Wanna feed 2 million people – or even 9 million – in less than 10 minutes?

If so, all you have to do is read a little and add your name to a letter. Sometimes advocacy is just that simple.

Illinois residents (along with those of Alaska, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Washington, Wisconsin, and West Virginia) have an opportunity – I would even say a duty – to influence legislation currently being considered in the Senate Commerce Committee that, if passed as is, takes away food from 2 million hungry people. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin is on that committee. Senator Durbin needs to hear that we, his constituents, want Section 318 out of the final version of The Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014. Why? From Bread for the World:

Section 318 increases shipping restrictions for U.S. food aid, and makes our food aid less efficient, increasing shipping costs by more than $75 million per year. The additional cost would be taken directly out of our nation’s food aid programs—literally out of the mouths of 2 million men, women and children. Both U.S. taxpayers and hungry people would lose from this unjust provision.

Additionally, a bipartisan bill, The Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014, was introduced this week. If passed it could feed up to nine million hungry people by making U.S. food aid more efficient. The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society joined several other organizations supporting this bill, asking for it to be passed quickly.

With help from our friends at Bread for the World, each of us can raise our voice with and for hungry neighbors just by adding our name to a single letter which will be delivered to our Senators and Representatives on June 10. (Full text of the letter is also below.)

Will you join me in signing this letter and thereby work to change food aid systems so they feed more people?

Check out the video below for a great song to accompany some justice advocacy. (H/T to Patti Cash for bringing this song to my attention.)

 


June 2014

Dear Sen. Dick Durbin, Sen. Mark Kirk, and our respective U.S. representatives:

As religious leaders across Illinois, we answer the call to help our neighbors in need. Our faith communities are globally engaged, and we know U.S. policy plays a critical role in addressing human needs and fostering global development. Our faith compels us to support policy reforms to our nation’s international food aid that would enable us to:

* feed millions more hungry people,
* deliver life-saving food more quickly,
* support vulnerable communities in becoming self-sufficient, and
* better utilize taxpayer dollars.

Reforming U.S. food aid is the right thing to do from both a moral and a fiscal standpoint. It is also in America’s self-interest, as it would do more to foster peace, stability and goodwill toward our nation and would support the development of new trade partners and consumers for U.S. products.

As you debate legislation and cast votes in Congress, we ask you to keep poor and hungry people at the forefront of your heart and mind, and we ask you to support the following reforms to our international food aid:

1. Improve flexibility and efficiency, so we can more effectively respond to hunger.
2. Enhance nutritional quality, so vulnerable populations (such as very young children) receive what they need to thrive.
3. Protect food aid funding, so policy improvements lead to more lives saved.

We specifically ask you to cosponsor the “Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014,” from Sens. Bob Corker and Chris Coons. This bill will make our food aid more efficient, freeing up as much as $440 million annually and thereby allowing us to reach seven to nine million more people, in a substantially shorter amount of time. At a time when our budget is strained and 842 million people in the world are hungry, we must maximize taxpayer dollars by making our food aid as efficient as possible. Supporting the “Food for Peace Reform Act” is the prudent decision—both morally and fiscally—and we ask you to cosponsor this important legislation.

We also ask you to ensure “Section 318” of H.R. 4005, the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014, is not included in the final bill. Section 318, which increases shipping restrictions for U.S. food aid, would make our food aid less efficient, increasing shipping costs by more than $75 million per year. This provision would make our food aid less efficient, increasing shipping costs by more than $75 million per year. The additional cost would be taken directly out of our nation’s food aid programs—literally out of the mouths of 2 million men, women and children. Both U.S. taxpayers and hungry people would lose from this unjust provision, and it must be removed.

We look forward to staying in communication as you consider U.S. food aid, and we are praying for you as you make these and other critical decisions in the months ahead.

With hope,

 

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Hands, feet and voice

“If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?”

It was just a few weeks ago that we read in worship those words from James’ epistle.

This week Fred Clark wrote:

Why do the hungry suffer? For lack of food. Why do the oppressed and enslaved suffer? For want of liberation.

These are not, primarily, metaphysical puzzles for us to ponder. Such puzzles are also significant, but they mustn’t ever be confused for the most important, most urgent, or most obvious response to human suffering. Human suffering is cause for action — for individual and institutional and structural steps to relieve it and to prevent it. [read the rest]

“Supply bodily needs.” “steps to relieve and prevent suffering.” These are other ways of naming what we frequently call being the hands, feet and voice of Jesus in the world.

Over the next few weeks we here in Illinois have an opportunity – and I would say a responsibility – to live our faith, to embody our beliefs, to supply needs, to relieve and prevent suffering, to be the hands, feet and voice of Jesus in the world as we advocate with and for hungry and poor people.

This work is not new. The reasons for doing it are many.

Here’s what you and I can do right now, today:

1. Sign this Change.org petition to Senator Durbin to protect SNAP, WIC and tax credits for the working poor* in his work as part of the Gang of Eight**.

2. Make a pledge to support WUMC’s participation in Sleep Out Saturday. We’re raising awareness and raising money to fight homelessness in DuPage County.

3. Share a story. Do you or someone you know receive federal assistance, especially from SNAP? We heard again last week from Sen. Durbin’s office that he wants stories to support and personalize the importance of protecting these programs. We’re just looking for basic info (name, age, gender, church, community, family status, employment, etc.) and a sentence or two on how the benefits are used and why they’re important. Only first names will be shared if you prefer. Local Bread for the World advocates will deliver these stories to Sen. Durbin’s Chicago Loop office on Thursday, Nov. 1.

Here’s what you and I can do this Sunday, October 28:

4. Watch The Line in Fellowship Hall after second worship service and participate in the discussion. We are trying to model for our young people (and all of us really) that the church is a place to have real conversations about complex issues that matter. Can’t make it to WUMC on Sunday? Watch it now and find someone to talk with about it.

Here’s what you and I can do on Tuesday, October 30:

5. Participate in the state-wide Call-In Day to Sen. Durbin

  • Number to call: 1-800-826-3688. This number forwards to the Capitol Switchboard. Just ask the operator for “Sen. Durbin’s office.”
  • Sample message to deliver: “Thank you for being a champion for the needs of hungry and poor people in our community, in your work within the Gang of Eight (senators working on a bipartisan deficit-reduction plan). Continue to push the Gang of Eight to protect programs for hungry and poor people, especially SNAP and WIC for our neighbors here and foreign assistance for our neighbors abroad.”

Here’s what you and I can do on Saturday, Nov. 3:

6. Participate in Sleep Out Saturday at WUMC. Bring your sleeping bag, your blankets, and a desire to learn, share and grow.

Here’s what you and I can do anytime:

7. Pray

8. Learn more as we read, watch, listen, and converse.

9. Share all this with your networks.

Together we will be the hands, the feet, and the voice of Jesus in a hurting world.

What did I forget? What would you add?

*Why is this the responsible thing to do? Read The Myth of the Exploding Safety Net.
**Sen. Durbin is a member of the “Gang of Eight” bipartisan senators working to craft a framework that could pass the U.S. House and Senate and receive the President’s signature-­‐-­‐no easy feat, given the highly partisan climate in Congress and the conflicting views for how to best move our country forward. But most members of Congress do not want our nation to go over the “fiscal cliff” of simultaneous funding cuts and tax increases, which will happen soon if Congress does nothing. Yet despite this anxiety, the Gang of Eight is currently the only working group in Congress that could potentially reach a deal on a framework that can become law.

Deliberately making hungry people hungrier is unacceptable

That’s me with two ushers, Jay and Tim, saying a prayer of dedication for our Offering of Letters on April 29, 2012. Photo credit: Patti Cash

Note: This post was originally published on the Bread Blog.

Have you ever been hungry? I mean, Really. Hungry. As in no-food-in-the-house-and-no-resources-for-getting-more hungry?

I haven’t. Oh sure, there’ve been some months when expenses were bigger than income and I didn’t know how to pay some bills. But I’ve always had support – financial and otherwise – from my family when needed.

We all know that’s not the case for everyone. Right now:

  • 48.8 million Americans are at risk of hunger.
  • 15% of Americans – including more than 1 in 5 children – live in poverty.

Tragically, the House recently passed a budget that could make more Americans hungry.

That is unacceptable to me.

That is why the church I serve, Woodridge United Methodist, recently sent 100 letters to Senator Mark Kirk and Senator Dick Durbin urging them create a circle of protection around domestic nutrition programs vital to hungry and poor Americans, programs like SNAP and WIC.

I signed Bread for the World’s petition urging Congress not to cut SNAP for the same reason: deliberately making more people hungry – and making all ready hungry people even hungrier – is unacceptable. It is unacceptable to me as a father, as a pastor, as a Christian, as a human being.

I need my members of Congress to know that. So Senator Durbin, Senator Kirk, and Representative Judy Biggert will see my name on Bread’s petition. I hope your members of Congress will see your name as well.

To make up the gap created by those proposed cuts to SNAP churches and charities would need to do everything they’re currently doing to fight hunger…and come up with an average of an additional $50,000 each year!

$50,000!? I know our church does not have that kind of spare change sitting around. And I know that our friends at the West Suburban Community Pantry have already seen demand for their services increase sharply – from serving 750 families per month to 1200. That Pantry does incredible work in our community, feeding over 35,000 people last year, including over 15,000 children. They are maxed out too.

That’s another reason I signed the petition. I seriously doubt Woodridge has the resources to care for even more hungry people in our community.

I agree that budget deficits, especially at our current level, are unsustainable. But reducing our deficit by making hungry people hungrier is immoral.

The biblical witness is clear: as followers of God in the way of Jesus we are called to protect hungry and vulnerable people. We are called to speak with them. Signing this petition is a terrific, and let’s be honest, easy way to do exactly that.

Will you join me in raising your voice with and for hungry and vulnerable Americans?

Widening the circle

Yesterday I shared that I was one of over 4000 pastors who signed an open letter to President Obama and Congress regarding the current budget impass.

I am also one of over 500 people from across Illinois who signed a memo to our Senators, Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk. Today, Bread for the World activists delivered those memos to the Senators’ local offices. The memo reads:

MEMO

TO:    Senator Richard Durbin/ Senator Mark Kirk

FROM:    Your Constituents (enclosed)

RE:     Things to Consider Before You Vote

As you work to balance the federal budget and reduce the deficit, I want to make sure you know my priorities. The economic recovery is still too slow. One in six families in the United States struggles to put food on the table. And one in five people around the world lives on less than $1.25 a day.

I agree that we need to substantially reduce future deficits, but not at the expense of hungry and poor people. You must create a circle of protection around programs vital to hungry and poor people. As you debate how to balance our budget, I want you to keep the following questions in mind:

• Did I vote to protect vital programs needed by the most vulnerable people here and abroad in these difficult times?

• If I did not, what do I tell the men, women, and children who have been hit hardest?

Or ask yourself, “What would Jesus cut?”

I’m counting on you as my representative in Congress to do the right thing. As a voter, I care deeply about the 26,000 kids abroad who die daily because they are simply too poor to survive, and about the millions of people here at home looking for work and trying to make ends meet.

Hunger has never been a partisan issue. Now is not the time to make it one. I’m interested in protecting hungry and poor people in these difficult times.

Thank you for listening.

Over 11,000 people from across the country have sent this memo to their members of Congress. I hope you’ll join us in creating a Circle of Protection with and around the most vulnerable among us.

In related news, Brian McLaren had a terrific Debt-Ceiling Dream you should read about.

How are you raising your voice?