Listen: Interview with Ched Myers
Called to Action Against Hunger
Bread for the World got its start 35 years ago when 14 Catholic and Protestant leaders met in a church basement in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Rev. Art Simon was then serving as pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church.
Simon recalls that the group “felt strongly that a void needed to be filled. Next to nothing was being done to challenge Christians to use their voices to end hunger.”
Like their father, Art Simon and his brother, the late Sen. Paul Simon, were committed to public service and social justice. Martin Simon spoke publicly against the World War II internment of Japanese Americans.
The poverty Rev. Simon saw as a pastor on New York’s Lower East Side also fed his determination to launch a citizens’ movement against hunger. The goal was straightforward: use the power of many voices to press elected leaders for solutions on hunger and poverty issues.
Bread for the World’s first Offering of Letters generated 100,000 letters seeking to persuade Congress to pass a Right to Food resolution. The resolution passed in 1975. From the beginning, Offerings of Letters boosted the idea that citizen advocacy could move our nation’s leaders to act.
As Bread for the World celebrates 35 years, Simon recalls some of his favorite moments. In 1984, even in the midst of a downward trend in U.S. overseas assistance, Congress established a $25 million Child Survival Fund, thanks to Bread’s Offering of Letters campaign.
And at the turn of the millennium, Bread members persuaded Congress to act to reduce the unsustainable burden of debt of many poor countries, as we “proclaimed Jubilee.” In the end, 20 donor countries, along with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, forgave debts of $69 billion, giving poor countries almost $4 billion each year for additional anti-poverty initiatives.
“The same passion—for ordinary people bringing about real change—still fires our successes today,” Simon says. “My wish for Bread at 35 is that we continue to grow, drawing increasingly from the church and beyond, and literally reshape the world’s landscape in terms of hunger.”
As Simon explains in his forthcoming book, The Rising of Bread for the World, “My experience is one I have heard Bread members from all over the world express again and again: ‘God laid the suffering of hungry people on my heart and called me to do something about it.’”
He says that Christians must see that using their influence as citizens to overcome hunger is an urgently needed expression of faith and love. The ability to do so “is a gift from God, and a powerful way to help folks who are hurting.”
In 1990, Rev. Art Simon received a presidential award for lifetime achievement against hunger. Now retired and living in Maryland, he recently completed his 6th book, The Rising of Bread for the World, to be released this spring. Simon looks forward to talking with attendees at a kick-off reception and book signing during Gathering 2009.