By Margaret Tran
On a Wednesday morning in August 2015, roughly 100 clients gathered at Catholic Charities’ Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Community Center in Harlem to pick up their weekly bag of groceries from the food pantry.
But before the food pantry opened, Lizaura “Lizzie” German, a program manager at Catholic Charities, conducted an Offering of Letters.
Bread’s 2015 Offering of Letters: Feed Our Children is focused on ensuring Congress reauthorizes the child nutrition bill. The legislation is set to expire in the fall.
“In the U.S., 1 in 5 children struggles with hunger, and in New York City, it’s even worse at 1 in 4 children. We can write letters to Congress on their behalf,” German said. German is a Bread for the World Hunger Justice Leader. HJLs, as they are affectionately referred to at Bread, are young faith leaders and clergy who come together to form intentional partnerships and community with Bread to advance the work of ending hunger in our world.
As an HJL, German is determined to help Catholic Charities clients find their voices. She definitely made an impression on Susan La-Rose. La Rose was so moved by German’s plea that she leapt up to address everyone in the room.
“I am a single mother. We have to write to Congress for our kids,” she said. La-Rose sat down to a wave of applause as each client began writing a letter.
La-Rose has been coming to the community center for the past three years after she lost her job at the U.S Department of Health and Human Services New York regional office. She cares for her 9-year-old twin girls, Salanah and Hanalas. One daughter suffers from a seizure disorder that requires careful monitoring of what she eats. Their father has predisposed diabetes and is overweight.
Salanah and Hanalas are eligible for free- and reduced-price meals at school and in their after-school program. In both cases, the meals are provided by the federal child nutrition programs. Thus, La-Rose sees the importance of writing to Congress on their behalf.
“I’m writing a letter because of the effects of removing these programs to low-income individuals,” she said. “Without these programs, it increases the poverty issue deep in so many households, putting kids at risk in terms of education, nutrition, and economics.”
She continued to write as she spoke. “People who create policies don’t have to worry about their kids having enough milk or juice. It’s not their concern. It doesn’t touch them close to home.”
After finishing her letter, La-Rose started making her way through the food-pantry line, selecting milk for her daughters. She adjusted her cap adorned with a Michelle Obama button.
“I like to have positive black female role models around the house. I just want more for my girls,” she said.
Margaret Tran is a regional organizer at Bread for the World.
Photo: Susan La-Rose selects milk for her daughters at the food pantry at Catholic Charities’ Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Community Center in Harlem as volunteer Gregorio Cepeda looks on. Margaret Tran/Bread for the World
We have to write to Congress for our kids.