Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

197 posts categorized "Social Justice"

Faith Happens Outside the Church Walls - Not Just on Sunday Mornings

By Rev. Tanya J. Denley

As a young-adult volunteer in mission in Cleveland, Ohio, almost 20 years ago, I saw in the actions of my supervisors at Noble Road Presbyterian Church that faith wasn’t just a thing that happened on Sunday mornings. Instead, it was lived out in the community around the church each every day. Tanya-denley

Today I live in Baltimore, Md. As a chaplain in an urban Catholic-affiliated hospital and a parish associate at Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church, I continue to see the need for faith to be active in the community around the church.

Baltimore is unlike any city I've ever lived in. It’s small, although in 2012, for the first time in 60 years, the population increased. The city is poor — 25 percent of its residents live below the poverty line — and overwhelmingly Black — 64 percent of the population. Drive through most parts of the city, and you’ll see row houses that are burned out, boarded up, and falling down. The poverty is apparent even in downtown. The stately, 115-year-old Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. courthouse is covered in netting to protect pedestrians from falling pieces of the building.

Dickey Memorial Church is located on the west side of Baltimore, not far from Sandtown-Winchester, where Freddie Grey was born, raised, and died after being held by police. The church is not far from Mondawmin, where young people took to the streets to express their frustration — and community leaders, clergy, and residents hit the streets calling for peace.

One of the immediate concerns to the community surrounding Dickey Memorial is that our nearby school, Dickey Hill Elementary/Middle School, like many other schools in the city, has no potable water. The children at the school cannot drink the water due to the high lead content. Additionally, 89 percent of the students at the school are receiving free or reduced-priced lunch, which is critical because of the high prevalence of food deserts in Baltimore.

There is much need in the city. Some more statistics:

  • 1 in 5 Baltimore City residents lives in a food desert.
  • Nearly 1 in 4 of Baltimore’s school-aged children (0-17) lives in a food desert.
  • 1 in 4 of Baltimore’s African-American population lives in a food desert.
  • In a food desert, 1 in 4 households receives Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, twice the percentage of non-food-desert households.
  • 1 in 3 of Baltimore’s neighborhoods (36 percent) is located within a food desert.

There is good news, though. For over 35 years, the Baltimore faith community and, more recently, Dickey Memorial, have been working to make a difference in the communities around us. Church and community leaders in the area have joined with BUILD — Baltimoreans United for Leadership Development — to create better relationships with each other and to work for lasting change in Baltimore. The commitment for BUILD is a commitment to move the church out of the four walls of the sanctuary.

Dickey Memorial also supports Bread for the World each year. We understand that policy changes must happen on both the local and national levels. Protecting child nutrition programs is critical for children living in food deserts. The commitment to Bread is also a commitment to carry out our faith outside our church.

For me, this commitment comes from the understanding that as followers of Jesus we are to align our principles, our beliefs, and our lives with what God values, not with what the world values. We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves, to be willing to lay down our lives for our neighbor, to do justice, love God, and to walk humbly with God. This reorganization of priorities and aligning our lives with what God values is not always an easy process, nor is it a one-time event. It is something I must do and think about each and every day–and in a sense is a daily spiritual discipline.

Rev. Tanya J Denley, BCC is the oncology chaplain at Mercy Medical Center in downtown Baltimore. She also serves as Parish Associate for Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church in Dickeyville. In her spare time, she volunteers with Presbyterian Women's Anti-Racism Committee and writes on anti-racism and white privilege. She is married and has one cat.

Photo inset: Rev. Tanya J. Denley

'Calling for a Second Chance for Returning Citizens'

By Bread Staff

In Luke 15, Jesus tells the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Can we treat people leaving prison (often called "returning citizens") the way the father treats his returned son in that parable? When men and women pay their debt to society and acknowledge their crime, Christians should be the first ones to accept them back into society. Yet many returning citizens encounter barriers to a second chance, which often push them into hunger and poverty.

We, the people of God, believe in a resurrected Christ who offers us second chances (and third, and fourth ...). Let's be the loudest voice calling for a second chance for returning citizens. 14427922423_e18be7f1eb_o

Join us as we pray for:

   1. People facing long sentences for nonviolent crimes due to mandatory minimum sentences and other unjust sentencing policies. Also pray that they would be re-united with their families soon.

   2. Children whose parents are incarcerated, that they would receive the love and care they need to develop fully.

   3. Congressional leaders, particularly Sen. Chuck Grassley, that they would revise mandatory  minimum sentencing laws that hurt families and foster hunger.

Prayer both sustains our advocacy and calls for God’s continued action in this world. Will you join us and commit to pray for an end to hunger?

When you commit to joining in praying for the end of hunger, we will email you twice a month with specific prayer requests and sample prayers. 

"Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing." (1 Thessalonians 5:11) 

Virginia Church Welcomes All to 'The Table'

Shoppers at The Table food pantry at St. George's Episcopal Church in Fredericksburg, Va., looking at produce. Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World.

By Jennifer Gonzalez

Recently, I, along with Bread for the World's multimedia manager, Joseph Molieri, spent the day at a unique food pantry run by St. George’s Episcopal Church in Fredericksburg, Va.

We went to visit the food pantry as a way to see how the issue of hunger is addressed on the ground. Many of the churches Bread works with do a lot of work around feeding the hungry and poor. 

At most food pantries, the food is canned, boxed, or jarred, and clients are normally given a pre-assembled bag or box of food to take home. 

Not at St. George’s.

At The Table (the food pantry’s name) there are no clients, only “shoppers.” The food pantry is set up in a way that allows shoppers to choose their groceries like they would at a supermarket or an open-air food market. The food pantry is open every day, and shoppers can visit either in the morning or afternoon.

Unlike a more traditional food pantry, The Table offers shoppers fresh produce, such as potatoes, apples, oranges, squash, broccoli, pears, and onions. Fresh bread, such as rye and wheat, is also available. _X1A2041

The food comes from local farms, donations, and the local food bank. St. Gregory’s also gleans from other places, such as convenience stores, for food they can provide, such as sandwiches.

Started in 2012, The Table is the brainchild of Rev. Deacon Carey Chirico, director of outreach ministries at St. George’s. She wanted to create a space where struggling people could shop for food with dignity and respect.

“It’s very much our belief that when we come forward to receive the Eucharist as Episcopalians, we are setting down all our own assurances,” Chirico said. “We are setting down any privilege we have. That there is nothing that makes us unique in receiving this beautiful, beautiful gift. So we try to do the same thing at The Table – approach each other on a person-to-person basis.”

“We’ve tried to really let go of ‘we have, you don’t; we give, you take,’” she said. “And we encounter each person as we are treated at the Eucharistic table.”

The uniqueness of St. George’s food pantry was not lost on me. When I left St. George’s that day, I wondered if there were other food pantries doing the same thing. I got my answer last week when I came across a New York Times article that focused on this idea of the “customer choice pantry” and how some food pantries across the country were converting to this new standard.

The idea is rooted not just in providing dignity to the shopper, but also offering more nutritious food, such as fresh fruits and vegetables. A lot of the packaged food given out at food pantries is not healthy.

This is important given the fact that many families who utilize food pantries are already facing health issues. In fact, 58 percent of households who use food pantries nationwide have a family member with hypertension, and more than 30 percent include someone with diabetes, according to Feeding America.

Historically, St. George’s food pantry began as an emergency food pantry – giving grocery bags filled with food to families in crisis. But Chirico said that set-up really wasn’t working. “We realized that we were not meeting a lot of people’s needs. We were not giving them food that was culturally appropriate or nutritionally sound.”

And so The Table was born after the church found out that people really enjoyed picking vegetables from a garden the church had started. Today, a shopper leaves the food pantry with an average of 25 lbs. of groceries – 60 percent of which Chirico hopes is fresh produce.

“Our goal is to improve the quality of the food people are getting, the quality of the experience they are getting, and invite them to come back every week,” Chirico said.

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

Photo inset: Fresh produce is a staple at The Table food pantry at St. George's Episcopal Church in Fredericksburg, Va. Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World.



Young Hunger Leaders United Through Bread for the World

By Patricia Bidar


Over the past decade, Bread has brought together hundreds of young leaders. Through the Hunger Justice Leadership training program, these young people are equipped to work to change the policies and conditions that allow hunger to persist. As with many Bread gatherings, these trainings in Washington, D.C., have resulted in some fruitful partnerships.

One is a serious partnership — the marriage of Terrance and Kiara Ruth, who met at the 2010 Hunger Justice Leaders training. Just over a year ago, their son, Miles, was born.


Both Terrance and Kiara were speakers at the 2015 Bread for the World Convention in mid-April in Raleigh, N.C., where the couple lives. The gathering galvanized over 200 people from throughout North Carolina and generated 223 letters to members of Congress.

Kiara feels God brought Terrance and her together. "The Hunger Justice Training was the first time anyone in my family had ever been on a plane," she remembers. "Few from my African Methodist Episcopal church back home have ever left Arkansas."

"Terrance and I were assigned to the same work hub," Kiara continues. "Over the course of days, I saw his selflessness and his passion for justice. We were assigned to sit together at the culminating dinner the night before Lobby Day. Our tablemates all assumed we were a married couple."

At the April convention in North Carolina, Kiara spoke about her family's struggle. As a teen growing up in Arkansas, she and her family turned to a shelter to keep a roof over their heads. "Later, when we received food aid and were able to go to the grocery store — that was like Disneyland for us," she remembers.

Terrance grew up in Florida. His father was a military man; his mother, a nurse. After earning his Ph.D., Terrance became principal of AMIkids, a public high school for students who have been suspended from traditional schools. Ninety-five percent of the students qualify for free lunches. For many, that is the only meal they eat each day.

At the school, the day starts at 10:00 a.m., too late to provide free breakfast. So Terrace recruited a local donor to bring breakfasts to the school.

The school also has a garden to grow produce for students' families. At first, the students weren't taking the vegetables because they didn't know how to prepare them. Terrance and the teachers are now working with parents to ensure the vegetables are used.

Terrance writes a series of articles for EducationNC. The articles are framed as letters to Terrance and Kiara's son. The letters describe the reality of African-American students and express hope as Miles grows up. 

Kiara and Terrance worship at St. Paul AME Church in Raleigh. Terrance's faith inspires him to note that "Bread for the World's work is important because Scripture calls for it…Again and again, the Bible connects the holiness of God and food. Scripture correlates spirituality and nourishment. How can Christians possibly ignore hungry people?"

Kiara adds, "At the time I was participating in the Hunger Justice Leader training, my mother and my grandmother were both on food stamps. Bread for the World's work is much more than talking to elected officials about the hunger issue. We are here to do more than that. We are here to make something happen."

Kiara aims to keep her activism strong. "The more who join us, the more we can accomplish. And my job is to make clear to my congregation, my aunties and cousins, my neighbors, that they can help. Then change will happen. Lives will finally improve."

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

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

Photo: Kiara and Terrance Ruth with their son Miles. Photos courtesy of the Ruths.

Patricia Bidar is a freelance writer.

Lobby Day: A Bread Staffer Makes Her Voice Heard

Kierra Jackson (left), a Bread for the World staffer, talks with activists while staffing a Bread literature table during Bread's Lobby Day. Rick Reinhard for Bread for the World.

Editor’s note: Bread for the World’s Lobby Day is on June 9. Ahead of Lobby Day, Bread Blog chats with Kierra Jackson, a major gifts coordinator/development officer at Bread, about her experience attending Lobby Day.

Q. Why have you attended Lobby Day in the past?

A.  I’ve always been nervous about lobbying – afraid that I didn’t know enough and that what I could contribute to a conversation around food justice wasn’t significant enough. But then I met with Bread organizers who equipped us about the issues, provided us with the facts, and encouraged us to share our stories about how hunger had touched our lives, our families, our communities. I felt a sense of strength, purpose, and a feeling that I belonged in those Hill offices when I came equipped with anecdotes about those affected by hunger.

I’ve continued to attend Lobby Day because I want to debunk the myth that the men and women in Congress are inaccessible and that our voices don’t matter. They do. I also lobby each year to be reminded that those in office are public servants. They are in office to serve the wills and the needs of the people they represent.

I want to debunk the myth that the men and women in Congress are inaccessible and that our voices don’t matter. They do.

Q. What has your previous lobby day experience been like?

A.  Last year, I lobbied with a small group of folks from Washington, D.C. We met with staffers with the office of Eleanor Holmes Norton, a congressional delegate from the District of Columbia. Many people think that, because D.C. doesn’t have a vote, visiting with Holmes Norton doesn’t matter. But it does. She is currently in her 13th term and has professional relationships and friendships with those who do have a vote. She also has access to the president. So, her buy-in—when it comes to the issues Bread cares about—really matters because she has great influence.

Q. What do you like most about participating in Lobby Day?

A. My favorite part is the reception at the end. Bread provides time and space to present awards to members of Congress who have been champions for hungry people.  I also am grateful for time when we’re encouraged to share from our experiences. There’s always a lot of positive energy at that final debrief. I leave feeling so proud to be a Bread staff member, supporter, and a lobbyist on behalf of those who experience hunger.

Q. This year’s Lobby Day is focused on ensuring Congress reauthorizes the child nutrition bill. Why is lobbying on this issue important to you?

A. I’m an aunt, a child-birth doula, and a neighbor to many children on my block. When it comes to children, you can’t use the excuse that poverty is their fault. Adults are responsible for the well-being of children. Hunger causes physical and emotional stress. I believe that it’s my personal responsibility to help those around me – especially the most innocent and vulnerable – to grow, develop, and become their best. Supporting the child nutrition bill promises positive outcomes for so many children in this country. It’s advantageous to see successive generations thrive. I feel a personal responsibility to that end.

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

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

This blog post interview was conducted, edited, and condensed by Jennifer Gonzalez, associate online editor at Bread for the World.




Child Hunger: 'It is just sinful'

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

By Jennifer Gonzalez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overcoming Poverty Focus of Summit Led by Faith Groups

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

By Jennifer Gonzalez

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

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

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

On poverty:

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

On the effects of the free market:

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

On bridging gaps:

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

On the church and faith-based organizations:

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

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

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

'A Mercy Management System'

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

By Bread Staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Day of Prayer: 'Break The Strongholds of Evil...'

By Bread Staff

Today is the National Day of Prayer. The day of observance was enacted into law by Congress in 1952 and is celebrated by many faiths across the country.

We call on all of our Bread for the World members to observe the day with a special focus on injustice in our country. Last week, we saw the effects of lasting systemic injustice played out on the streets of Baltimore. Bread staff and advocates responded with pastoral care, called for peace, and spoke out about the needed reforms in our criminal justice system. 14406614634_1c1484f3cf_o

Today, over a week later, we take time to pause and pray for:

  • The city of Baltimore, that there would be healing and restoration, especially through the church.
  • Those unfairly punished by our criminal justice system, that they would be restored to full participation in society quickly.
  • For our nation and its leaders, that they would seek justice and peace.

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched your arms out on the Cross for our salvation, ending once and for all the reign of death. But Lord, today we feel the weight of sin and death in our world. Racism, poverty, and systemic injustice continue to deface your image bearers. We cry out to you, oh Lord! We ask for justice, reconciliation, and the flourishing of all people

Gracious God we know you care for each of your children. Give us eyes to see others as you do: with love and compassion. Break the strongholds of evil in our hearts, our communities, and this nation. Give fortitude, wisdom, and discretion to our leaders that they might seek the common good and serve the claims of justice.

We ask all of these things in the name of your Son, our savior, Jesus Christ.


U.S. Prison System: Designed to 'Recidivate Instead of Rehabilitate'

By Stephen H. Padre

Imagine paying your debt for committing a crime and serving your time in prison, only to face multiple barriers upon your release. Imagine not being able to get the job you wanted and finding few second chances.

LaShanna Tyson didn’t have to imagine it. For her, this was real life. LaShanna Tyson

In 1998, when she was 27, Tyson went to prison for taking part in a robbery. Her children were 6, 7, and 8 at the time. She served 13 years.

Today, she lives in Orlando, Fla., and works as a community organizer with Faith in Florida, fighting to restore the rights of formerly incarcerated people to ensure they don’t have to face the same barriers she did after prison.

Upon her release, she tried to return as a student to the college she had attended before prison. But she was told she would have to pay out-of-state tuition because she didn’t have a driver’s license. It needed to be current to prove her in-state residency—but it had expired while she was in prison.

“I could not get a job anywhere. Not McDonald's, Burger King, or any other place that I applied to would even give me an interview,” she said. “It was very depressing and discouraging to not be able to get a second chance.”

Tyson said that while she was in prison, her fellow inmates dreamed of “being a better mom to their kids, actually working two jobs, going back to school, and becoming a wife instead of a girlfriend.” However, she saw many of these women return to prison within a year of their release, often because they had to steal in order to feed and clothe their children. “Time and time again they would say that it was easier in prison – at least they could get a job,” she said.

She said she is thankful that her children were grown when she came home because there was no way she would have been able to care for them as children after prison.

And although she is also a licensed realtor, she still cannot rent her own apartment because she has been convicted of a felony.

“I am on a mission from God to ensure that all of his children are able to live free of these systems that are created to recidivate instead of rehabilitate,” she said.

In this week before Mother’s Day, Bread is asking its members to join Tyson on her mission.

Our nation’s laws put too many harmful restrictions on mothers and people like Tyson who have served their prison time. Without decent jobs, they are at risk of hunger. Bread is sending a Mother's Day card to Sen. Chuck Grassley, the powerful chair of the Judiciary Committee. He decides which criminal justice bills move forward and which ones don’t.

Sign the card and ask Sen. Grassley to allow sentencing reform to advance in the Judiciary Committee. Outdated, overly punitive, and unnecessarily restrictive drug sentencing laws hit women especially hard for low-level and nonviolent offenses, the card reads. Bread is urging Sen. Grassley and Congress to improve the policies and programs that help people returning from prison successfully reintegrate into society.

Stephen H. Padre is the managing editor at Bread for the World.

Photo inset: LaShanna Tyson.

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