Member Profile: In the Beginning
Bread’s Founder Reflects on How the Organization Started
By Rev. Arthur Simon
As Bread for the World begins its 40th anniversary year, a host of treasured memories come flooding to my mind. Let me share a few of them with you:
The church and the people in the poverty-stricken neighborhood in New York City that became the birthplace of Bread for the World [Trinity Lutheran Church on the Lower East Side].
Our awareness in those early days that providing emergency assistance, though essential, did not get at the underlying causes of hunger and poverty.
The discovery that almost nothing was being done to challenge Christians as citizens to use their influence on members of Congress for national action against hunger.
The group of faithful Christians (seven Catholics and seven Protestants) who served as an informal "think tank" to explore the idea of a "citizens lobby" against hunger.
All of these things led us to our vision of a faith-based, politically nonpartisan movement that might mobilize people in every state and congressional district to serve as an outcry for action by Congress on specific measures to reduce hunger here and abroad. From the start, we made the decision to anchor our work in the Gospel of God’s providential care and saving love in Jesus. And we decided to help people link their faith in Christ with our stewardship as citizens in order to obtain justice for hungry people.
It seemed a simple and obvious way of following Jesus. But it also seemed a gamble. Would it work? Some told me it would not work, that Christians are wedded to direct aid only. They said a response that moves into the political arena would press a button too hot to touch. Stick to Band-Aids, they advised.
We prayed for wisdom and invited God's blessing, then decided to launch Bread for the World nationally. We were full of hope but also prepared for possible failure. To our astonishment, an initial mailing brought in several thousand members, and Bread for the World was off and running.
Our first major initiative, a Right to Food Resolution, was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Republican Mark Hatfield (Ore.) and in the U.S. House of Representatives by Democrat Don Fraser (Minn.). At first, no one paid any attention. Then folks like you began to write, and churches across the country joined the campaign. Members of Congress began hearing from their own voters—first a few letters, then dozens, then hundreds. The Right to Food became a lively issue that attracted the support of religious leaders and the press. And after vigorous debate, Congress passed it.
The campaign for the Right to Food brought us thousands of new members and showed that a relatively small number of citizens could wield influence way out of proportion to our numbers — and get Congress to take action against hunger.
Forty years later, Bread for the World members are still at it. Thanks to you, our efforts to end hunger have been blessed beyond measure. And again thanks to you, Bread for the World’s future looks even more promising.
Rev. Arthur Simon is the founder and president emeritus of Bread for the World.
CELEBRATE BREAD'S ANNIVERSARY WITH US: Plan to join us June 9 to 10 in Washington, D.C., to celebrate our 40 years of working together to end hunger. There will be a 40th anniversary dinner on Monday evening, June 9, and our annual Lobby Day on June 10. More details will be provided at www.bread.org/40 as they become available.
Photo: Matt Newell-Ching/Bread for the World