By Stephen Hovick Padre
A few months ago, I took a day outside the office with two of my colleagues from Bread to gather stories to include in this year’s Offering of Letters: Feed Our Children. It’s my job to write and edit the toolkit of print materials for Bread’s annual Offering of Letters campaign and to coordinate the production of everything that churches and communities need for a letter-writing event.
While it’s possible to assemble a lot of facts and figures about child hunger while sitting at my computer in Bread’s office in Washington, D.C., there’s no greater education than seeing something firsthand. That’s exactly what my coworkers and I did one rainy day late last fall as we went to the suburbs of Baltimore to see how school-based federal government feeding programs play out in “real life”—outside the policy bubble of Capitol Hill.
Now, I have to admit that I’ve lived a very comfortable middle-class life. I’ve never missed a meal in my life. I’ve never known what it’s like to struggle to put food on the table. Yet I’ve worked for many years for church-related programs and organizations that help people who are hungry because it’s something I care about, and it’s something that my church (denomination) and my faith care about.
One takeaway from my field trip was that hunger can easily be hidden in plain sight. In Washington, D.C., and surrounding it, are many neighborhoods and suburbs that I hear are high-income and wealthy. Yet I learned from my visits to elementary, middle, and high schools in Glen Burnie, a suburb of Baltimore, that there is hunger—even in these supposedly wealthy suburbs.
But even more important is the fact that hunger is being addressed at those schools. In my own neighborhood—at my own daughters’ elementary school—and in your community, where your kids go to school, or where you see other people’s children going to school, programs funded by our federal government are providing meals to children every day.
I’m glad that the organization I work for has a campaign this year focusing on federal child nutrition programs. Bread’s 2015 Offering of Letters campaign is a time for Christians across the country to urge their members of Congress to strengthen these programs and give children access to the meals they need so they can learn, be healthy, and grow strong.
Why should we as Christians do this? Because it’s the right thing to do. Because Jesus told us to. Whether you have children of your own or not, your future is wrapped up in their future. If today’s children struggle to get all the food they need, the consequences can last for years and can affect more than just them as individuals. So, as part of Bread’s Offering of Letters, do the right thing and do the “write” thing.
Stephen Hovick Padre is the managing editor at Bread for the World.
Photo: The writer gets the full sensory experience of the school lunch program as he eats a cafeteria meal with elementary school students. Christine Melendez Ashley/Bread for the World.
Editor’s note: This Lenten season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals from the Little Black Book, which was first created by Bishop Ken Untener of the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, Mich. The devotionals are in the prayer tradition of Lectio Divina to help people pray the Passion of Our Lord.
When the hour came, Jesus took his place at table with the apostles. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for, I tell you, I shall not eat it again until there is fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:14-16)
When the sun set on Thursday evening, the great feast of Passover began for the Jewish people. Its centerpiece was a meal at which the paschal lamb was eaten.
At this meal Jesus looked to the past – the night when the Israelites escaped from slavery in Egypt. But he also looked to the future – the great banquet in heaven.
Lent also looks two ways. I look to my mixed past – joys and sorrows, successes and failures, good deeds and sins. But I also look to my future – the great feast of Easter and the assured victory of life over all forms of death.
The ashes on my forehead are not a gloomy symbol. They express my belief that through death I find life. Dying to old ways of sin brings the peace I’ve always wanted.
No Lenten penance dead ends in pain. Beneath true penance is always the experience of God’s loving presence. Plus the sense that I’m moving in a good direction.
I can spend a lot of time on my past, maybe too much. Maybe I should talk to the Lord about my future. For starters, talk about these next 40 days. Don’t drift halfheartedly
into Lent. Plunge into it.
“Poverty is a national problem, requiring improved national organization and support. But this attack, to be effective, must also be organized at the state and the local level and must be supported and directed by state and local efforts.
For the war against poverty will not be won here in Washington. It must be won in the field, in every private home, in every public office, from the courthouse to the White House.”
-President Lyndon B. Johnson
By LaVida Davis
If I told you that Christians across the country intend to send thousands of letters to Congress this year, would you say Count me in?
If I told you that with enough of those letters we can make Congress act on behalf of the 16 million food-insecure children in the United States, would you say How can I help?
This year, Congress is reauthorizing the child nutrition act. Programs that feed our nation’s kids are at stake.
During February's national grassroots conference call and webinar, we will be talking about the 2015 Offering of Letters: Feed Our Children. Join us next Tuesday, February 17, at 4:00 p.m. (ET).
- Hear about techniques and resources for hosting an Offering of Letters in your church, campus, or community.
- Learn about our nation’s child nutrition programs and what improvements Congress can make to ensure that children get the meals they need so they can learn, be healthy, and grow strong.
- Find out which members of Congress are on the key committees and what our experts think the year ahead will bring.
To learn about these issues and have all your questions answered, register now and join us next Tuesday, February 17 at 4:00 p.m. (ET).
For every child who sits in a classroom too hungry to concentrate, we need Christians to stand up and advocate for them.
Are you in?
LaVida Davis is the director of organizing and grassroots capacity building at 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 February 15-21: Italy, Malta, Portugal, and Spain
Lord, we are thankful for the early Christian monuments in Italy, Malta, Portugal, and Spain that drew pilgrims from around the world to deepen their faith and heal their spirit. We are thankful for the early history of Christianity that inspires millions each year to renew their faith and their call to serve you.
We pray for an end to violence and for peaceful resolutions to conflicts such as those found in the Basque region of Spain. We pray for your wisdom and guidance in dealing with immigration issues, ensuring that the sanctity of every life is never forgotten and that animosity towards foreigners is pacified by your love.
We also pray for your help in the fight against not just physical poverty but a poverty of the soul. We know that that power of the spirit is not revealed in the thunder of the gale nor in the dread of the earthquake but through a small voice. We pray to be that voice that renews the spirit of the church amid an increasingly secular society. Amen
Percentage of the population of these countries living below the national poverty rate (below 50 percent of median income):
Italy: 12.6 (2011)
Malta: Not available
Portugal: 11.9 (2011)
Spain: 15.1 (2011)
Source: Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development.
Dominic Duren, a returning citizen, with his son Dominic Jr. in the basement of St. Francis de Sales Parish in Cincinnati, Ohio. Duren is assistant director of a re-entry program at the church. Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World.
Editor’s note: The term returning citizens is the preferred way in the advocacy community to refer to people who have been released from prison.
By Bread staff
Hunger and poverty are issues that can profoundly affect the lives of those returning to their communities after serving prison time. For many, the resources they need to stay out of poverty are no longer available because of their prison record.
As an organization committed to ending hunger, Bread for the World will track several key pieces of legislation this year connected to the issue of mass incarceration.
The first of these bills was introduced on Wednesday by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas). The Corrections Oversight, Recidivism Reduction, and Elimination Costs for Taxpayers in Our National System (Corrections) Act would offer incentives and programs to help the incarcerated not offend again once they leave prison.
The bill would also put in place measures to reduce the nation’s prison population. The population in federal prisons alone has increased from approximately 25,000 in 1980 to nearly 216,000 today.
“We agree with the senators that when inmates are better prepared to re-enter communities, they are less likely to commit crimes after they are released. This is an important step in addressing the mass incarceration problem that perpetuates cycle of hunger and poverty,” said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World.
The legislation would allow certain low- and medium-risk offenders with exemplary behavior to earn time off their sentences by participating in recidivism-reduction programs, including drug counseling or vocational training.
This type of help is important given the fact that returning citizens often find life outside prison walls difficult to navigate. Many states still enforce lifetime bans on non-violent drug offenders for safety-net programs, such as SNAP (formerly food stamps) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). These programs are vital for job-hunting returning citizens in rebuilding their lives.
Part of Bread’s work this year will include getting these bans lifted and ensuring people who qualify for these vital programs have access to them.
“While this bill is a good step, Congress must also address the larger issue of sentencing reform,” Beckmann said. “In addition to ensuring that prisoners have access to the skills they need to properly re-enter society, we must reexamine lengthy and inflexible mandatory sentences imposed on low-level, non-violent offenders, and implement alternatives to imprisonment where appropriate.”
Bread plans to continue its work around the issue of mass incarceration – highlighting whenever possible its impact on hunger and poverty. Keep following the Bread Blog for updates.
By Larry Hollar
The old adage says, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” In today’s fast-paced, changing world, sometimes we’re tempted to think that being the latest and most high-tech is best.
Sometimes we have to think again.
Over the 21 years I’ve worked as a Bread for the World staff organizer, we’ve seen amazing advances in the way Bread, through its members and activists, work to end hunger. With emails, Facebook, Twitter, blogs and much more, we communicate instantaneously with members of Congress and other activists. Scads of information appear when we enter a few words in a search engine and click.
But some techniques we used when Bread first opened its doors more than 40 years ago—like hand written letters—still work powerfully in engaging advocacy in churches and campuses and in shaping congressional opinions. Skeptical? Read on.
Year after year, members of Congress and their staffs tell us letters work. Just a few letters can get a Bread issue on a staffer’s radar screen. Sadly, few Americans take time to write thoughtful, responsible opinions about pending issues like Bread members do. Hill staff regularly commend our members for the quality of their letters.
You’d be surprised how much impact letters have. Years ago a congressional staffer called and asked me to get just 6-10 letters from their district so she could take a Bread issue before her boss to inform him of our position. She had missed getting our letters that year—and held me accountable for making sure Bread members’ views were available to the congressman. That’s why organizing letter-writing in your church each year makes great sense—and why every letter matters.
Letters help motivate people to advocate together. In church basements, college dining halls, youth retreats, women’s groups or adult education classes, I’ve witnessed writing letters have an authentic and even spiritual quality. From the youngest child who can draw and write to the oldest “pillar of the church,” we can take pen (or crayon or marker) to paper and make a difference. I’ve seen the faces of congressional staff light up and heard an amazed “wow” come from their lips when they’re handed a stack of letters from children and adults. That’s impact that lasts.
Last week, Bread launched the 2015 Offering of Letters: Feed Our Children. Online and in printed copy, all the tools you need are ready for you to write your own letters and organize others to write theirs.
Don’t delay! Congress soon will start shaping the budget and key policy legislation that determines whether our nation’s children have enough food to grow strong and healthy.
New and returning members of Congress worry about deficits and sequestration and wonder which programs deserve their support. Congress wants to know what folks back home are feeling. Your letters could be just the thing to touch minds and hearts on Capitol Hill so members of Congress can say, “My constituents want this. And so do I!”
Larry Hollar is a senior regional organizer for Bread for the World, based in Dayton, Ohio.
Photo: Bread for the World.
By Krisanne Vaillancourt-Murphy
Mass incarceration is a hunger issue. Our country’s imprisonment of its citizens at record high levels traps the incarcerated, their families, and whole communities in a cycle of hunger and poverty.
On Thursday, Christians across the United States will participate in a national prayer vigil called #LockedinSolidarity, which is focused on mass incarceration. Bread for the Worlds partner, the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA), is spearheading the nationwide prayer vigil. The CCDA is a national network of Christians committed to seeing people and communities holistically restored.
The prayer vigils are a “time of lament, hope and stories as we seek the Lord regarding a Christian response to mass incarceration” said Michelle Warren, CCDA’s advocacy & policy engagement director. The purpose of the prayer vigils is to raise awareness about mass incarceration, to acknowledge its effect on communities and the nation as a whole, to hear stories from families and community members affected by mass incarceration, and to pray in solidarity with the millions of people who are incarcerated.
At 11 a.m. on Thursday, Bread staff will participate in #LockedinSolidarity at its Washington, D.C., office. The CCDA has made available a map of nationwide prayer vigil locations. More details can be found on Facebook.
Bread has taken an interest in the issue of mass incarceration as it relates to hunger. Returning citizens are more likely to experience hunger and live in food-insecure households due to significant barriers to work, social services, and federal benefits. Bread is tracking several pieces of legislation expected to move through Congress this year, which could ease some of these barriers.
Prayer on Mass Incarceration
Almighty and ever-present God, we come before you moved by your claim on our lives. Yet we are disturbed to see how our brothers and sisters labor and struggle in prison. We see how our brothers and sisters are challenged, their futures placed at risk, and dignity trampled by the system of mass incarceration.
Still, we have hope, as we incline our hearts and minds to your love and instruction.
We pray for your wisdom and power as we re-commit to being instruments that seek to be restorers of brokenness. Use us as instruments to restore broken hearts, broken families and broken communities, and the broken incarceration system of our nation.
We offer special prayers for the millions of our children in the United States who have family members, related kindred who are incarcerated. We pray for our families who are separated, who are filled with tiring anxieties, depleting financial resources, and lack food to feed their families. For this is often the reality of those caught in the web of incarceration.
All-powerful and merciful God, we recognize that you are at work calling us anew to lead our nation from this destructive path.
May your Holy Spirit open our hearts, minds, and actions to defend the dignity of our families from the life-long trauma that mass incarceration presents to each of us
and the communities will live in.
May you continue to walk with us and lead our steps.
Krisanne Vaillancourt-Murphy leads national evangelical church relations at Bread for the World.
By Alyssa Casey
In some parts of the country, it’s hunting season, but here in Washington, the release of President Obama’s budget request for fiscal year 2016 signaled the start of budget season. The president’s budget lays out his priorities and serves as a roadmap for what the administration would like to accomplish in the next year. For a quick refresher on the budget process and timeline, see Bread for the World’s budget resources.
A piece of good news is that the budget contains strong funding and policy proposals to fight domestic hunger. This is promising since Bread is focusing its 2015 Offering of Letters: Feed Our Children on ensuring that Congress reauthorizes the nation’s child nutrition programs.
What’s in the budget:
Tax credits: President Obama proposes making the 2009 improvements to the earned income tax credit (EITC) and child tax credit (CTC) permanent. The 2009 improvements allowed the EITC and CTC to reach more families and individuals working low-wage jobs, helping them put food on the table.
Child nutrition: The budget includes $67 million for pilot summer feeding programs, which help close the hunger gap during summer, when many children lack regular access to meals. The budget also includes kitchen equipment grants for schools that struggle to provide healthy meals to students due to outdated or lack of kitchen equipment.
Mass incarceration: President Obama wants to expand reentry and recidivism-reduction programs, including $110 million toward increasing mental health staff and expanding residential reentry centers. These investments will help those who have paid their debt to society transition back into their communities and the workforce, therefore helping them avoid falling into poverty.
On international hunger and poverty, the president’s budget is more of a mixed bag, including food-aid reform provisions and funding to address hunger and poverty in Central America, but cutting nutrition funding and many humanitarian assistance accounts.
Food-aid reform: President Obama introduces new authority for emergency food-aid programs to use up to 25 percent of funds to purchase local food or provide vouchers or cash transfers. This flexibility would allow U.S. food aid to reach up to 2 million additional people. However, the budget funds the Food for Peace program at $1.4 billion, which is a $66 million decrease from last year.
Immigration reform: The budget request includes $1 billion to promote stability in Central America and address root causes of immigration such as hunger, poverty, and violence.
Poverty-focused development assistance: Poverty-focused development assistance totaled $28.1 billion, an increase of nearly $1 billion from last year. This total includes additional funds requested to address the ongoing Ebola crisis in West Africa. Funding levels for nutrition and Feed the Future both declined, as did disaster assistance funding.
Sequestration: President Obama’s budget replaces sequestration--the automatic spending cuts enacted in 2013 due to Congress’ inability to agree on a plan to address the federal debt--with a mix of spending cuts and revenue increases. Sequestration’s across-the-board cuts have been incredibly damaging to programs that help people who are hungry and poor in the United States and abroad. Restoring full funding to critical domestic and international anti-hunger programs would help millions of people currently fighting their way out of poverty.
As Congress reviews the president’s budget request and sets spending levels for the next fiscal year, urge your representative and senators to protect critical safety net and economic development programs. The funds for these programs help ensure the ongoing economic recovery reaches those around the world currently facing hunger and poverty.
Alyssa Casey is a government relations coordinator at Bread for the World.
It is a true injustice that nearly 16 million children (1 in 5) live in a family that struggles to put food on the table in the United States. Join us this year as we work to ensure that Congress reauthorizes our nation’s child nutrition programs.
Learn more about the 2015 Offering of Letters: Feed Our Children. Order an Offering of Letters kit, or visit the OL website where you can find downloadable resources in English and Spanish. For more information about how you can host an Offering of Letters, contact your regional organizer today.
Get updates on issues and actions to take on behalf of hungry people.