Activist in Action: Building a movement in Iowa

December 20, 2017
David Beckmann, President, Bread for the World

By Robin Stephenson

Bread leaders know that to build the political will to end hunger, we need to grow our grassroots base. When enough constituents in a state or district speak in unison, their lawmakers—who often have re-election foremost on their minds—listen and respond. To increase those constituent voices, leaders need to start at home.

In October, Iowa leaders Rev. Russell Melby and Stephen Panther used the World Food Prize event, which takes place each year in Des Moines, and a visit from Bread’s president, Rev. David Beckmann, as an opportunity to build an Iowa Bread team. To do so, they coordinated a house meeting.

A house meeting is a gathering of people for the purpose of building relationships, identifying common concerns, and stimulating interest in further involvement.  Sixty-five people came to the meeting held at St. James Lutheran in Johnston, Iowa.

“We thought we could piggyback off the World Food Prize event,” Melby said. “The house meeting created an environment to meet new people who were interested in ending hunger. Once we understood more of what they wanted, we could give them a place to plug in and affect change.”

Unlike a presentation, where speakers talk at an audience, house meetings are interactive and use shared stories as a way to identify interest and further engagement.

Matt Gross, interim co-director of organizing at Bread for the World, says house meetings are an effective way to grow Bread for the World. “People trust people,” he said. “Think about it: Many of us got involved in social justice because we had a passionate and committed friend who invited us to join them in this work.”

The meeting at St. James Lutheran began with a 20-minute speech by Beckmann and then the 65 participants broke into smaller groups and were given prompts—such as ‘why did you come’—to start conversations.

Gross said smaller groups are sometimes better but it depends on the circumstance. ‘The key elements of a house meeting are providing next steps—action people can take, like organizing an in-district meeting—and then following up,” he said.

Melby and Panther are now having one-on-one conversations with the participants.  They will host a conference call at the end of the year with everyone who wants to engage further.  The goal of that call will be to plan a collective action in 2018 that can influence their members of Congress around hunger issues.

Bread for the World is founded on the idea that we are more powerful together.  We have won victories for poor and hungry people in our 40 years of existence because people acted for a common cause. We must increase our numbers as we face a challenging future in our quest to end hunger and there is no better place to start than at home.

If you are interested in learning more about house meetings, contact your organizer or email

Robin Stephenson is senior manager for social media at Bread for the World.

To increase those constituent voices, leaders need to start at home.

from our Resource Library

For Education

  • Election Resources

    One of the best times to raise the issues of hunger and poverty is during election campaigns. Engage candidates in your state/district on hunger and poverty using our elections resources.
  • Racially Equitable Responses to Hunger During COVID-19 and Beyond

    By Marlysa D. Gamblin and Kathleen King

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as when a person or household does not have regular, reliable access to the foods needed for good health. Black, Indigenous, and Other People of Color (BIPOC) have historically had higher...

  • Fact Sheet: COVID-19 Global Pandemic, Better Nutrition Protects Lives

    With the coronavirus now spreading in low-resource contexts and new waves of infection expected in the coming year, better nutrition for vulnerable people is more important than ever.

For Faith

  • Finding Hope, Ending Hunger on Both Sides of the Border: A Bilingual Latino Devotional

    Devotional writers challenge us to feel the Spirit of God within us and to hear God’s urgent call to demand justice so all can put food on the table.
  • The Bible on Health as a Hunger Issue

    “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in faith.” These words from Colossians 2:6 remind us of the faith that is active in love for our neighbors.

    The Bible on...

  • Unity Declaration on Racism and Poverty

    A diverse body of Christian leaders calls on the churches and Congress to focus on the integral connection.

    Dear Members of Congress,

    As the president and Congress are preparing their plans for this year, almost 100 church leaders—from all the families of U.S. Christianity—are...

For Advocacy


African at Heart

November 22, 2019


From the Blog