Speaking for Those Who Can't Speak for Themselves: A Hunger Justice Leader Finds Her Voice
Forty-five percent of children in Ohio were eligible for the National School Lunch Program this year, but many of those children went without meals during the summer. That fact strikes close to home for Columbus, OH, speech therapist Shannon Schlagbaum, who works with children in the public schools. Shannon knows about the toll that hunger takes.
"It affects children I know and love," said Shannon, a member of Bread for the World since 2007.
Those children were prime motivators for Shannon to come to our nation's capital this June for training as a Hunger Justice Leader — along with 75 other young activists. The training, conducted by Bread for the World, steeped participants in the biblical foundations of anti-hunger advocacy and honed their skills in creative community organizing.
The workshops culminated in Lobby Day 2012, during which Hunger Justice Leaders joined other Bread activists to lobby their members of Congress on behalf of hungry and poor people.
"It was a wonderful experience," said Shannon, who is also a Sunday school teacher at Vineyard Church, a nondenominational evangelical congregation in Columbus. "I believe that by changing policies and programs, we can provide help beyond the community in which we live."
Shannon said that she became a Christian at the age of 18 and shortly thereafter interned at a homeless shelter. "To be a Christian is to help other people," she said. "It really makes sense for people who have enough to help people who are hungry."
"Bread for the World is very blessed to be working with such a thoughtful and authentic minister whose work to end hunger is so clearly driven by a deep and abiding faith," commented Jon Gromek, a regional organizer for Bread.
During her time in Washington, DC, Shannon met with staffers for her elected officials, Sens. Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown and Rep. Steve Stivers, lobbying them to protect the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) under discussion in the farm bill.
"I was nervous," said Shannon, "but I reminded myself that I’m not in here for myself." Shannon was empowered by the notion that the United States is governed by the people. "I'm qualified to be there simply because I am a U.S. Citizen," she said.
Back in Ohio, now a full-fledged Hunger Justice Leader, Shannon refused to rest. She immediately set up in-district meetings with Sen. Brown and Rep. Stivers. She said that one of the best aspects of those follow up meetings is that she had the opportunity to express gratitiude to Sen. Brown for getting the word out about SNAP and for supporting the summer lunch program that serves many of the children in her teaching district.
Shannon is also sharing the work of Bread for the World in her church community as well as leading efforts to form a Bread Team in Central Ohio.
"She is the true embodiment of a Hunger Justice Leader," said Jon Gromek.