunday on Nov. 2, two days before the midterm election. These faith initiatives seek to encourage the African-American community to vote this year. You can make a difference by voting and encouraging your family, friends, and fellow church members to vote as well. For more information on how to make your vote count, visit www.bread.org/elections.  

Angelique Walker-Smith is the Associate for National African American Church Engagement at Bread for the World.

Hunger in the News: Ebola Orphans, Feed the Future, David Beckmann on Hunger, Migration

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

Orphans abandoned, shunned in Africa’s Ebola crisis,” by Sheilia Passewe, USA Today. “The United Nations estimates the virus has orphaned nearly 4,000 children across the region, and that number could double in coming weeks. Aid groups, such as Doctors Without Borders, fear the orphans are at risk of starvation and disease.”

Investing in smallholder farmers to feed the future,” by Tim Fella, Devex. “As the International Year of Family Farming winds down, a new set of United Nations principles recognizes that in order to promote global food security, we need to acknowledge and promote family farmers as key investors in agriculture and food systems.”

One Human Family: Food for All Week of Action,” Just Love, SIRIUS satellite radio podcast.  “This weekend on Just Love, Msgr. Sullivan speaks with David Beckmann, President of Bread for the World. They discuss Bread for the World’s campaign against domestic and international hunger.”

Without Its Farmers, South Sudan Remains Perilously Close to Famine,” by Justus Liku, Huffington Post Blog.  “The theme for this year's World Food Day is "family farming" but there's not a lot to celebrate in South Sudan. It hasn't been a good year for family farming here, and the specter of famine looms large.”

Migrants’ tales: ‘I feel for those who were with me. They got asylum in the sea’,” by Mark Rice-Oxley and Mona Mahmood, The Guardian.  “Countries are spitting out their people for different reasons: war, revolution, bad governance, dead-end economies, climate change, poverty, persecution.”

In Jordan, slashed UN food aid has even 'well off' Syrians feeling the pinch,” by Christa Case Bryant, The Christian Science Monitor. “With Jordan limiting job opportunities and the UN reducing food aid, even middle-class refugees from war-torn Syria are asking how, and where, they can survive.”

Accompanying Unaccompanied Refugee Children,” by Brian Fraga. National Catholic Register.  “The USCCB is one of two lead voluntary agencies — the other is Lutheran Immigration Refugee Services — that helps the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement administer the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM) program, which provides specialized foster-care services for refugee children under age 18.”

 

An Individual’s Connection to the World’s Hot Spots Today

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Relief supplies to Central African Republic. (USAID)


The news has seemed especially distressing recently, like the world is falling apart all at once. There are troubling reports of violence in Syria/Iraq, Gaza, South Sudan, Central African Republic, and then there's Ebola in West Africa.

What can one person — an individual American — do to create peace and calm in far-away places and in such large, complicated situations? It's easy to feel helpless in times like these.

These crises are political, military, diplomatic, humanitarian, and health in nature—or sometimes a complex situation with a few of these aspects at play at once. They are seemingly fit for only national governments to deal with on a large scale. However, individual Americans are connected to these situations every day. Our federal government is acting on our behalf, with our tax dollars, and because of the positive influence of Bread activists in the legislative process of our Congress.

In all of these countries, desperate people are at least getting food to eat, and that is partly because of Bread for the World's work on food aid from the U.S. government this year, namely through Bread's 2014 Offering of Letters: Reforming U.S. Food Aid. The U.S. is the world's largest food donor, and much of the food aid from the U.S. government is given to and distributed by the World Food Programme (WFP), part of the United Nations.

WFP reported recently that it is responding to five level-3 emergencies, the highest level on its scale of severity. There were six level-3 emergencies until recently, when Cameroon was downgraded to level 2.

"This is the first time ever that the international humanitarian community has been dealing with five humanitarian crises of this scale at the same time," said Rev. David Beckmann, Bread's president. "We must continue to advocate to Congress on behalf of the millions of people experiencing hunger and poverty during this unprecedented time of suffering."

What's happening in these places

In South Sudan, the crisis ravages on as 1.8 million people have been displaced since conflict broke out between President Salva Kiir's government forces and rebels allied to his former deputy, Reik Machar. Over 10,000 people have already died. The outlook remains grim as food security may deteriorate sharply into next year. A famine is declared when at least 20 percent of households face life-threatening food shortages with an inability to handle the problem.

South Sudan has already received $1.2 billion this year from aid agencies, but an estimated $345 million more is needed to support the U.N.'s response there.

The Ebola crisis continues to deepen in West Africa as over 3,000 people have died from the infection in the region. The WFP has already reached more 180,000 people in Ebola zones with vital food assistance. Over the next 3 months, the WFP will be targeting 1.3 million people with food assistance, but it needs $107.7 million more.

Recent violence has affected nearly the entire Gaza strip. Nearly 1 in 4 people in Gaza have been displaced from their homes, but 350,000 Palestinians living in U.N. and public shelters are receiving ready-to-eat emergency rations of food on a daily basis. Food needs are increasing, and the chaos in Gaza requires U.S. aid to prevent starvation.

In Iraq, 1.2 million people are being targeted for food assistance. In August, over 190,000 people received family food parcels, which consist of food essentials, including rice, lentils, and vegetable oil.

In Syria, the conflict rages on without a solution, and humanitarian needs are increasing. Seven million Syrians are in need of food assistance. It is estimated that nearly 3,000 Syrians are fleeing every day to neighboring countries such as Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. The WFP needs approximately $35 million a week to assist over 7 million Syrians in urgent need of food assistance. 

In the Central African Republic, approximately 175,000 people are displaced and an estimated 416,000 have fled the country. The persistent violence has affected the entire population, and 1.7 million people are at risk of hunger. But so far this year, WFP has assisted nearly 1 million people.

These simultaneous crises have stretched not only the WFP, but also other international humanitarian agencies, to their limits.

"Remember that U.S. food assistance, including our country's support for the World Food Programme, is providing help and a bit of security for desperate people in these situations," said Beckmann.

This post originally appeared in Bread for the World's October online newsletter.

World Prayers for Oct. 19-25: India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka

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A farmer in India. Bread for the World photo

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, act, and give. In this blog series, we will be providing 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 October 19-25, we pray for: India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka:

Creator God, we lift to you this week the people of India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. We marvel at the rich diversity of cultures, faiths, histories, and people in these nations, bursting with vibrancy and life. We also lift to you the times when that diversity becomes the seedbed for resentment, conflict, and alienation. Bring peace, healing, and justice to the lives of all the people of these countries, especially those who suffer from the aftermath of wars, recurring climate disasters, human trafficking, and marginalization based on their ethnic identities. May these nations’ governments make human rights, an equitable stability, and reduction of violence priorities in their official actions.  

We raise up those who are displaced in these countries due to regional conflicts, in some of which our own nation has been involved. For all those people who are hungry and who live in grinding poverty, we ask for ways that we ourselves might be instruments of restoration and wholeness. We give thanks for the missionaries, health workers, educators, peacemakers, and others who continue to come alongside these nations’ people, offering hope and supporting opportunities for them to work for a better life for themselves and their families. In your holy and healing name we pray, Amen.

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

India: 21.9
Pakistan:
12.4
Sri Lanka: 6.7

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

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