Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

Two Weeks and Thousands of Lives at Stake

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Angie Galvez sips her drink after enjoying her meal provided by a USAID’s Food for Education in rural Guatemala. Poverty, hunger, and violence have caused a surge in child migration to the United States from countries like Guatemala, which has the highest child malnutrition rate in the Western Hemisphere. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)


By Eric Mitchell

Next week, Congress returns to Washington from its month-long recess. But they won’t be in town for long. Congress has only two weeks to pass some sort of budget before leaving again for final campaigning and the midterm elections. The government's fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, and Congress is likely to pass a short-term budget due to the congressional elections in November.

This means the window of opportunity for Congress to also address the humanitarian crisis of unaccompanied children fleeing their homes in Mexico and Central America is closing rapidly.

Call (800-826-3688) or email your U.S. representative and your U.S. senators!. Urge them to include in any budget bill they consider funding for effective poverty-focused development assistance programs in Central America that will address the root causes of poverty, hunger, and violence that are driving the children to flee. Our government has effective programs like Feed the Future, which helps provide sustainable agriculture in countries like Guatemala, and the McGovern-Dole school feeding program.

When children go to bed hungry every night, parents often feel like they have few options but to send them away. No parent should have to make this decision, but thousands in Central America continue to do so.

As followers of Christ, we should express and embody God’s love at all times. The Bible affirms that all people, including these refugee children, are made in the image of God and have inherent value, a right to life and dignity that we must protect, especially during humanitarian crises.

Can you take two minutes right now to send an email or make a call.

Your voice will send a powerful message to your elected officials that while the national media coverage may be dwindling, you haven’t forgotten about the tens of thousands of refugee children fleeing into the United States from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. You can refer to our fact sheet for additional information and talking points.

There’s a chance Congress will act on this, but your members of Congress need to hear from you!

Eric Mitchell is the director of government relations at Bread for the World.

Americans Struggling with Hunger Left Behind in Economic Recovery

By Alyssa Casey Graph USDA

The number of Americans struggling to put food on the table remains stubbornly high, according to new data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In 2013, 14.3 percent of U.S. households experienced food insecurity. “Food insecure” households are those that have difficulty consistently providing enough food for all household members due to lack of resources.

The number of households at risk of hunger declined slightly from 14.9 percent in 2011, but those hit by the 2008 economic crisis have seen little relief. In 2007, 36.2 million Americans lived in food insecure households. In 2008, that number jumped to 49.1 – an increase of nearly 13 million Americans at risk of hunger. Five years later in 2013, the same number of Americans – 49.1 million – struggle to feed their families. While the country as a whole slowly recovers from the 2008 economic crisis, it appears that those struggling with hunger are being left behind.

More than 15.7 million – nearly a third – of Americans at risk of hunger are children. Households with children are more at risk of hunger than those without children. This risk increases even further when the household is headed by a single parent. Households headed by a single woman are among the hardest hit, with 34.4 percent of these households at risk of hunger – nearly 2 ½ times the national average.

When so many children and families wrestle with the threat of hunger year after year, it is inexcusable that elected officials address hunger so rarely.

The Momentum is Building

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty made alleviating hunger and poverty in the United States a top priority for the government. Incredible progress was made in the initial years of the War on Poverty, but eventually poverty and hunger were swept under the rug, and politicians largely stopped talking about the issue.

Recent years have seen momentum building around making hunger and poverty history:

  • The economic recession drew attention to the prevalence of hunger in the United States.
  • Filmmakers and the media are increasingly drawing attention to widespread hunger.
  • The 50th Anniversary of the War on Poverty kept the spotlight on hunger.
  • Advocates like you told your elected officials that hunger matters.
  • Prominent politicians on both sides of the aisle are talking about America’s hunger and poverty problem and exchanging ideas for legislative solutions.

What Can You Do?

Keep this momentum going and make sure candidates know that you care about hunger.

As we near national elections in November, we have the opportunity to ask candidates to make ending hunger a national priority. You don’t have to be a policy expert; simply telling your candidates you care about hunger and poverty lets them know they need to take action on these issues.

Ask your candidates what their plan is to address hunger. If a candidate is running for reelection, look at how they voted. Then tell them to vote for legislation that makes positive strides towards ending hunger, not legislation that cuts safety net programs and makes it harder for people to support their families.

 At Bread for the World, we have your back! We are telling candidates across the country that Americans want to end hunger. If you do the same, we can use this momentum to make ending hunger a national priority once again. Let’s make hunger an election issue!

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

Labor Day: More Than a Three-Day Weekend

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Ofelio, owner of a tamale business in Washington, D.C., is featured in the 2014 Hunger Report. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)


By Robin Stephenson

Barbeques, the end of summer, and a three-day weekend are what Labor Day means for most Americans. For me, the welcome work break was a chance to catch up on neglected household chores. Celebrating the contributions of workers to the strength of our nation or thinking about today’s labor market never entered my mind.

That is, until last night.

My neighbor stopped by and mentioned another neighbor who has been out of work for more than a year and still hasn’t found employment. “She is at her wit’s end,” says my friend with exasperation. “She has a college education, is smart and hardworking, and still gets no offers.”

My unemployed neighbor is not alone. There are 3.2 million long-term unemployed, people out of work for more than 27 weeks. Congress failed to extend emergency unemployment compensation (EUC) in December, cutting off critical assistance to more than a million job seekers. Never before in the history of EUC has a Congress failed to extend the emergency aid when unemployment is so high.

My neighbor’s misfortune affects all of us. Lost productivity to the labor market decreases pressures on wages, which is why many Americans have not seen raises in the last few years. High unemployment means lost productivity and lost tax revenue, causing additional spending by the federal government to fill in the gaps.

There are signs that things are getting better. However, we are not out of the woods yet. The jobless rate, which peaked at 10 percent in 2009, has still not reached pre-2008 levels. Today the unemployment rate is 6.2 percent, although some economists call the number deceptively low. Full employment is a job rate below 5 percent and indicates that anyone who wants to work can find a job.

Infographic_FullEmploymentThe federal government has a role to play in strengthening the labor market and getting the long-term unemployed back to work. The best solution to ending hunger is a job that pays. The number of low-income households could be cut by more than half if a full-time job were available for everyone who wanted one.  

The 2014 Hunger Report proposes bold steps to end hunger in the United States by 2030. Returning the economy closer to the full employment level of 2000, it would be possible for President Obama and Congress to reduce hunger in America by 25 percent by 2017.

A first step to full employment includes policies that stimulate the economy as part of a budget strategy instead of the job-killing cuts, such as the automatic spending caps called sequestration. Congress should also raise the minimum wage. If wages had kept up with productivity growth over the years, the minimum wage today would be $18.67.

Perhaps it is time that Labor Day becomes more than a three-day weekend. Labor Day should be a time of reflection and action—a time to ask how we can get people in America, including my neighbor, back to work and into jobs that pay a living wage.

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

A Prayer for Students, Teachers, Staff, and Parents at the Start of the School Year

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(Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

By Rev. Chuck Currie

Teacher God,

We ask your blessings at the start of a new school year.
Watch over our children.
Be a source of inspiration to teachers and administrators.
Show favor on support staff often over burdened.

Our schools should be cathedrals.
We lament so often public schools do not receive the resources they need.
Help us learn to become better advocates for our children.
Help us to learn to become better stewards of resources.

We pray for safe schools, O God.
No gun violence.
No bullying.
No violence of any kind.

Let this be a year of learning.
Open young hearts to new wonders.
Encourage parents to let children dream big dreams.
Let this generation of students make and achieve great goals.

We pray that students play and find joy in each day.
Let them make life-long friends.
Give parents extra energy to support their children.
Help the community find ways to support families.

We give you thanks, O God, for the richness of diversity.
Our public schools are a gift that brings us all together.
Help us make that goal an even brighter reality this year.
Let this be a year of great learning.

Amen.

Rev. Chuck Currie is a Bread for the World member who lives in Portland, Ore. He is director of the Center for Peace and Spirituality and university chaplain at Pacific University and minister at United Church of Christ.

 

World Prayers for Aug. 31-Sept. 6: Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia

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Święconka is a  Polish tradition of blessing food on Holy Saturday. Ołtarzew, Poland, 2007 (photo by Paterm from Wikimedia Commons)

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 August 31 through September 6, we will be praying for the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia:

Lord, God of all people, we offer our thanks for the nations and people of the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia.

We give you thanks especially for the rich traditions of these people and for their strength and fortitude during tumultuous moments in their nations’ histories. Despite persecution, war, and repression under Nazi and Soviet domination, the people of theses countries remained hopeful, steadfast to their faiths that offered strength in demanding times. We offer our thanks especially for pastors and priests who remained faithful to their calling even when they were persecuted.

Today, we pray for continued economic stability in these places, and we especially remember the poor, the elderly, and the unemployed who bear the brunt of economic reforms and the loss of state social services.

We also remember the victims of anti-semitism, and ethnic, gender, and social intolerance in the midst of rising nationalism and pray for a renewal of the church in the midst of both growing freedom and growing secularization.

We offer our gratitude for the people of the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia, and pray in a special way that they and all of us will continue to grow with one another in faith and trust in God. Amen.

Percentage of the population of these countries living below the national poverty line (2012 figures):

  • Czech Republic: 8.6
  • Poland:17.1
  • Slovakia: 13.2

Source: World Bank

Justice Work is Hard. Poverty is Harder.

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(Bread for the World)

By Donna Pususta Neste

Justice work is hard. Those who desire their government to work for all its citizens are up against some mighty forces that seek to maintain the status quo. There are those who benefit from others’ poverty, vulnerability, and voicelessness. These people are few in number in a society, but their power runs deep and wide, because they have the funds and know-how to spread misinformation and buy influence. There is a general attitude of indifference among many who are comfortable and refuse to see the root causes of the suffering of people who are poor. 

Justice workers are also up against fear. People are often afraid to use their power. They are afraid of retribution by those who want everything to remain the same, a fear not always unfounded. They are also up against a certain kind of powerlessness that comes with poverty.

Their most natural allies—people who struggle to support themselves and their families—have little time for the actions necessary to alleviate the state of their existence: to go to city hall to protest a law that infringes on their rights, to visit their representatives in Washington to advocate for a law that would benefit them, or to study policies that hold them back. Most of their time is used on actions necessary to survive. To walk their children to day care before hopping a bus to a job that barely sustains them. To spend most of their free time visiting clothes closets, food pantries, and community meals in order to make ends meet and feed their children. To keep seemingly endless appointments with government bureaucrats in order to turn in applications, proofs, and justifications of their needs.

Poverty is stressful. When a person is losing sleep over how to come up with the rent, there is little to no extra energy left over to organize around the issue of a living wage. That’s why I do my best to raise my voice with our nation’s leaders, to make the lives of people who struggle a little bit easier.

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

Reflection: Babies Seek and Remember

Baby 500
(Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World).


By Kierra Jackson

 “And when he had taken some bread and given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me." (Luke 22:19)

My interest in maternal and child nutrition brought me to my full-time job at Bread for the World where I work as the major gifts coordinator/development officer. On the side, I help deliver babies as a trained doula. Something I’ve learned in this work is that, as humans, we remember—even in our very first minutes and hours of life.

If you’ve ever seen a baby pass from life in the body to life out in the world, you may have noticed a couple of things. First, in the moments before birth, there’s this rush—a mighty wind of hands, instructions, encouraging words, heightened speech, and amplified energy—all to prepare for and to welcome this fresh human being into the world. If possible, the newborn is brought close to the mother, skin to skin, to regulate her body temperature and to encourage bonding, which helps in breastfeeding.

This is my body.

Keep watching and you’ll see that mother and baby coo at each other, cry tears of joy and relief at each other. They touch and start getting to know one another.

It takes a couple minutes before a newborn begins to use language. She’ll begin by licking the air, stick her little pink tongue out and pull it back in, open her mouth and then look for her hands and bring them to her mouth.

“I am the bread of life,” Jesus said.

The search is a steady and relentless one. Her head bobs, hands grab, tongue licks, and then a bit of grunting or fussing. In cases where moms need extra medical attention, a baby will often be placed with her shirtless father to share the positive effects of skin-to-skin contact with a parent. Even then she’s searching, and sometimes finds a nipple—a dad nipple!

This is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance.

You see, babies know. They seem to have this ability to remember that the greatest gift to them is the body. Even when they are born, they long to return to the body that has been broken open for them, that will feed them, hold them, nurture and love them.

Before they even have the fullness of memory, I like to believe that babies have shared words with Jesus. That Christ said, “Remember me, baby, remember me. I love you.”

So, for many of us who have heard this regular reminder to remember, we do just that.

We remember the unique needs of maternal and child nutrition. We remember that food is the first thing we long for, that it sustains the body. Without it, we are most fragile. We remember that our work at Bread for the World, in its many forms, is so critical to feeding babies, mothers, and fathers.

Christ gave us his body that we might remember. Let us give thanks for this life-giving gift.

Kierra Jackson is major gifts coordinator at Bread for the World. She is also a trained birth doula.

Building the Political Will to End Hunger in Virginia’s 10th District

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Republican Rep. Frank Wolf represented congressional district Va.-10 for 17 terms. He was honored for his work addressing hunger at Bread for the World’s 2014 Lobby Day reception. (Jim Stipe)

By Robin Stephenson

We can end hunger by 2030 if we build the political will to make hunger a national priority by 2017. Electing legislators who prioritize ending hunger is key, says Stephen Hill, senior organizer for elections issues at Bread for the World.

Being politically engaged is also part of living out our faith.

“Just as Jesus regularly went to the public square to minister, advocate, and proclaim the good news,” Hill says, “we too must maintain an active presence in today’s public square in order to preserve justice and order in society and government.”

Hill is elevating hunger and poverty as campaign topics in the tenth congressional district of Virginia. Barbara Comstock, the Republican candidate, will face Democrat John Foust for the empty House seat in the general election on November 4.

Outgoing Congressman Frank Wolf (R) was honored in June by Bread for the World for his work to address hunger in the United States and abroad. He is retiring after more than 30 years in Congress. Hill says that although we may lose Wolf to retirement, we do not need to lose his commitment to ending hunger if the person elected knows his or her voters will not tolerate a legislator who is lukewarm on issues of food insecurity.

Using the influence of voters in the district, Hill wants to get the candidates talking about hunger.

“Our goal will be to educate, inspire, and influence the electorate. From the ballot box to the pulpit, we want to make sure that these issues factor into the conscience of the voters and the political agendas of the candidates.”

Before joining Bread’s staff, Hill was deputy district director for Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio-1). Hill knows first-hand how constituents influence their members of Congress. Politically engaged voters make an impact by building relationships with staff and attending town halls, becoming what he calls more than a voice on the phone.

Hill is looking for interested individuals to join his team in district 10 as he builds a coalition of the willing. Volunteers can assist by distributing literature at events, attending precinct meetings, recruiting others, and helping with polling as well as other election activities.

“This is a very busy district and we need maximum participation to touch as many voters as possible with our message.”

Election work that aims to build the political will to end hunger can also build a renewed sense of purpose for a post-election Congress. Instead of focusing on conflict and apathy, Hill believes faith can build a sense of community.

“Christ, as both the lion and the lamb, reconciles all conflicts and differences,” says Hill. “In him we are conquerors, and through him we have victory, purpose, and a true sense of community.”

Virginians interested in getting involved are encouraged to contact Stephen Hill for more information. In addition to volunteers, he is also looking for a catchy campaign slogan that will inspire. Contact him at  202-270-8180 or by email, shill@bread.org.  Elsewhere in the United States, you can help make hunger a part of the elections with Elections Matter resources.

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

Bread for the Preacher: A Just and Loving Social Order

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 (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

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

I have been part of several conversations in the last few days about how the news seems more troubling than usual. There is trouble in Ferguson, Mo., in Iraq and Syria, in Israel and Palestine, and Ukraine. There are unaccompanied refugee children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border and floods, droughts, and earthquakes in the western parts of the United States. We are more aware of happenings around the world because of technology and the internet, but it seems that this only brings us closer to some aspect of injustice.

And hunger is front and center. As Bread for the World seeks to end hunger by 2030, we will be working on a variety of issues through the lens of hunger because we are working for an end of hunger that is sustainable and just. The texts this month remind us that God is relentless in working for a just and loving social order. Each week offers us an opportunity to explore aspects of God’s righteousness, whether it is through stories of forgiveness and fair wages or even God’s call through the prophets for repentance.

Reverend Nancy Neal is the associate for denominational women's organzation relations at Bread for the World

Flexible Food Aid Meets People Where They Are

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Reforms to make U.S. food aid more flexible will benefit farmers, like the one pictured from El Salvador, and local economies  to build resilience against future food insecurity. (Jim Stipe)

By Arnulfo Moreno

Give a man a fish or teach a man to fish? We all have that innate feeling to help someone when disaster strikes. Children should not have to go to bed hungry because a tsunami happened to hit their neighborhood or because they were living on a fault line. At the same time, aid should not destroy local economies in order to provide temporary relief. As this article highlights, the key is flexibility.

Most of the federal government's programs that deliver food aid were created in the 1950s, but many of the administrative policies haven’t changed since then. The global population in 1950 was 2.5 billion people. In 2010, the year most recent data is available, the population was more than 6.8 billion people and growing. The rigid restrictions on food aid did not take into account such growth or changes in agriculture technology and transportation, as well as cultural and political changes.

The most important thing that we can draw upon from this past half century is experience. We know that flooding a market with free food can paralyze local economies and has adverse effects on populations when the food is not common to the region. We have seen that having the flexibility to purchase food locally or to issue food vouchers benefits not only those receiving the assistance but also local farmers, businesses, and entrepreneurship.  

We can continue to invest in people and future trade partners by making food aid more potent. By allowing food to be purchased locally, we help those economies devastated by disasters, both natural and human-caused, and ensure that they become self-sufficient.

As a taxpayer, I want to make sure that my money is used to help those who need it, not to line the pockets of the shipping industry or other industries. Allowing food-aid programs the flexibility to choose the best transportation method and food-allocation method helps bring costs down and grants our government the ability to help millions more with no additional cost to taxpayers.

If we set aside money to help our brothers and sisters around the world, then we have to make sure that every penny is used as efficiently as possible. Food aid should have the flexibility to meet people where they are. Give people a fish and/or show them how to fish, depending on their circumstance—not on a rigid set of our outdated policies.   

Arnulfo Moreno is the media relations specialist at Bread for the World.

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