Illinois faith communities asked their candidates: What will you do to end hunger?

November 9, 2016
Zach Schmidt, center, with Bread for the World members dropping off postcards at the campaigns. Zach Schmidt/Bread for the World.

By Zach Schmidt

Jennifer Deleon’s compassion for others did not end when her job did. 

Earlier this year, Deleon was laid off from her position as director of government relations for Lutheran Social Services of Illinois. “Even though I’m no longer in the role of doing that work, I still think it’s important to continue to advocate for those whom Jesus referred to as the least of our brothers and sisters,” she said.

On Oct.13, Deleon joined a diverse group of faith leaders in Chicago. The Bread for the World sponsored event brought leaders together to lift their voices with poor and hungry people in the U.S. Senate race between Tammy Duckworth (D) and Mark Kirk (R). The aim was to mobilize a constituency within the faith community who could pressure both candidates to publically speak about their plans to end hunger and poverty.

Duckworth unseated Kirk in last night’s election.

The stories that Deleon and others shared that day at Old St. Patrick’s Catholic Church made it clear what was at stake in the 2016 elections and why hunger needed to be a high priority for Illinois’ members of Congress.   

Deleon told the faith leaders that losing her job was difficult but not the greatest tragedy of her story. “What’s even harder and sadder is about 5,000 people who now are without services in the state of Illinois,” she said.

Due to Illinois’ ongoing budget crisis, Lutheran Social Services of Illinois had to shut down about 30 programs and lay off 750 people earlier this year. The loss of the programs has been devastating for the already stressed Chicago community. The poverty rate ($24,250 for a family of four) in the state is nearly 14 percent.

Deleon currently volunteers for the social ministry outreach in her congregation, Trinidad Lutheran Church in Humboldt Park. They host a free community meal for families that are food insecure. Trinidad’s program has been growing because with the cuts to the state budget, the social services that had been provided in her neighborhood were closed. “We have a lot of folks coming in for meals who really need drug addiction counseling, prevention, rehab,” Deleon said. “We have folks who were formerly incarcerated who cannot find jobs, no matter how much job training they have.”

Churches across the state are struggling to cope with need. Simply put, they can’t do it alone. The federal government can provide a framework in which states, local communities, churches, businesses, and families can work together to end hunger. The next senator representing Illinois will vote on policies that can strengthen that framework.

In the month that followed, these leaders from the Oct. 13 gathering invited their congregations to sign over 1,000 postcards asking the candidates to make ending hunger a priority. 

On Nov. 2, Bread for the World hosted a second event at the historic First Church of the Brethren in Chicago, where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke on unjust housing in 1966. After the event, a group of participants delivered postcards to both campaigns.

Organized persistence paid off. Both candidates submitted written responses to Bread for the World on how they planned to end hunger. Both also committed to meeting with Bread activists again if elected.

Bread members will continue sharing stories like Deleon’s with our new senator, calling on her to listen, to respond, and to make ending hunger a priority.

Zach Schmidt is a regional organizer at Bread for the World.

Bread members will continue sharing stories like Deleon’s with our new senator, calling on her to listen, to respond, and to make ending hunger a priority.

from our Resource Library

For Education

  • The Nourishing Effect

    Hunger and food insecurity add at least $160 billion a year to U.S. healthcare costs.

  • Mass Incarceration: A Major Cause of Hunger

    Mass incarceration has far-reaching effects in the United States. It poses a significant barrier to ending U.S. hunger and poverty by 2030—a goal the United States adopted in 2015. But the connection is not always obvious.

  • Advancing Nutrition through Food Aid Reform

    The United States has long been a global leader in responding to humanitarian emergencies. Food assistance that includes nutritious food for pregnant women and young children is both a life-and-death matter for individuals and an economic imperative for countries.

For Faith

  • Unity Declaration on Racism and Poverty

    A diverse body of Christian leaders calls on the churches and Congress to focus on the integral connection.

    Dear Members of Congress,

    As the president and Congress are preparing their plans for this year, almost 100 church leaders—from all the families of U.S. Christianity—are...

  • In Times Like These … A Pan-African Christian Devotional for Public Policy Engagement

    This devotional guide invites deepened relationship with and among Pan-Af­rican people and elected leaders in the mission to end hunger and poverty.

  • Sermon by David Beckmann at Duke University Chapel

    Remarks delivered October 1, 2017 at Duke University Chapel in Chapel Hill in North Carolina.

    Thank you for inviting me to preach here at Duke University Chapel. And I especially want to thank the Bread for the World members who have come this morning.

    Bruce Puckett urged...

For Advocacy

  • Grassroots Advocacy Toolkit

    A set of how-to sheets for carrying out advocacy and fact sheets on the current issues Bread for the World is working on.

    For new and current Bread grassroots hunger activists.

    Ideal as a starter toolkit for new Bread activists or as a set of updates for current activists.


  • Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017

    Unnecessarily long prison sentences, combined with the lack of rehabilitative programs for people in prison, exacerbate hunger, poverty, and existing inequalities.

    Overly harsh mandatory minimum prison sentences have contributed to the rapid increase of our country’s prison population. The...

  • Health Care Is a Hunger Issue

    Learn more about the principles that Bread for the World supports regarding health reform.


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