Monday, August 03, 2015

'You Can't Buy that with Food Stamps..."

"Maine lawmakers debated banning soda from being bought with SNAP in 2009, though the legislation went nowhere. In 2010, then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg (I) requested a similar waiver for New York City, and was denied. Junk food bans passed a committee vote in Texas in 2011 but died on the floor. Iowa and California lawmakers introduced similar rules that year. Bans were introduced in eight separate states in 2012, with Florida defeating a proposal that had cleared the committee stage and Mississippi deciding at the last minute to revoke its waiver request. Maine, Wisconsin, Texas, South Carolina, and Delaware all toyed with the idea in 2013 and 2014. And this spring, the bans are on the march again in Wisconsin and Maine."  from an article in the Think Progress website
The federal government has given states some latitude on setting rules to implement the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Some states like New Mexico want to use this supposed authority to impose work requirements beyond those already included in the federal SNAP regulations. to the detriment of those who receive benefits.

Another way for states to attempt to regulate SNAP benefits is by designating what types of food are eligible for food stamps. Many states have found that this is a messy and often unworkable process, since it is difficult to determine what types of items to tax and which should be exempt. Think Progress addresses this issue in a very interesting piece published back in May of this year. The article, entitled "How The Conservative Obsession With Policing Poor People’s Shopping Carts Got Started," explores efforts around the country to implement rules that would require recipients of benefits not to buy junk food.  Here is the full article.

Yes, it's important that we all eat more fruits and vegetables and fewer sugar-based carbohydrates.  This is difficult for people in all walks of life.  All of us are are subject to a barrage of advertisements promoting the virtues of consuming soda, candy bars and other items.
Double-Up Food Bucks booth at Railyard Market Albuquerque
There other important ways to promote better shopping habits without directly regulating the content of shopping carts of beneficiaries. Two important ways are  nutrition education and allowing the use of SNAP for purchases at community growers markets. The USDA promotes nutrition education  via its SNAP-Ed Connection program.

Additionally, food stamps recipients around the country, including New Mexico, can swipe their electronic benefits transfer ( EBT) cards at farmers’ markets and get twice as much to spend in market-only voucher tokens, thanks to a $100 million program tucked into the 2014 Farm Bill.

And the myth that the majority of SNAP recipients use their benefits to purchase unhealthy foods is untrue. "The poor spend nearly double the share that the rich spend on food they cook at home, while the rich spend more on eating out," said Think Progress, citing a study conducted by The Atlantic magazine.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Chamber Music Concert Tonight to Benefit Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless

Five accomplished musicians will combine their talents this evening, Sunday, August  2, to help raise funds for Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless. The chamber music concert, which is part of the Romancing the Horn Music series, will feature musicians Alaina Diehl of the Santa Fe Symphony on flute; Melissa Sassaman, who holds a doctorate on the history of the oboe from Arizona State University, on oboe; Lori Lovato of the New Mexico Philharmonic, on clarinet; Stefanie Przybylska, also from the New Mexico Philharmonic, on bassoon; and Thomas Heady, formerly of the New Mexico Woodwind Quintet, on horn. The group will perform pieces for duets and quintets pieces from the 19th, 20th, and 21st century (August Klughardt, Jan Bach, Adrien Barthe and others)  Read more in Albuquerque Journal.

The musicians will perform at First Unitarian Church, 3701 Carlisle NE (map), at 7:00 p.m.
Tickets are available at the door, $12, general, and $8 for seniors, students and the working poor.  For more information call  884-1801  Here are videos of most of the musicians

Alaina Diehl on the left (flute)

Melissa Sassaman (oboe) and Stefanie Przybylska (bassoon)

Lori Lovato (clarinet) -with Eric Walters

Saturday, August 01, 2015

New Mexico Food Bank Association Raising Funds to Boost Refrigerated Capacity in Rural Communities

Fresh produce is not generally available in rural food pantries
Food banks and some food pantries in metropolitan areas like Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces generally have access to refrigerates space or have their cold-storage facilities to store fruits, vegetables and other perishable food items to distribute to clients.

This is not the case in many small rural areas, where pantries  distribute dry, packaged goods but generally little fresh produce (outside of summer months, where locally grown produce available at growers markets). While the ideal solution would be to build centrally located cold-storage facilities near these communities, the next-best option is to help the pantries themselves acquire more refrigerated capacity.

This is where the New Mexico Association of Food Banks (NMAFB) comes in. "We're trying to raise funds to put refrigeration in some of our smaller agencies around the state that currently have difficulty distributing fresh food," said NMAFB director Kathy Komoll.

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy because the needs and costs are different from pantry to pantry. "The price for the refrigeration varies - some agencies just need a large refrigerator, some could use commercial cooler/freezers, and in some we might put in a small walk- in cooler," said Komoll.

The NMAFB has a couple of roles in the effort to bring cold-storage capacity to agencies in rural New Mexico. First, the association is letting faith communities and other potential funders that the need exists and that some of the smaller agencies lack capacity to put together their own fundraising campaigns. "We're letting groups around the state know about the need (like St. Timothy's) to see if they have an interest in partnering with agencies to increase the capacity to distribute fresh food," said Komoll.

Rev. Rachel Powell stands by the chart at St. Timothy's
Fundraising at Two Churches 
A couple of churches in Albuquerque,  St. Timothy's Lutheran Church and Cross of Hope Lutheran Church, have heard the NMAFB's appeal and have launched a fundraising effort to help with the effort to bring refrigerated space to some of the rural communities in our state. St. Timothy's, which adopts a charity each quarter, has chosen the cold-storage effort as its fundraising project for the July-September quarter, aiming to raise $1,500. "We have a friendly competition with Cross of Hope Lutheran Church," said Terry Christiansen, a member of St. Timothy's.

If both churches meet the goal, that could mean $3,000 for the cold storage project. St. Timothy's is keeping track of  the donations on a chart that is shaped like a refrigerated door. "The Stewardship Committee understand the great need as many food banks and pantries are helping families for longer periods of time and food banks are being encourgaed to offer fresh produce," St. Timothy's said in a bulletin announcement. We will provide an update in October after St. Timothy's and Cross of Hope have completed their drive.

If your congregation or group would like to help with the effort to bring cold storage to rural New Mexico, drop a note to Kathy Komoll at the New Mexico Association of Food Banks, 5840 Office Blvd. NE Albuquerque, NM 87109,, 505.217.1066 The funds raised by local agencies will supplement the NMAFB's other funding efforts for the project. According to Komoll, the association has applied for a couple of grants to help bring cold storage to rural areas.  

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Interfaith Leaders in New Mexico Support Pope Francis' Encyclical on Climate Change

Reprinted from New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light site   Here is the original link

A letter supporting the Papal Encyclical, Laudato Si, that is signed by some 100 New Mexican Interfaith Religious Leaders, was released Tuesday, July 28, 2015 by New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light and the New Mexico Conference of Churches.

The letter was presented at a press conference attended by multi-faith leaders including Rev. Dr. Donna McNiel, New Mexico Conference of Churches; Allen Sanchez, Catholic Conference of Bishops; Sr. Joan Brown,osf, New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light; Necip Orhan, New Mexico Representative, Dialogue Institute of the Southwest; Rabbi Min Kantorwitz, Jewish Leader; Msgr. J. Voorhies, Ecumenical Ministry; and Donna Illerbrun, Principal of St. Therese School.

In part the letter reads: "As the undersigned faith leaders we work with our religious communities and our civic leaders to understand the meaning of Laudato Si/ Praised Be!...As faith leaders we support the Clean Power Plan and initiatives like the Green Climate Fund which will assist brothers and sisters suffering most from the effects of climate change."

Sr. Brown, Executive Director of New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light said "Support and enthusiasm for Pope Francis' call to address environmental degradation, climate change and related realities of economic disparity and poverty are palpable across New Mexico. People are feeling impelled to new actions small and large."

Executive Director of the New Mexico Catholic Conference of Catholic Bishop's, Allen Sanchez noted, "Our Holy Father Pope Francis is calling us to make part of our spirituality a value for God's creation. Spirituality is the deliberate discernment of ethical values that are concretized into attitudes that govern our actions. This value of stewardship is not just Catholic but can be universal for all members of our common home, Sister Mother Earth. We can began this journey together by entering a conversation about values which embraces stewardship of earth. These discussions should include the situation of the poor and the resources gifted to all on earth."

"Pope Francis reminds us all, Christians, people of faith, human beings on the planet, of our central purpose." Dr. McNiel stated, "We have been made to be care takers - of one another, and of the planet - not consumers. This reminder could not come at a more timely moment."

More signatures from faith leaders in New Mexico are needed. There are many ways to add your name to the list. Send an e-mail to Sister Joan Brown (, check the website of the  New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light  or  download the entire letter: letter for NM faith leaders to sign

The letter will be shared with civic leaders in the state along with an invitation to read the encyclical and consider the moral and ethical teachings as decisions affecting the common good, water, air, climate, land and communities are made within the state.

'Don't Let the Children Be Hungry'

Children from All Saints Lutheran Church, St. Andrew Presbyterian Church and St. John XXIII Catholic Community participated in their congregation's 2015 Offerings of Letters. They wrote messages on paper plates urging Congress to protect child nutrition programs and to address hunger and homelessness. The children at the three congregations sent a total of 106 paper-plate messages to Congress this year. A few weeks ago, we posted some of the photos from the children at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church. Here is a sampling of the paper plates from St. John XXIII Vacation Bible School.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Blessing of Letters

When our committee planned the blessing of the letters written at St. John XXIII Catholic Community on protecting and expanding child nutrition programs, we simply picked the Sunday after the Offering of Letters. We had not looked at the readings for this particular Sunday. By the grace of God, the reading from the Old Testament and from the Gospel, 2 Kings 4:42-44 and John 6: 1-5, were perfect for this occasion. They were all about finding enough food to feed everyone. We brought 182 letters and 88 paper plates written at Vacation Bible School for Father Ark Biczak to bless.  

This is the prayer provided by Bread for the World for the blessing of letters.

O God, our creator, we give thanks that you preserve and sustain all life through good government and other public and private institutions. We ask you to bless our letters to Congress. May this expression of our democratic rights be part of your work of ending hunger. We pray also for our nation’s decision makers. Grant them compassion and wisdom so that all children in this nation receive the nutrition their young bodies and minds need to learn and grow. We ask these things in the name of the Risen Christ, who teaches us to pray that your will be done on earth and that all may have the daily bread you provide. Amen.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Comedian John Oliver Takes Issue with Food Waste in America

A recent report from The Natural Resources Defense Council found that 40 percent of the food produced in our country is never consumed. According to that report, we throw away about $165 billion of food each year. "Reducing food losses by just 15 percent would be enough food to feed more than 25 million Americans every year at a time when one in six Americans lack a secure supply of food to their tables," said the NRDC report. "Increasing the efficiency of our food system is a triple- bottom-line solution that requires collaborative efforts by businesses, governments and consumers."

The report prompted comedian John Oliver to dedicate a 17-minute segment to the topic in his show "Last Week Tonight," on HBO. "This is not a story about the food we eat, it's about the food we don't eat, because there is a surprising amount of it," Oliver said after playing snippets from several gluttonous commercials. Read article in Los Angeles Times


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Dorothy Day: Removing the Weeds to Attain Peace

We plant seeds that will flower as results in our lives, so best to remove the weeds of anger, avarice, envy and doubt, that peace and abundance may manifest for all. 

-Dorothy Day

Saturday, July 25, 2015

If One Hand-Written Letter Makes a Difference, How about 150 Letters?

Molly Lannon & Ginny Flanagan write to Congress
It’s mid-morning on a school day, and Sophia is trying to pay attention to her teacher. But all she can think about is food. Her parents both work, but they don’t earn enough to pay for housing, utilities, and transportation–and enough food to feed their family.

In Sophia’s own community and across the country, churches are doing a lot to help. They sponsor food pantries and host community meals. But these and other private charities provide only one out of every 20 bags of groceries that feed people who are hungry. The federal government provides the rest.

That’s why Ginny Flanagan and Molly Lannon and nearly 80 other members of St. John XXIII Catholic Community in Albuquerque took part in Bread for the World’s 2015 Offering of Letters on July 18 and 19. They urged Congress to renew our federal government’s major child nutrition programs, including those for school meals, summer feeding, and the WIC nutrition program for pregnant and new mothers along with their small children.  Parishioners wrote more than 150 letters, mostly to Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Sen. Martin Heinrich and Sen. Tom Udall.  A few letters also went to Rep. Steve Pearce and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan.

Every five years, Congress must re-authorize the law that funds these programs, which have helped so many children over the years. Thanks to the leadership of Bread for the World and its church partners, the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act expanded and improved these programs. Even with those changes in 2010, only a little more than half of children receiving school lunches benefit from breakfasts. Summer meals are available for less than 10 percent of those children who count on lunches during the school year. Overall, one in five children lives at risk of hunger.  According to one study, 30% of children in New Mexico lack reliable access to healthy and nutritious food.
(Text adapted from Bread for the World's 2015 Offering of Letters bulletin insert)

Friday, July 24, 2015

Infographic: New Work Requirements for New Mexico SNAP Participants Would Hurt Families

Photo: New Mexico Voices for Children
The New Mexico Voices for Children prepared an infographic in response to a proposal from  the state of New Mexico to expand work requirements for food stamp recipients. Under current law, childless adults ages 18 to 50, who are physically and mentally competent are required to enter an employment and training program to be eligible for SNAP benefits. The New Mexico Human Services Department would widen the range, making it ages 16 to 60, and add people with children over age seven who currently are exempt from the employment requirement. Opponents argue that the administration’s proposals go beyond what federal law requires and aren’t appropriate for one of the nation’s poorest states. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Petitions and Produce at the Albuquerque Downtown Growers Market

Check out this great video that New Mexico Oxfam Action Corps volunteers put together following a visit to the downtown growers market in Albuquerque last Saturday. Volunteers were collecting signatures for a petition asking Congress to support efforts to reform U.S. food aid programs to better meet the need of recipient countries. The video was originally posted on Facebook.

Albuquerque Downtown Growers Market #FixFoodAid Oxfam America NM Oxfam Action Corps
Posted by NM Oxfam Action Corps on Sunday, July 19, 2015

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Child Poverty in New Mexico Rose to 31 Percent in 2014

 "New Mexico’s child poverty rate was 31 percent, an increase from 29 percent in last year’s Data Book, and the percentage of children living in high-poverty areas increased to 24 percent, up from 22 percent."  -from the 2015 Kids Count Report

It’s disheartening to see New Mexico still ranked so low in child well-being...We’ve made progress in some areas and we’ve gotten worse in others but, when you look at the long-term trends, we’re simply not seeing enough change...,When our children aren’t doing well, it’s an indication that our whole state isn’t doing well. Our future workforce is being shaped now. Poverty really holds children back. We can help kids in poverty reach their full potential, but only if we take intentional action and we take it early...Veronica García, New Mexico Voices For Children

I'm not a big fan of measuring our demographics and statistics against those of other states. While the comparisons are useful to provide some perspective, the more important measure is comparing our current situation against our past performance. 

If you look at the 2015 Kids Count report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, you might notice that New Mexico experienced a slight improvement in the overall well-being for children. Our ranking improved to 49th in 2014 from 50th in 2013. And yet, our rate of child poverty increased to 31 percent from 29 percent the previous year.  However, our ranking improved only because conditions got much worse in Mississippi, the state that has the dubious distinction of ranking 50th in the 2015 Kids Count report.  

“Over the last several years we’ve seen 38,000 children fall into poverty in New Mexico. That is simply not acceptable. Poverty has very detrimental effects on children. If we want them to succeed in life—to be the next generation of doctors, entrepreneurs, teachers and leaders—we need to ensure that they have the opportunities that will put them on the right path early in life,” said Veronica C. García, executive director of New Mexico Voices For Children.  See full statement from organization.

Rather than repeat other findings in the report, I'll pass on the following links

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Urge Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Ben Ray Lujan and Steve Pearce to Co-Sponsor Global Food Security Act

Photo: Bread for the World
A bipartisan group of 50 members of the House of Representatives that had co-sponsored the Global Food Security Act, H.R.1567. This initiative seeks to advance women's leadership in agriculture, promotes policies that improve their opportunities to use and own land, and strengthens their access to financial services.

None of the three members of the U.S. House of Representatives from New Mexico had cosponsored the Global Food Security Act as of Monday, July 20. Please take a minute to contact your own New Mexico House member and ask him/her to cosponsor H.R. 1567.  Bread for the World has provided this handy link to send your message. 

(And if you live outside of New Mexico, and your representative is not on the list of 50 cosponsors, please use the link to contact him/her).

"We need 100 cosponsors before the House adjourns for its August recess," said Bread for the World. "You can help us get there!"

Monday, July 20, 2015

Child Nutrition Programs and the Goal to End Hunger in America by 2030

Offering of Letters at St. John XXIII Catholic Community
"If we want to have adults in 2030 be hunger-free, the children those adults are now need to be hunger-free today. The fastest, most direct way to reduce child hunger is through existing child nutrition programs. However, ending hunger for good requires a sustainable solution to poverty. Children are hungry because their families are struggling economically.

As stated in Bread for the World Institute’s 2014 Hunger Report: Ending Hunger in America, a long-term solution to hunger requires good jobs, investments in people, a strong safety net, and strong public-private partnerships. Child nutrition programs are a critical component of our country’s federal safety-net programs. Strengthening them is critical to meeting the goal of ending hunger by 2030." -From 2015 Offering of Letters main booklet