Persons, places and things: When I was hungry …

Barb Arland-Fye

A little boy’s solemn face, pictured on the back cover of a magazine, seems to stare at me. “46 million people in poverty is unacceptable. Change it Now!” the advertisement for Catholic Charities USA reads. I spotted the advertisement while sorting through magazines and mail at home. Much of the mail comes from charitable organizations requesting donations for various causes, most related to poverty and hunger.
River Bend Foodbank serves a 22-county region that includes the Quad-City area. The foodbank reports that 56,140 children in its coverage area are food insecure, meaning they’re wondering about when they’ll get their next meal.
Several organizations seeking contributions also ask me to do something about hunger and poverty, such as writing letters to Congress and my state legislature advocating on behalf of policies and spending measures that lift up the least among us.
Bread for the World reports “The budget debates taking place in Congress throughout 2012 could result in the most severe cuts to programs for hungry people in Bread for the World’s history.” The organization reminds contributors that “during the current recession, programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) are working to mitigate hunger and poverty. Without them, hunger and poverty rates would be much higher during this time of high unemployment.”
Right now, the U.S. Senate is considering the “Farm Bill,” a bundle of legislation that sets national agriculture, nutrition, conservation and forest policy for the next five years. The current Farm Bill is set to expire Sept. 30.
Catholic News Service reports that Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Pat Roberts, R-Kan., have developed a Farm Bill that cuts federal outlays by more than $23 billion over the next 10 years. That would be great news, except the bill includes a $4 billion cut to SNAP as well as cuts in direct payments to farmers. A crop insurance program, however, would pay farmers when crops fail or when prices sag.
In a March 6 letter, representatives of the U.S. bishops, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities USA and the National Catholic Rural Life Conference asked Sens. Stabenow and Roberts to support a Farm Bill “that provides for poor and hungry people both at home and abroad, offers effective support for those who grow our food, ensures fairness to family farmers and ranchers and supports stewardship of the land.” The leaders also urged that the Farm Bill “target limited resources, such as subsidies and direct payments, to those farmers and ranchers who truly need assistance to be competitive and successful.”
They noted that SNAP and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) are essential. “We call on you to support access to adequate and nutritious food for those in need and to oppose attempts to weaken or restructure these programs that would result in reduced benefits to hungry people.”
On the international level, the Catholic leaders asked for support of food assistance programs that “combat chronic hunger, build resilience against drought and other natural disasters and provide adequate nutrition to poor families.”
Meanwhile, hungry children and adults need our help to ensure a next meal on the table. Kevin Concannon, USDA under secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, has asked media types like me to spread the word that help is available for parents “quietly worrying just how they’re going to feed their kids all summer long.”
The USDA Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) offers sites where children in low-income areas can get a free meal during the summer months when schools are closed.  The National Hunger Hotline (1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-866-348-6479) provides locations based on ZIP code.  Information is also available to Spanish speakers, 1-877-8-HAMBRE.
Summer meals are free for children 18 and younger at sites such as libraries, schools, family centers, day camps and food banks. Enjoyable learning activities are offered along with a meal in a safe place.
Hopefully, this column is one way I can put a smile on the face of that solemn little boy pictured on the back of a magazine.
Barb Arland-Fye

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