Black community advocates for an end to hunger

Susan La-Rose, right, visits the food pantry at Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Community Center in Harlem. Margaret Tran/Bread for the World.

By Margaret Tran

While it is very common to celebrate individuals or organizations with national or international acclaim for Black History Month, Bread for the World understands and appreciates the importance of lifting up local efforts to end hunger and poverty in the black community too.

Organizing for Bread in Harlem, N.Y., has exposed me to a lot of local efforts to end hunger and poverty in urban communities. And more specifically, the African-American community, which is one of the most affected by hunger and poverty. The Lt. Joseph P.  Kennedy Community Center, managed by the local Catholic Charities in Harlem, works to end hunger and poverty in the African-American community every day through service and advocacy.

“Each day at the Kennedy Community Center is equal parts joy and tears,” said Deacon Rodney A. Beckford, the center’s director.  “Many come to ‘lay their burden down’, whether it be an impending eviction or a struggle with alcoholism.  But just as many come to dance, to shoot hoops, to be read to by their elders, and to celebrate the cultural treasure that is Harlem today.”

Spearheaded by a local pastor, Monsignor Cornelius Drew, and established in the mid-50s by Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of New York and the Kennedy family, the community center today provides services ranging from sports activities to cultural events to health education for adults and youth.

The center combats hunger and poverty in the local community by providing food to underserved residents through its food pantry. On-site case managers help clients sign up for SNAP, formerly known as food stamps.

The center also understands the importance of empowering underserved residents of Harlem by connecting them to advocacy. Lizaura German, a former program manager at Catholic Charities who facilitated the center’s food pantry, said, “Even though we say there’s no need to come early, there’s always people waiting for food an hour or two before the food pantry opens. While they wait, it’s a great opportunity to talk about how they can advocate to end hunger.”

In fact, over 100 residents, many experiencing hunger, participated in last year’s Offering of Letters to reauthorize the federal child nutrition bill. Seven months later, we can see and feel the difference that these letters had. President Obama and many members of Congress are now acknowledging the importance of child nutrition, especially in the summer months, when many low-income children are unable to access food.

This kind of impact can happen when we have local organizations like the Kennedy Community Center working to empower people experiencing hunger to advocate for an end to hunger for millions of Americans.

Margaret Tran is a regional organizer at Bread for the World. Marlysa Thomas, domestic adviser for policy and programs for specific populations at Bread, contributed to this blog post.

Photo: Susan La-Rose, right, visits the food pantry at the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Community Center in Harlem, N.Y. Margaret Tran/Bread for the World.

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