What do WhatsApp founder Jan Koum, choreographer and MacArthur genius grant recipient Kyle Abraham, and Olympic speed skater Emily Scott have in common? These recent newsmakers are all at the top of their respective fields, and they are all former recipients of food stamps.
The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) is one of our nation's most effective anti-hunger programs. It feeds people and also helps them escape poverty and realize their dreams. From musician Moby to Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), many prominent Americans have benefitted from this vital form of assistance.
Koum made headlines last week not only for selling his company to Facebook for $19 billion, but for signing the paperwork for the deal on the door of his old social services office. The tech whiz's journey, from barely making it to becoming a billionaire through hard work and ingenuity, is the sort of feel-good narrative that everyone loves. But not everyone will acknoweldge that the federal safety net is an important part of that story—many are under the false impression that the program is growing too large, or wrongly believe that it fosters lifelong dependency.
Not everyone who is on food stamps will become a billionaire, but SNAP and other safety net programs produce success stories every day. Barbie Izquierdo is a former SNAP receipient and anti-hunger advocate who appeared in the documentary A Place at the Table, and is using her platform to spread the word about hunger in America. Dawn Phipps is a registered nurse who once received SNAP benefits for herself and her children; not only does she spend her working hours caring for others, much of her free time is devoted to volunteering at her local food bank and advocating with Bread for the World, to make sure others continue to have access to the assistance she once relied on for help.
Both Barbie and Dawn are featured on Faces and Facts, a new website from Bread for the World and our Circle of Protection partners. The site compiles stories of people whose lives have been changed by safety net programs, as well as those who have been negatively affected by recent budget cuts to some of those same programs.
Each story reminds us that behind every fact or statistic about hunger is a person, and that it doesn't make sense for Congress to balance our nation's budget by making cuts to programs that help struggling families. Every dollar cut from a safety net program means one less dollar being used to help someone grow, thrive, or maybe even come up with the next big idea that will change our world.
Photo: Alex Morris, who is featured on the Faces and Facts site, feeds her son, André, in their Bend, Ore., home. (Brad Horn)
Lynne Hybels listens as Krisanne Vaillancourt-Murphy speaks during the "Women in Social Justice: Educating Yourself for Advocacy" panel discussion at the 2014 Justice Conference in Los Angeles, Calif., on Feb. 21. (Robin Stephenson)
Once you have seen injustice in the world, it cannot be unseen. You want to do something – but what? How can we work toward restorative justice in our communities, our nation, and our world?
Restoration of God’s vision of the world as it should be, as opposed to how the world is, was a theme of this year’s Justice Conference, which took place in Los Angeles last week. Krisanne Vaillancourt-Murphy, interim director of church relations at Bread for the World, participated in the panel "Women in Social Justice: Educating Yourself for Advocacy" with teacher and advocate Belinda Bauman, Willow Creek Community Church co-founder and Ten for Congo founder Lynne Hybels, Kilns College vice president of development Melissa McCreery, and moderator Chelsie Frank.
The road to advocacy had different on-ramps for each of the women. For Vaillancourt-Murphy it began by living and working with migrant workers in Oregon after finishing college. Frustrated with a system that prevented people from flourishing, she needed to do something. Biblical examples of advocates like Nehemiah and Ruth pointed her toward Bread for the World, and the need to address root causes of injustice. “When we connect our story and God’s story, the world transforms,” Vaillancourt-Murphy said.
McCreery used her training as an educator as her foothold in justice work. The response to injustice is often driven by emotion, but she pointed out that injustices also have political, cultural, and even economic roots that must be considered. A holistic approach is vital to avoiding burnout. “We need to educate people to be successful leaders, so they don’t spin their wheels around the emotional context,” McCreery said.
Bauman's journey to advocacy began with a sputtering engine. “The pothole I fell into,” she told the audience, “was because I was waiting for someone to give me permission.” She emphasized that once you have found something you are deeply passionate about, finding good resources and educating yourself is your responsibility. The moral of her story is that persistence pays off. “Failure is one of our greatest assets and we learn from it,” she said. Bauman encouraged new advocates to keep moving forward in their roles as citizens, and said they must push through fear to change the world. “Capitol Hill feels like Kansas, but you begin,” she said.
When Frank asked the panel how an advocate without a position in an organization could begin, Hybels turned to Vaillancourt-Murphy and said, “That is why I’m grateful for Krisanne and Bread for the World. They make it easy.” Hybels said her view of the church’s role as praying and building awareness expanded to include advocacy once she saw that transforming unjust systems required changes at the policy level. “The first thing I did was I got on the computer, found my representative and my senators, and emailed them," said Hybels. "They just need to know.”
Searching for a foothold in transformational advocacy can feel lonely for the new faithful advocate, but Bauman offered a piece of advice for them: find others who are passionate at the soul level and, “stir each other up to good works.” The most important thing, she advised, is to “fearlessly, courageously, humbly, and intelligently begin.”
Have you ever considered making letter writing a spiritual practice? In this age of electronic communication through emails and texting, a letter written the old-fashioned way—by hand—can make a big difference in a person’s life and actually make your message stand out amid modern-day chatter.
Letters can comfort the grieving, embrace the lonely, uplift the discouraged, and carry love across the globe. A letter can also affect the lives of people you may not even know. Writing to your policy makers in Washington, D.C., can influence the decisions they make—decisions that affect millions of people both here at home and around the world.
Bread for the World's 2014 Offering of Letters campaign, "Reforming U.S. Food Aid," aims to help millions of hungry people overseas. With smart changes to the ways our federal government uses the money we already spend on food aid, we can assist millions more who are refugees, survivors of disasters, or living in a cycle of chronic poverty.
Use the sample letter below as a model for your own letter, and visit the Offering of Letters website to find out more about how you can invite others in your faith community to raise their voices with thousands of Christians around the country on this issue. Take 15 minutes today to write, and think about what it might mean to make writing letters a part of your spiritual life.
Billy Kangas is Bread for the World's Catholic Relations fellow.
Photo: Participants in an Offering of Letter at Woodridge UMC in Woodridge, Ill., on April 28, 2013 (Photo by Christine Darfler, courtesy of Pastor Dave Buerstetta)
By Cynthia Ezedike
As someone who was born in a poverty-stricken country, I have heard about the American dream countless times. It is the reason so many people have immigrated to the United States, and why so many will continue to do so. It is the reason my parents came to the United States from Nigeria, struggled to get an education, and are now doing all they can to provide for their family. However, the American dream is becoming more and more difficult to attain.
How does one of the richest countries in the world have 50 million of its people facing food insecurity? Why are so many working families struggling to put food on the table? In the past, hard work and steady employment almost guaranteed a comfortable life. Many people put themselves in debt to attend college with the hopes that once they graduated and started and started their career, they would be able to live well. Today, not even a college degree guarantees a roof over one's head or food in one's belly.
I know plenty of families that were forced to make lifestyle changes and cut food spending during the economic downturn of recent years. These families, mine included, are pretty well off and would not be counted among those living in poverty. Still, they have noticed the rise in the cost of groceries, and have made a conscious effort to stick to a budget and avoid unnecessary purchases. If these families are concerned about the high cost of food, what are those who are not as well off doing? How are families living at or below the poverty line staying afloat?
In a recent interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, celebrity chef Tom Colicchio acknowledged the need to remove the stereotypes associated with federal nutrition programs. He said “the idea that people are lazy and they don’t want to work…that’s just not true.” The fact that so many food banks and charities have been stretched to their limits shows that many people are suffering in this nation. Colicchio pointed out that the number of people living in hunger is so great that we can’t expect charities alone to lift the burden. Charities, as he put it, help manage hunger. In order to end a problem this large, we need an action that is equally as large.
Political action is what is needed. Politicians are here to serve their constituents, so we, as citizens of this great nation, must appeal to Congress to work toward meaningful policies that benefit the 50 million Americans dealing with hunger. Congress must protect and strengthen federal programs that help people lift themselves out of poverty. It is imperative to making the American dream a reality once again.
Cynthia Ezedike is an intern in Bread for the World's communications department.
Did you know that each month the church relations department at Bread for the World produces a resource specifically for pastors? Whether you are searching for inspiration for a sermon you're writing, or just a lectionary enthusiast, Bread for the Preacher is for you.
After reading this introduction, explore this month’s readings on the Bread for the Preacher web page, where you can also sign up to have the resource emailed to you each month.
By Rev. Nancy Neal
In March, we round out the season of Epiphany with Transfiguration Sunday, which grounds Jesus in the long tradition of Moses and the Elijah, who represent the law and the prophets. From there, we turn our attention inward, asking the questions Who are we? and Whose are we? Many of our churches' members will give up sweets or caffeine during this season. Or perhaps they will add some kind of healthy habit to their daily routine. Our challenge is to help them dig deeper to recognize our corporate identity inaugurated in the "new Adam," to remember that God often favors the outsider and the excluded, and to take risks on the road to justice.
Rev. Nancy Neal is Bread for the World's associate for denominational women's organization relations.
The author of this post stands under a boat that came to rest atop a house in Banda Aceh, Indonesia in the devastating December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. While U.S. food-aid programs have provided much-needed assistance to the country, smart reforms would make aid even more effective. (Stephen H. Padre)
By Stephen H. Padre
One thing I’ve learned from my personal and work-related travel around the world is that there is probably no place on earth that has not been touched by the United States. In many places, you see this in a commercial sense. It’s not hard to buy a Coke when you need one when overseas. And everybody knows something about the United States. “Ah, America!” is often the response when you tell someone in Africa or India where you’re from, and chances are they have seen an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie or know that Barack Obama’s family came from Kenya.
But I also learned that in the background in many developing countries, the United States, through our federal government, has been getting into a lot of places and quietly supporting a lot of people. It has been doing this through its food-aid programs. And we should remember that our federal government is doing this with our support—of us taxpayers—and on our behalf. U.S. food aid uses millions of our dollars to provide life-saving food following disasters and to improve the lives of people who live in the “silent disaster” of poverty year-in and year-out. This latter type of work isn’t as flashy and urgent as responding to disasters that get a lot of news coverage. It’s a lot of slow, long-term development focused on people’s economic and social situations. Long-term development can take many forms, from training women in new livelihoods to teaching farmers better growing techniques to educating children. It’s work that is meant to give people a better life by increasing their family’s income or giving them skills that will benefit their household or whole community.
Sure, we know that our federal government is using our tax dollars to fight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But consider that the U.S. is also using its shared, public resources in other ways—ways that for decades have helped 3 billion people through food aid. As I’ve traveled around the world and visited many places where organizations like Lutheran World Relief, Catholic Relief Services, or Church World Service are carrying out long-term development or disaster relief among people who are poor and hungry, I’ve seen the generosity of Christians in the United States who support these church-related agencies and also the generosity of Americans who support this type of work with their tax dollars. I’ve seen lives being sustained in refugee camps with American-supplied food items distributed to Somalis who fled violence in their country. And I’ve seen farmers learning better growing techniques with the help of an American-supported agency. Lives are being saved, and lives are being transformed.
You may support your denomination’s disaster or hunger program with monetary donations. When you do that, you are choosing to use some of your money to respond to God’s call to help people in need. You can also have a say in how some of your tax dollars are used in our government’s food-aid programs. Have your say by writing to your members of Congress as part of Bread’s 2014 Offering of Letters, "Reforming U.S. Food Aid." With some smart changes, these programs can be more efficient and effective, enabling them to help millions more people in poor countries. Learn about and be involved in the quiet but powerful ways that our country has touched other corners of the world.
Stephen H. Padre is Bread for the World's managing editor.
"Jesus commands us to help those in need. Buying nutritious food grown in the country where it is needed means it will reach hungry children and families more quickly. Local and regional economies will be strengthened. More of the food-aid budget will actually be spent on food, which means millions more meals can be provided. Food-aid reform is a win-win-win."
—Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) on food-aid reform
Bread for the World's 2014 Offering of Letters focuses on reforming U.S. food aid. Smart reforms would allow food aid to reach millions more people in need each year, at no additional cost to U.S. taxpayers. Learn more at www.bread.org/ol.
Photo: Jane Sebbi, a farmer with 12 acres of land in Kamuli, Uganda, on Thursday, May 19, 2011. Jane grows corn, bananas, coffee, amaranth, potatoes, soy beans, common beans. and sweet potatoes. She also takes care of pigs, goats and chickens.(Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)
More than 30 years ago, Bread for the World president David Beckmann lived and worked in Bangladesh, and saw extreme poverty while in the country. A few years ago, he and his wife went back for a visit, traveling to the northwest region where they once lived, and saw something amazing.
"What was best about this experience was that although people are still extremely poor, they are dramatically less poor than they were 30 years ago," Beckmann said during a talk at the Saint Thomas More Catholic Chapel and Center at Yale University on Feb. 9. "The changes have been spectacular."
Beckmann spoke about improvements to infrastructure, such as new roads and buildings, as well as how people's lives have changed—he saw children that looked better nourished, and met women who were taking advantage of new literacy education and microcredit programs. And these changes aren't unique to the country he once called home. "This same thing has happened in hundreds of thousands of communities in the world," he said. "The World Bank judges that the number of people in the world in extreme poverty has been cut in half in the last 30 years."
At the Saint More Catholic Chapel and Center to help celebrate the 30th anniversary of its soup kitchen, Beckmann spread the message that the dramatic progress that has been made in alleviating extreme hunger and poverty is evidence that ending hunger is within reach.
"Those of us who believe in God and can read about and understand this huge change in the world, I think we have to understand this as our loving God moving history," he said. "I've come to see this as a great exodus in our own time; this is God answering prayers on a huge scale. And I think our loving God is asking us to get with the program. Because in our time, it is clearly possible to make much, much more progress—probably to virtually end extreme poverty and hunger within a couple decades."
Beckmann also talked about what it will take to accomplish this—namely, building the political will to move our leaders and "change big systems in ways that will move us toward the end of hunger in our country and around the world."
By connecting with members of Congress—through letter writing and participating in Offerings of Letters, in-person visits, and writing letters to the editor, people learn “that we have power, we can change things," Beckmann said. "Learn how you can be an active citizen and make the world more like how you think God wants it to be."
Watch the full video of the tlak above, and then learn more about conducting an Offering of Letters, and what you can do to help move history.
A girl enjoys a meal provided in rural Guatemala. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provides funding for school meals (Food for Education) in some of the most impoverished and malnurished areas. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)
By Ryan Quinn
Thanks in part to your efforts, 800,000 more people could have access to U.S. food aid each year.
Over the last few months, you've sent thousands of emails to Congress asking for reforms to make food aid more effective and efficient. And modest but significant changes have come in a wide-ranging farm law just signed by President Obama and a bipartisan budget agreement. Together these bills will make it easier for the United States to buy food closer to where it's needed and provide more flexibility around "monetization," a practice in which organizations ship U.S. crops overseas, resell them, and use the money to finance nonemergency programs — something that can be costly and burdensome.
These changes are helping hungry people affected by the crises in South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and those affected by the massive typhoon in the Philippines last year.
While these changes are a step in the right direction, there is much more we can do to ensure that our federal government's food-aid policies are better able to help people in times of crisis and in fostering long-term solutions to hunger.
Your participation in Bread's 2014 Offering of Letters campaign is critical to our success. Please take a moment to email your members of Congress. Urge them to fully fund these changes in food aid while enhancing nutritional quality and increasing program flexibility.
Together, we can help ensure that millions more children and families can be reached by food aid. Having grown up living in a lot of different places around the world, I've found that it is a deep and abiding sense of faith, community, and compassion that connects a small town in America to a refugee camp on the border of Syria or Somalia.
With your faith, compassion, and voice, we will convince our nation's leaders to give international food-aid programs the agility they need to be more effective and save more lives. Thanks for speaking out!
Ryan Quinn is senior international policy analyst at Bread for the World.
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