Feeding our Neighbors

November 30, 2009, 2:16 pm | Posted by

For most of us, Thanksgiving is a time to gather with loved ones and share a bountiful meal. A time when you’re allowed to try a slice of all three pies being offered. A time when you can’t even fit a small helping of everything on your plate.

But for a steadily increasing number of Americans, Thanksgiving is another cruel reminder that it’s harder and harder to keep food on the table. This weekend, the New York Times covered the explosion of food stamp use, as more and more people struggle to provide for themselves and their families without government assistance. The food stamp program, designed to help needy Americans purchase staples, is growing by 20,000 people a day.

While the statistics are startling, it’s heartening to see help coming from many different sectors.

Churches are stepping up, expanding food pantries and other efforts to stem the rising tide of hunger in communities across the country. In addition to the important work of local organizations and congregations across the country, major national organizations like Catholic Charities, profiled last week by PBS Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly, are helping feed those in need.

Bread for the World is another national organization tackling poverty and hunger. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune last week, Rev. Art Simon, founder of Bread for the World, commended churches and other religious organizations for their ministries to the hungry, as well as calling for advocacy and systemic change to our fraying safety net: “God didn’t tell Moses to take up a collection for the slaves in Egypt. He told him to tell Pharaoh ‘Let my people go.’ That’s policy change.”

As both the PBS and the Chicago Tribune stories note, the government is joining the effort too – the The White House just launched an initiative called Feed a Neighbor, in conjunction with the Corporation for National and Community Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, part of the United We Serve project.

So let’s all do what we can– pitch in at a local soup kitchen (if you’re here in DC, check out Miriam’s Kitchen) or donate canned food to a local food pantry. And as Rev. Simon says, we also need policy change– so let’s keep working for a more just society in which everyone has enough to eat.

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Fighting Poverty With Faith

October 16, 2009, 3:41 pm | Posted by

Wednesday marked the beginning of “Fighting Poverty With Faith: Good Jobs, Green Jobs,” a weeklong, nationwide interfaith effort to make sure that America’s economic recovery and energy policies benefit both the environment and the poor. Policy-wise, the group describes their aims as follows:

As billions of stimulus dollars for job creation make their way through state legislatures, and as our federal government prepares to pass comprehensive climate legislation, the faith community is committed to advocating for policies that ensure that this economic recovery yields real poverty-reduction gains. We must retire the term “working poor” and create an economy in which anyone who works full-time has the means to sustain his/her family and in which those who cannot work can live with dignity.

The campaign encompasses a variety of actions and programs, ranging from a Climate Convocation at Harvard featuring Bill McKibben to green jobs training events to advocacy workshops. More than 30 religious denominations and advocacy organizations are sponsoring this nationwide mobilization.

To learn more check out Fighting Poverty With Faith’s web site and Eric Fingerhut’s JTA story about the campaign.

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Faith groups organize to protect consumers

October 5, 2009, 3:08 pm | Posted by

Although health care is getting the bulk of attention on the faith and politics scene lately, the religious community is pressing forward as hard as ever on a host of issues. That’s why I love spending so much of my morning hunting for stories of faith groups’ actions across the country. Last Friday the Raleigh News & Observer ran a story about an interfaith coalition that’s working to protect consumers and borrowers from predatory interest rates:

With the average rates estimated between 12 and 15 percent, that means millions of consumers are paying $1,000 a year in credit-card interest alone.

Religious people of many spiritual stripes agree that’s a big problem, and they’ll unite in Charlotte today and in London next month to try to do something about it.

N.C. United Power is part of an international campaign to cap interest rates at 10 percent in deference to historic usury laws that grew out of Christian, Jewish and Muslim scriptures. The campaign comes at a time when credit card companies are being scrutinized by Congress and the Federal Reserve.

The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act passed by Congress this year offered new protections for consumers, and the Federal Reserve is proposing new rules as well. But a legislative effort to cap interest rates at 15 percent did not succeed.

Religious congregations and community groups from across North Carolina will rally in front of the headquarters of Bank of America and Wells Fargo this morning to demand a meeting with bank executives to negotiate an “agenda for economic relief.”

Stories like this highlight much of what effective organizing entails: finding an issue that unites diverse people around common principles; assembling a broad coalition; watching legislation; taking public actions with defined goals and clear targets; joining a greater campaign. Thanks to congregation-based community organizers, efforts such as these are ongoing across America. Good to see one of them get some ink!

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People of faith: US should help poor adapt to climate change

May 5, 2009, 8:55 am | Posted by

An oft-overlooked question in the climate change debate is what should be done to help the people who are most affected adapt to the destructive environmental changes it’s already causing. Droughts in Africa and floods in South Asia are increasing in severity, adding new hardships for already-poor people who are least responsible for climate change and whose survival depends on adapting to these extremes.

Fortunately, majorities of Americans — including people of faith — are aware of this and believe the US needs to act now to address it. A new poll, sponsored by FPL and Oxfam America and conducted by Public Religion Research, reveals that:

- Majorities of Americans, including majorities of Catholics, Mainline Protestants and Evangelicals, believe dealing with climate change now will create new jobs and help avoid more serious economic problems in the future.

- Nearly 7-in-10 (69%) Americans and similar numbers of Catholics, Mainliners and Evangelicals agree that climate change is making it harder for the world’s poorest people to support their families.

- Approximately three-quarters of the general public and similar numbers of Catholics and Evangelicals favor helping the world’s poorest people adapt to food and water shortages caused by rising global temperatures.

Click here for full poll results — there’s plenty more info of interest.

These findings are helping fuel a broad effort to encourage undecided Members of Congress to support climate change legislation that includes significant funding for adaptation efforts and measures that will help low-income Americans with energy costs and energy efficiency. A new media campaign promoting these aims — including ads in key districts in Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Virginia and Ohio and emails to over 5.3 million evangelicals and Catholics in Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and North Carolina — is launching this week, as legislative action heats up. (UPDATE: pardon the pun.) As the climate crisis pushes the poor to the brink, the time to act is now.

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Beyond AIG — working for a moral budget

March 23, 2009, 10:04 am | Posted by

The actions of AIG executives–with their reckless credit default swaps–contributed to the economic collapse we’re experiencing today. The fact that $165 million of federal bailout funds were funneled to these same AIG execs symbolizes the core corruption behind it.

The popular response so far has centered on punishing offending investment banks, but we need a more holistic approach as well. Regardless of what happens with those AIG bonuses, the bottom line is that Americans are suffering. People are losing jobs and health care, unable to provide for their families and to ensure their immediate needs are met. Non-profit organizations across the country, like food banks and free health clinics, are stepping up to help, but they are buckling under the pressure of this recession. With donations sagging and investment values plummeting, these organizations are facing debilitating budget cuts. We need to help. These programs are lifelines for thousands of struggling families, and Faithful America is advocating for a budget that supports them.

The new federal budget submitted by the president is a step toward fairness. By increasing funds to food assistance, health care, and providing tax cuts for low and middle-income families, it renews our commitment to the common good. This budget says we’re not going to bail out investment banks while leaving food banks and other service providers behind.

To this end, Faithful America is starting a campaign to build support for a federal budget that addresses the needs of on-the-ground service providers and the people they assist. Click here to learn more and lend your support.

Members of Congress will be under intense pressure to cut these vital funds. We need to remind them that difficult times are when these programs are needed the most.

Click here to support our effort.

The AIG bonuses are shocking, not just due to their size, but what they represent: the rejection of the idea of shared sacrifice and the common good. We might not be able to get those executives to reconsider their priorities, but we can demonstrate our values and commitment to the well-being of all — not just a wealthy few.

UPDATE: Recipients of 15 of the 20 largest bonuses have returned them, including 9 of the top ten. Good start.

UPDATE II: The Coalition on Human Needs has more information on how the budget can improve opportunity and address needs for millions of Americans. Read the statement of support they sent every member of Congress here.

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