Sunday, November 20, 2011

Empowerment During a Time of Budget Cuts

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and I want to take this opportunity to give thanks for the efforts of Bread for the World activists Cathy Brechtelsbauer in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Donna Neste in the Twin Cities in Minnesota.

They offer us a great story of how they have worked to empower some of the low-income people they encounter on a daily basis. Most of these folks receive public assistance and are vulnerable to the draconian cuts that Congress is considering.

Like many Bread activists around the country, Cathy and Donna are both deeply involved in direct service and in personal advocacy.  But they feel there should be a third element to their anti-hunger strategy: offering a tool for folks that they serve to participate in advocacy.  

At a time when Bread was mobilizing advocates around the country to call legislators in Washington to oppose budget cuts and create a Circle of Protection for programs that help poor and hungry people, Cathy and Donna did the same with some of the clients who are vulnerable to these cuts.

"Most of them are so caught up in surviving that they are not political," said Donna. "They will not know what hit them if these cuts become law."

At one of the meetings of the Bread coordinating committee in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, Donna had suggested a call-in campaign for the low-income people she sees on a daily basis.  "I would write something with some simple talking points, asking representatives called, to not cut SNAP and WIC because I depend upon it for the health of my children."

Cathy adapted Donna's idea in Sioux Falls.  She put together a handout for people lining up to receive food at Faith Temple Church.

"Faith Temple church has a big food giveaway every Friday. Hundreds of people come, like 300-400. It is very good that people can get needed food, and an amazing effort of the church to give it out, but this situation is just awful!! This is no way to run a country!! It reminds me of the food lines you see in photos of the Great Depression. All sorts of folks need food and come, lining up hours ahead," said Cathy.

Here is the plan she used: "I stood where i could talk to 3-5 folks and, holding out the flier, asked Would anyone like to help keep Congress from reducing food stamps and WIC. Here's a free phone number."

By now people are taking the fliers. As they start to look at them, I say, "You call the number and ask for Senator Johnson. Then call the number again and ask for Thune. Then call the number again and ask for Noem. If they are not answering tonight, call next week. Then give the flier to your friends and neighbors and ask them to call. Keep the calls going in all next week."

Here is a copy of the handout, contained in one-third of a letter-sized sheet.

Did you know…
that your WIC and SNAP (food stamps) are in danger of being cut by Congress in Washington? Times are hard enough without more cuts to the programs you need in order to survive.

Call your two Senators and your Representative in Washington and tell them to keep a circle of protection around programs that help low-income people. Tell them not to cut WIC and SNAP for the health and well being of your children. Tell them how important these programs are to you and people you know.

Use this temporary toll-free # 1-800-826-3688, donated by Bread for the World, to get you to the Capitol switch board. That’s where you ask to be connected to your
Senators: Senator Tim Johnson and Senator John Thune
And Representative Kristi Noem

By speaking up, you can help a great many people keep food on the table.
Thanks from Bread for the World. 11-11-11

Donna also created a handout for residents of Minnesota, changing the names to Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and Rep. Norm Ellison

Cathy said the effort could easily extend beyond South Dakota and Minnesota. "You could copy it, insert names of your own members of Congress, change the date at the bottom, and take it to your local food pantry, WIC office, Salvation Army, and other places where people come looking for help with basic needs like food," she said.

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