Bread activists hit the halls of Congress

June 8, 2016
Bread for the World's 2016 Lobby Day. Bread for the World photo

By Jennifer Gonzalez

Over 300 faithful advocates convened on Capitol Hill yesterday as part of Bread for the World’s annual Lobby Day. They took their message of ending hunger and poverty directly to the offices of senators and representatives and asked them pointedly to:

Bread activist Joyce Rothermel of Pittsburgh, Pa., who started her meeting with Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) with a prayer, got teary-eyed when speaking to the senator about supporting the Global Food Security Act. If passed, the legislation would make the U.S. food and nutrition-security program, Feed the Future, permanent. Doyle said he would approve the measure when it comes to the House floor for a vote.

The bipartisan Global Food Security Act would help hungry nations develop smart, long-term agriculture programs so they can independently meet the nutritional needs of their people. Many of these programs would focus on activities that directly improve the nutrition of women farmers, their families, and their children.

Rothermel was joined by two other Bread activists in her meeting with Doyle: Jennifer Lawer, a sociology professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, and Melissa “Roses” Laughlin.

Probably one of the youngest activists Bread has ever had was 6-year-old Toren Rhyne of North Carolina, whose birthday wish was to visit Bread’s office and lobby on behalf of hungry and poor people. He came with a large group that met with staffers from various congressional offices including the office of Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).

Roger Thurow. Bread for the World photo

Beginning with worship

Before the hundreds of Lobby Day participants scattered among the several congressional office buildings on Capitol Hill for their scheduled meetings with their elected officials, they were brought together and fed - physically and spiritually - and informed about the issues they were to talk about. Following a hearty breakfast, they gathered in the sanctuary of Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church for a combined time of worship, prayer, and issue briefing.

Roger Thurow, the author of a new book on one aspect of hunger, provided somewhat of a "keynote address" to the group. Thurow describes his current way of operating as "giving outrage and inspiration" as he tries to raise the world's consciousness about hunger as a former journalist. He noted during his talk how strange it is that the world, even with many types of progress in the 21st century, has brought "ancient, medieval suffering from the 20th century" in the form of hunger into modern times.

Thurow showed photos of people he had met in the course of writing his latest book and told stories about how they had been affected by malnutrition. Some, he said, had been helped by successful programs that help people get better nutrition.

Staff from Bread's government relations department provided overviews of the issues and facts that helped them advocate for specific legislation on their visits. In between, participants were reminded of their biblical mandate to speak on behalf of people who are hungery and poor through prayers, Bible readings, and song.

 

Bread for the World's 2016 Lobby Day. Bread for the World photo

Bread activists speak

Afterward, Bread activists made their way to the various Senate and House offices to meet with their members of Congress.

A large group from New York, led by Bread organizer Margaret Tran, met with a staffer from the office of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) During the meeting, Caroline Strange spoke about the need for the senator to support at least $230 million in nutrition in global health programs in fiscal year 2017 so mothers and children can survive and thrive.

Marg Ripley spoke about the importance of Congress passing a strong federal child nutrition program. One in five children in the U.S. live at risk of hunger, and for every six low-income children who receive a school lunch, only one gets a meal during the summer months.

“I’m a school teacher and I see how these programs help children,” Ripley said.

In the U.S., one in five children lives at risk of hunger. Yet the child nutrition reauthorization bill currently before the House of Representatives would potentially deny tens of thousands of eligible children access to the healthy meals they need to learn and grow.

A group from Oregon, including Bread staffers Robin Stephenson and Ryan Quinn, met with a staffer from the office of Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) both in person and virtually. Several people in Merkley’s Portland office were video-conferenced into the D.C. meeting via a large flat-screen TV.

In asking for Merkley’s support to invest in $230 million for nutrition in global health programs, one activist, John St. Laurent, said that “women and children are dying because societies, including our own, have yet to make the decision. We can’t solve this issue unless society doesn’t recognize that these lives are worth saving.”

Bread activist Angela Schafer of Plymouth, Ind., and her son Deacon met with a staffer from the office of Sen. Dan Coates, (R-Ind.). Also in the meeting was Bread staffer Angelique Walker-Smith, senior associate for Pan-African church engagement at Bread for the World.

Schafer said that her son, Deacon, is seven years old “but never stops eating.” Just like her son, other children should also be fed and it would be a “good investment on part of this nation.” Angela said that food programs are difficult to implement is less affluent areas such as Plymouth.  She also said that the faith community needs to come together to fight childhood hunger.

Bread for the World's 2016 Lobby Day. Bread for the World photo

Awards and testimony at reception

Lobby Day wrapped up with a reception and worship service at the Cannon Caucus Room in the Cannon Building. Four legislators were honored during the reception for their leadership on issues affecting hungry and poor people in the U.S. and around the world.

The honorees were Reps. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) and Kay Granger (R-Texas), and Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.)

The evening ended with several people coming forward and giving testimony about their day on the Hill. At times it was both moving and inspirational. Schafer told the crowd assembled, “I survived Lobby Day,” as she smiled broadly.

Kierra Stuvland, a major gifts coordinator/development officer at Bread, said that while technology is a great thing, human to human contact is still the best. “It really makes a difference and a real impact,” she said.

Yumi Ko, an intern, and Stephen Padre, managing editor, both in the communications department at Bread for the World, contributed to this article.

Bread for the World's 2016 Lobby Day. Bread for the World photo

From left to right, Bread activists Joyce Rothermel, Melissa "Roses" Laughlin, and Jennifer Lawer, meet with Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) as part of Bread for the World's 2016 Lobby Day.

Hunger is "ancient, medieval suffering from the 20th century."

Roger Thurow to Lobby Day participants

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