On Monday, June 12, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack sat with 250 anti-hunger advocates and supporters assembled for Bread for the World’s 2023 Advocacy Summit: Power of Perseverance and said that good nutrition is essential for democracy: “All of these nutrition programs — we’re all beneficiaries when people eat healthy. We have less health care costs. We’re beneficiaries because kids work better and they become more productive citizens and workers. We’re better off because we have a stronger democracy.”
With that vision for a nation of well-nourished people, the Secretary kicked off remarks and answered questions from the audience about the importance of making permanent summer EBT, helping farmers address climate-related challenges, and making sure that everyone who is qualified for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is able to access it. His remarks were reinforced by an understanding that these policies are about people. About community. That policy matters because each of us matters, and the way we can build better communities is through better policy.
Secretary Vilsack was born into a Catholic orphanage. He said that no matter how alone he might have been – he never was really alone. He was always fed. And that mattered.
The sense of gratitude that the Secretary conveyed for that childhood experience was noticed by the audience, most of whom are people of faith who came to Washington, DC, from districts and states whose national elected representatives sit on one of the six congressional committees central to hunger and food policies most active in Congress right now.
The audience included members of Bread’s grassroots Farm Bill Leadership team, advocates who contributed to listening sessions to develop Bread’s farm bill policy platform last year, board of director members, and Bread members and supporters – all people who are deeply engaged and committed to advocacy to end hunger.
On Monday afternoon, attendees learned about specific policies that Bread is advocating for in this year’s farm bill conversations. Congressman Don Davis (NC-1), vice ranking member on the House Committee on Agriculture (and a minister), spoke to the group about racial equity in U.S. farming. A couple of two-person panels – each with one policy expert and one community practitioner – shared perspectives on the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP) and nutrition assistance in Puerto Rico.
After morning briefings about food insecurity in Black and Brown Communities, participants in invitation-only events – the Pan-African Convening and Latino Consultation – met with Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08), Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, and Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (DC-06). The next day, Bread held a congressional briefing featuring Congressswoman Jenniffer González-Colon, Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, speaking about NAP to SNAP in Puerto Rico.
These political and policy briefings – in addition to legislative advocacy briefings led by Bread’s Government Relations and Organizing and Faith Engagement teams – informed the group in advance of Lobby Day. Bread anti-hunger advocates met with 171 members of Congress from 34 states and 104 congressional districts to advocate for hunger-centric laws and policies in the farm bill that would move our nation and world closer to the end of hunger.
Heading into these meetings, advocates were prepared not only with personal experience, foundation in policy, and thoughtful meeting agendas – they were also equipped with inspiration from the Word. Summit attendees were led in worship over the two days by Rev. Dr. Heber Brown, III, head of the Black Church Food Security Network; Pastor Lori Tapia, National Pastor for Hispanic Ministries for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); Rev. Nancy Neal, Bread Minister for Spiritual Formation and Wellness; and Min. Heather Taylor, Bread Managing Director.
Rev. Brown rallied advocates on Tuesday morning, before heading to the Hill, with a reminder that prayer is not only an action of the mind; but it is also with our actions in the world. If prayer is action, and action is prayer, then what these advocates did on Capitol Hill that day in June was prayer, raised in collective voice, to end hunger.
Again and again the message was repeated: there is power in perseverance. It was spoken by Secretary Vilsack, who talked about the long-term work of nutrition in improving a nation; by Pastor Tapia who reminded us to not grow weary in doing good; and by Bread president/CEO Rev. Eugene Cho, who reminded the audience of the five years of dedicated Bread and partner advocacy on global nutrition that led to passage of the Global Malnutrition Prevention and Treatment Act.
“Perseverance means you show up. You’re present. You’re persistent. You have a goal in mind,” Rev. Cho told the audience in his opening remarks on the first day of the Advocacy Summit. “Persistence is possible because we know that God is alive. And that God calls us to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly. We know that justice isn’t a clothing accessory we wear when it’s fashionable but because, as Isaiah 61:8 declares, ‘I, the Lord, love justice.’” Rev. Cho said that in today’s cultural landscape of a short news cycle, ever moving from one thing to another, one event to another, one news item to another… we must choose to be persistent. It is not something that happens without intention. But when we make that choice, great things can happen.
It is heartening that so many anti-hunger advocates have made that choice, and in June came together to share their witness and desire for a world without hunger with our nation’s leaders. Pictures from the event are available here.