Honoring Senator Bob Dole’s Anti-Hunger Legacy

December 9, 2021

The Honorable Robert J. Dole, conservative politician and outspoken anti-hunger advocate, passed away on Sunday, December 5, 2021, at the age of 98. Senator Dole represented Kansas in the U.S. Senate from 1969 to 1996. He is the former majority leader of the U.S. Senate, former Republican candidate for president of the United States, and Bread for the World member for more than 20 years.

“Today we mourn the loss of a true champion for people experiencing hunger,” said Bread for the World president and CEO Rev. Eugene Cho. “His support of anti-hunger programs has ensured tens of millions of children both in the United States and around the world receive the nutrition they need to learn and grow. Senator Dole has undoubtedly changed history for the better.”  

As longstanding members of the Senate Select committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, Senator Dole and his colleague, Senator George McGovern (D-SD), developed the modern food stamp program (now called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP), which enables more than 42 million people each year to put food on the table; the School Lunch Program, which on an average school day provides low-cost or free lunches to nearly 30 million children; and WIC, the Special Supplemental Food Program for Woman, Infants, and Children, which now provides more than 6 million pregnant women, new mothers, and young children annually with assistance buying healthy food and nutrition education.

Sens. Dole and McGovern also created the bipartisan McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program. The program funds school meal programs in 42 countries and equips leaders in-country to “graduate” and begin administering the programs themselves. School meals improve students’ ability to concentrate and learn, strengthen household food security, and provide an incentive for families to keep their children, especially their daughters, in school.

Sens. Dole and McGovern shared the World Food Prize in 2008 for their leadership in improving children’s nutrition. Though they were political adversaries, Senators Dole and McGovern put addressing hunger ahead of partisan politics. Seeing the human faces behind the statistics, they chose to bring their own humanity to anti-hunger leadership.

Sen. Dole realized that neither he nor Congress could end hunger alone. When Rev. Art Simon and Rev. David Beckmann, Bread for the World’s second president, published their book Grace at the Table in 1999, Senator Dole said, “Active citizens make our democracy work. For twenty-five years Bread for the World members have been a significant voice on behalf of hungry people.”

The senator has been a member of Bread for the World’s board of directors since 2001, in recent years receiving updates on Bread for the World’s work and sharing advice by letter. Rev. Beckmann notes that although Senator Dole was unassuming when it came to his own achievements, “He was really proud of what he had done to help reduce hunger in our country and around the world.”

Senator Dole’s ability to generate fruitful conversation and work in a bipartisan manner was a key factor in achieving transformative changes in U.S. policies that have impacted people living with hunger in America and around the world. In his book “The Rising of Bread for the World,” Bread for the World’s founder Rev. Art Simon tells a story about the time Bread for the World brought a group of farmers from different parts of the country to Washington to testify before the Senate Agriculture Committee about forming a grain reserve: “The farmers… clearly got the ear of committee members. An amazing discussion followed unlike any other congressional hearing I have ever attended. Committee members began talking informally to one another about the issue, engaging the farmers from time to time. [Senator Hubert] Humphrey (D-MN) and Senator Bob Dole (R-KS) began to exchange humorous quips that had everyone laughing. Within a few days after that friendly bipartisan hearing the committee approved the bill, and eventually so did the full Senate.”

Sen. Dole’s influence was felt by the administrations of several U.S. presidents – including Presidents Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Fold, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton – and he continued to advocate for policies and funding that reduce hunger after leaving office. In 2017, for example, he wrote a statement to the Washington Post saying he opposed then-President Donald Trump’s budget proposal that would have eliminated the McGovern-Dole school meals program.

“Because of his leadership on hunger issues, I am proud of the Senator’s long association with Bread for the World as a member of our board of directors,” said Bread for the World board chair Kate Pringle. “His legacy of civility, of finding a way to tackle one of our world’s most pressing and human challenges by reaching across the aisle and forming lasting solutions, is an inspiration.” 

Bread for the World is grateful for the senator’s faithful and persistent example of creating the political will necessary to end hunger. We are eager to continue his legacy of working to end hunger by seeking champions and working in a bipartisan manner to address hunger in our nation and around the world.

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