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

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.

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