Hunger

Finding God's Presence in the Midst of Hardship

Photo: Prayer circle, © Brett Jorgensen / Shutterstock.com
Photo: Prayer circle, © Brett Jorgensen / Shutterstock.com

Joey Ekburg, Executive Director of the North Park Friendship Center, was never one to mince words. “We pay almost twice the amount for food, and we have more clients than ever before.” It took awhile for the words to sink in and the math to play out in my head. I was never great at math, but the implications were pretty obvious.  

I looked over at the people sitting near the entrance, waiting to pick up food to make it through the week. I wondered what would happen if this food pantry were to run out of food or if the unthinkable were to happen — the Friendship Center suddenly shutting its doors. 

The Albany Park neighborhood in Chicago has served as an entry point for generations of immigrant families, including my own. Many of them come to America looking for a fresh start. Sometimes that search becomes reduced to finding a fresh meal. 

Values of a Public Faith (Part 2)

Paper Boat Creative / Getty Images
Paper Boat Creative / Getty Images

Editor's Note: This is part two of a three-part series from Dr. Miroslav Volf an a voice instructing us how to involve our values into our present politcal debates. To read part one go HEREFrom part one: 

In this year of presidential elections, I have decided to summarize key values that guide me as I decide for whom to cast my vote. ... 

6. The Poor

Value: The poor — above all those without adequate food or shelter — deserve our special concern. (“The moral test of government is how it treats people in the dawn of life, the children, in the twilight of life, the aged, and in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped” [Hubert Humphrey].)

Rationale: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the LORD your God” (Lev. 23:22). “There will, however, be no one in need among you, because the LORD is sure to bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a possession to occupy” (Deut. 15:4).

Debate: There should be no debate whether fighting extreme poverty is a top priority of the government. That’s a given. We should debate the following: How should we generate a sense of solidarity with the poor among all citizens? In poverty alleviation, what is the proper role of governments and of individuals, religious communities, and civic organizations? What macroeconomic conditions most favor lifting people out of poverty? What should the minimum wage be? 

Questions to Ask: Is overcoming extreme poverty (rather than fostering the wellbeing of the middle class) a priority for the candidate? For what poverty-reducing policies is the candidate prepared to fight?

 

A Lesson in Selflessness

Photo: Child sitting in the dust in  Attila JANDI / Shutterstock.com
Photo: Child sitting in the dust in Attila JANDI / Shutterstock.com

Peacemaking happens in many forms. Sometimes peace is offered to others, and sometimes given in unexpected ways.

It was early morning. The African sun had yet to rise above the mountains, and the sky was the soft yellow of newly shucked corn.

Beep, beep, sounded the horn on the old truck as it rumbled to a stop in front of my house. My old friends  Momadu, Madu, and Balamusa  greeted me with smiles, waves, and morning blessings.

We were on our way from Kenieba, a small town in western Mali, to Sitaxoto, a large village about two hours away over a broken dirt road.

A church was there, a little group of people who met each week outside under a big baobab tree to pray, study the Bible, share their stories and ask, How do we follow Jesus?

 

Food Assistance: A Helping Hand or a Poker Chip?

Food assistance programs have been helping millions of people get through the recession. With poverty remaining at record high levels, we should be grateful that these resources are available to protect families from hunger.

Unfortunately, some of our nation’s elected officials see it differently. New legislation (H.R 6518) introduced by Congressman Paul Broun and members of the Republican Study Committee targets some of the very programs designed to protect the most poor and vulnerable. Under the proposed legislation, six food programs administered by the federal government would be combined into a single block grant to states. 

Does that sound like Washington slang? What it means is that spending on food programs would be dramatically reduced, administration of these programs would be shifted to state governors, and benefit level would likely vary from state to state. Programs such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) and Emergency Food Assistance (TEFAP) would be threatened by this legislation.

Hungry in America

It’s the time of year when various government agencies release their reports for the previous year, in this case, 2011. The annual report on poverty is due from the Census Bureau next week, and, according to AP, early reports are that

“The ranks of America's poor are on track to climb to levels unseen in nearly half a century, erasing gains from the war on poverty in the 1960s amid a weak economy and fraying government safety net.”

This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its annual report on household food security. (If you want all the detailed statistical tables, here is the full report.) Not surprisingly, the results showed a growing number people in the U.S. going hungry. 17.9 million households (14.9 percent of households) were  “food insecure.” That means at some point during the year, those households did not have enough food due to lack of money. Of those, 6.8 million households (5.7 percent of households and one-third of all food-insecure households) had “very low food security.” That means at some point during the year, some household members went hungry. According to their answers on the survey, these folks reported that “the food they bought just did not last and they did not have money to get more,” and that “an adult had cut the size of meals or skipped meals because there was not enough money for food.”

It is hardly the time to reduce assistance to hungry families, but as McClatchy News noted,

“The survey data comes as congressional Republicans … push for massive cuts in food stamp-program funding to curb enrollment growth and to help balance the federal budget. The Democratic-controlled Senate also voted in June to cut food stamp funding, but by a smaller amount.”

Without programs such as SNAP (food stamps) school lunches, the Women, Infant and Children nutrition program; there would be many more food insecure families in America.

Here’s the data in a helpful infographic from McClatchy.

SNAP / Food Stamp Challenge, Day 4: Piatt FAIL

Rubber ink 'Failed' stamp, Dimitrios Kaisaris / Shutterstock.com
Rubber ink 'Failed' stamp, Dimitrios Kaisaris / Shutterstock.com

I don’t mind failing as much as I do admitting I’ve failed. And technically, we haven’t blown the SNAP Challenge just yet, but I know for a fact we will by the end of the week.

I went to the store last night for another loaf of bread and a frozen pizza for dinner, which I had promised my kids if they’d make it to mid-week without freaking out. This brought us down to eighteen bucks and change left in the till, which theoretically was going to be enough to fill in the gaps for other items we’d need to do our meals through the weekend.

And then reality hit.

SNAP / Food Stamp Challenge, Day 2: The Shelf

Photo: Clipping coupons, Jim Barber  / Shutterstock.com
Photo: Clipping coupons, Jim Barber / Shutterstock.com

I’m not making friends among my family members with this challenge.

Because it was my idea to do this for a week (living on the equivalent budget of food stamps for seven days), everyone ends up coming to me to “check on the rules.” Basically, this means they ask me about ways they might work around the limitations of the challenge, and then get mad at me when I don’t give them a way out.

Yesterday ended up being a mixed bag. My wife, Amy, and I had to go to the other side of town for some errands, and it didn’t occur to either of us that we’d be gone over lunch time. Fortunately, one of the errands was at an Ikea, a giant housewares store that’s known for it’s affordable cafeteria-style meals, so we made it work. But even with their reduced-rate prices, we spent more than $9 for both of us and little Zoe to eat.

“Man,” I said, looking at my empty bowl, previously filled with pasta and Swedish meatballs, “that was way less than we usually spend going out, but it was still almost double what we have in the budget for one meal.”

Bread From Heaven

THE MOTTO OF RADICAL FAITH always is “now—or never.” If we can’t find divine grace reaching out to us in the here and now, just where we are, then we will never find it. We won’t find it by merely dwelling on the stories and legends of divine interventions in the past. For centuries, the fourth gospel has made people uneasy because it heightens the tension between those who think of religion as loyalty to what has been handed down for us to repeat and those who are prepared to see God right before them and with them now. This month we are asked to immerse ourselves in the very tense sixth chapter of John’s gospel, in which Jesus provokes bafflement and resentment by daring to appropriate to himself the mystique of the manna, the bread from heaven given by God to sustain the Israelites on their journey through the wilderness.

Everyone knew what the bread from heaven was. It was something miraculous embedded in legends of yesteryear, wasn’t it? Quite apart from being scandalized by Jesus’ apparent delusional egomania, the people are unsettled by the way he wrests the whole theme of being fed by God from its safe mummification in legend and miracle, and plants it in the immediate here and now. He forces the question about whether we dare acknowledge our own pangs of hunger for the eternal, and whether we are prepared to receive—eat and drink—the living person of Christ as the gift that will satisfy that hunger.

Martin L. Smith is an Episcopal priest, author, preacher, and retreat leader.

[ August 5 ]
Growing Up in Every Way
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13; Psalm 78:23-29;
Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35

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40-Hour Famine: Eyes Wide Open (VIDEO)

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images
A starving 2-year-old girl is comforted by her mother at a refugee camp in in Mogadishu, Somalia. Photo by John Moore/Getty.

Every day, millions of children go hungry. But it doesn't have to be that way.

  • Hunger is the world's No. 1 health risk, causing more deaths annually worldwide than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.
    (Source: World Food Program)
  • One in seven people in the world will go to bed hungry tonite.
    (Source: World Food Program)
  • There are more hungry people in the world (925 million) than the combined population of the United States, Canada and the European Union (841 million)
    (Source: World Food Program)

Find out about the causes of hunger — and the solutions — in a new video from World Vision Australia (with music by Gotye) inside the blog...

Cutting Assistance Programs Undermines the Church's Work

SNAP stats illustration. Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners
SNAP stats illustration. Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

A common rationalization those in religious circles make for cutting social programs that help the poor is that church should be the one helping “the least of these,” not the government. But if we know that’s not possible given the church’s means, that millions will get left behind because our efforts fall far too short, is that still a logical line of defense? Jesus told us to care for the poor, sick, and vulnerable—he didn’t prescribe how.

Sometimes Jesus healed people one-on-one. Sometimes he addressed the needs of a multitude by providing enough food to feed them all. Sometimes he sent others in his stead to provide healing. 

If we ignore the needy in our midst by getting rid of one huge way to address that need, we are not following Jesus’ example.

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