Sunday, April 29, 2012

Hidden Beauty in Every Crumb

Easter Basket for Raramuris girl (Photo courtesy of Victoria Tester)
Holiness comes wrapped in the ordinary. There are burning bushes all around you. Every tree is full of angels. Hidden beauty is waiting in every crumb. 

-Macrina Wiederkehr, O.S.B 
A Tree Full of Angels

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Help Feed Low-Income Children in New Mexico this Summer

The New Mexico Collaboration to End Hunger is currently recruiting applicants for Anti-hunger Summer Associate AmeriCorps positions, based in Albuquerque and Las Cruces.  Bilingual skills (English and Spanish) are required for the position in Las Cruces. The 10-week program begins on May 29 and lasts through August 6.

Summer Associates will work with low-income children in the Albuquerque and Las Cruces areas to ensure that they have access to the Summer Meals Program and other nutritional opportunities.  Children will also be able to participate in  physical activities.

Successful applicants will receive:
* A $1,174.60 Segal AmeriCorps Education Award or a $125/mo summer end-of service stipend 
 * On-site orientation and training 
 * A living allowance to cover necessities during service 
 * Involvement in the AmeriCorps VISTA Alumni Network and eCommunity

If you're interested, keep in mind that time is running short. To apply (by Friday, May 4th), send a cover letter and resume to Meghann Dallin AND create a profile and application on MyAmericorps (  Once you have logged in, click on  the “Anti-Hunger and Opportunity Corps Summer Associate” listing to complete an application.

Putting Ourselves in Someone Else's Shoes

I would like Congress to take 30 minutes or an hour of quiet and imagine having little or no access to food or health care or transportation, education, housing. If you don’t have access to what you need to live in dignity and if you don’t have access to the funds that enable you to live, it’s frightening. 

What we’re lacking is imagination to put ourselves in somebody else’s shoes. How many people have said to members of Congress, this is not right? We have a poverty of imagination. We have to act together in this. We have to act together in faith.    -Sister Margaret Mary Kimmins, OSF

(Sister Margaret Mary manages Bread for the World's relations with Catholic churches for the Church Relations Department. She recently discussed Catholic Social Teaching and its relation to the federal budget with Bread domestic policy analyst Amelia Kegan. Read more in A Nun and a Policy Analyst Discuss the House Proposed Budget and Catholic Social Teaching in the Bread blog).

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Changing the Farm Bill to Make Emergency Food Aid More Efficient

In these days of economic crisis, it's all about stretching food dollars.  This is even the case when we're talking about emergency food aid.

This concept is the centerpiece of a letter that The ONE Campaign sent to two key senators this week as they consider food and agriculture policy for the next five years. The Senate will mark-up the Farm Bill today, and the House will soon write its own draft bill.

This massive piece of legislation covers mostly domestic agriculture (including farm subsidies, rural community development, and environmental conservation).  But emergency food aid is also contained in the Farm Bill, and this is where the request from ONE comes in. The concept is simple. The request asks the U.S. government to acquire food aid closer to the geographical location where it is needed. This saves on shipping and food costs and speeds up delivery.
Why buy food closer to the emergency? Purchasing locally and regionally has been proven to be more cost-effective and efficient than shipping US-grown food across the globe. It also benefits local developing country farmers and strengthening poor economies. In the 2008 Farm Bill, the US increased its support for local and regional procurement of food aid (LRP) in a pilot program. According to an evaluation by Cornell University of the pilot, buying cereals like wheat and corn locally can save taxpayers over 50 percent, shorten delivery time by 62 percent and help poor farmers significantly. With this in mind, ONE is asking Congress to allow the US government to purchase up to 25 percent of food aid closer to its destination. Read more
The letter also asks for a second important change: monetization. This a a process whereby organizations are granted food to ship overseas and sell in order to fund development projects.  Here's what ONE says about this practice:
It is a pretty inefficient way to fund development (not to mention the market distortions that result). According to a Government Accountability Office report, when organizations sell food aid to fund development projects, they typically recover between two-thirds and three-fourths of what it costs to buy and ship the food. As long as this practice exists, ONE advocates that organizations should recover at least 80 percent of the costs to taxpayers. Many organizations already achieve this and the US government used to require it.
Below is the letter from ONE to Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, and to Sen. Pat Roberts from Kansas, ranking Republican on the same committee. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Congratulations! to Ellen Buelow, 2012 National Catholic Charities Volunteer

Ellen chats with OL workshop speaker Adolphe Pierre-Louis
Bread for the World members in Albuquerque are extremely proud because one of our own, Ellen Buelow, was recognized by Catholic Charities USA as 2012 National Volunteer of the Year this week. 

She earned this award because of her dedication to improve the lives of refugees, a ministry that she began in 2007 as an ESL (English as a Second Language) tutor for Mexican immigrants for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

She deepened her involvement with refugees through Catholic Charities' Refugee Resettlement and Support program.  In 2011, she help found the Conversation Partners program, which provides an additional, informal learning environment for refugees enrolled in ESL classes; participants are able to practice conversational English in small group settings.

"Ellen is an outstanding volunteer and a fine example of the difference that people can make in the lives of their neighbors," said Jim Gannon, CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. "Without volunteers like Ellen, we could not meet the needs of the thousands who call on us."

Ellen is extremely proud of how her work has made a profound difference in the lives of many refugees. "Being in direct service to refugees is what keeps me volunteering. I love teaching, and I love being around them. Hands on direct service within Catholic Charities  is an act of charity," said Ellen.

But she also  believes in the big picture, particularly on the connections between  direct service and legislative advocacy.  Her work with refugees has put her in close contact with some of the most vulnerable members of society.  Many of these refugees have fled violence, conflict and extreme poverty.
A meeting at Sen.Tom Udall's office in Albuquerque

This direct contact has given her a unique perspective on the value of the federal foreign-assistance programs, which are facing severe funding cuts in Congress. "Through direct hands-on experience, I can share why we need to stop these cuts," said Ellen, who has been one of the principal organizers of the Offering of Letters at Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish.

The letter-writing weekends, she said, help parishioners understand how they can make a difference in addressing domestic and global poverty.  "Advocacy through Bread for the World reaches out to a  broader group of parishioners," she said.

This year, Ellen and the social justice committee at her parish recruited the JustFaith class to help staff the letter-writing tables.

But her passion goes beyond pen and paper.  At a local meeting at a grocery store, she has urged Rep. Martin Heinrich to support foreign aid reform, and she has attended local meetings with the staffs of Rep. Heinrich, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, and Sen. Tom Udall.

Additionally, she was part of a group of local Bread members who met with five people who had declared their candidacy for the soon-to-be-open seat in the First Congressional District.

Meeting with State Sen. Eric Griego
At a meeting with one of the candidates, State Sen. Eric Griego, she stressed the importance of protecting tax credits for the poor. "When we worked for the Earned Income Tax Credit, that really impacted a lot of families at Holy Rosary (Catholic Parish)," she said in a meeting with state Sen. Eric Griego, a candidate for the open seat in the First Congressional District. 

With former State Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones
Ellen is also very humble about receiving the Catholic Charities award. She was very impressed by the other four finalists, all of which would have been worthy of recognition for their work.  "God has His reasons, so I have to believe there's a reason for this award. As we say in Bread for the World, "Be a voice for those who have no voice!,"

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Study on the Economics and Sustainability of 'Fair Trade' and 'Organic' Certification

Fair Trade Coffee from Haiti
I a firm and unwavering supporter of fair trade.  The scheme allows growers to receive a fair return for their products, whether it's coffee, cocoa, textiles or handicrafts.   I also support the concept of organic production, which reduces reliance on harmful herbicides and pesticides.

Both the fair trade and organic schemes must go through the certification process to ensure that these practices are indeed being followed.  This certification is conducted to reassure the consumer in the U.S. or Europe.  But what about the growers? Are there other factors besides increased income that play into their agricultural decisions?

Brad Barham,a professor of agricultural and applied economics at the University of Wisconsin, conducted a study among coffee growers in Peru and southern Mexico to determine the economic effects and sustainability of certification.  Prof Barham, who is co-director of the Program on Agricultural Technology studies at UW, will present the results of his studies here at the University of New Mexico this coming Friday.  Here are the details:

The Economic Effects and Sustainability of Certified
Coffee Schemes:
Evidence from Mexico and Peru

Brad Barham Professor, Agricultural and Applied Economics Co-Director, Program on Agricultural Technology Studies University of Wisconsin, Madison 

Friday, April 20, 2012 Economics, Room 1052
2:30-3:30 p.m.  
Coffee will be served 

You probably want to know more about the study before you attend.  Here is a synopsis from ScienceDirect com of a piece that Prof. Barkham co-wrote with Jeremy Weber of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service.
Representative grower data from Mexico and Peru, two global leaders in certified coffee, show that yields rather than price premiums are most important for increasing net cash returns for coffee growers. To the extent that any existing certification norm limits yield improvements, they may create “traps” for marginal low intensity growers, especially if price premiums are small and decrease over time with more competition. By contrast, to the extent that enhancing yields and productivity is critical to the well-being of coffee growing households, any “sustainability” initiative must consider embracing advances in geographically appropriate best management practices. We close by considering the implications of the limits of our current knowledge on what is “sustainable” to advancing the dialogue on what comes next for certification schemes.
And from a discussion in Economics Applied..
Coffee growers must earn competitive returns from participating in certification programs, which promote principles like environmental stewardship, or participation will decline. While the promise of higher prices for certified coffee often motivates growers to participate initially, are price premiums the main determinant of grower profitability? What are the cost and benefits of organic certification standards that prohibit inorganic fertilizers, in contrast to other standards like that used by Rainforest Alliance. We find that...
  • Yields  (pounds of coffee per acre) are more important for grower profitability than price premiums from selling certified coffee. 
  • One project in Peru increased yields and profitability substantially by teaching growers better practices, like when and how much to fertilizer  and how to systematically prune coffee plants. (Read about efforts by the Peruvian National Coffee board to expand the practices throughout Peru: Propuesta de Incremento de Productividad para la Caficultura Peruana). 
  • The prohibition of inorganic fertilizer by organic standards can, in some areas, limit the yields and returns that growers can earn from coffee. The environmental and health benefits of the prohibition are unclear.
Read more discussion about this issue in Economics Applied
Read  Full Article in ScienceDirect
You probably have a lot of questions and might need some clarification.  If you live in Albuquerque or Santa Fe, here is your opportunity to interact with Prof. Barham.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

An Encounter with Roger Thurow, author of 'The Last Hunger Season'

Fellow anti-hunger advocate Elaine VanCleave from Nashville had the good fortune to chat briefly with author Roger Thurow, who recently released his new book The Last Hunger Season.  Mr. Thurow was a featured speaker at The ONE Campaign's national summit in Washington this week.
(Incidentally, 150 ONE advocates are on Capitol Hill today to urge Congress to protect lifesaving programs in the FY13 International Affairs budget.  Sound familiar? One of Bread for the World's mini campaigns in the 2012 Offering of Letters asks Congress to protect poverty focused foreign assistance).

The Last Hunger Season tells the story o a group of Kenyan farmers working to transcend lives of dire poverty and hunger illuminates the challenges, and vital necessity, of transforming Africa's agriculture sector
Here's a description of the book:
Africa's small farmers, who comprise two-thirds of its population, toil in a time warp, living and working essentially as they did in the 1930s. Without mechanized equipment, fertilizer, or irrigation; using primitive storage facilities, roads, and markets; lacking capital, credit, and insurance; they harvest only one-quarter the yields of Western farmers, half of which spoil before getting to market. But in 2011 one group of farmers in Kenya came together to try to change their odds for success—and their families' futures.

Roger Thurow spent a year following their progress. In The Last Hunger Season, the intimate dramas of the farmers' lives unfold amidst growing awareness that to feed the world's growing population, food production must double by 2050. How will the farmers, Africa, and a hungrier world deal with issues of water usage, land ownership, foreign investment, corruption, GMO's, the changing role of women, and the politics of foreign aid?
Better yet, here is a short video (8 minutes) that goes with the book.

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Blessing on the Wall of the Palomas Outreach Building in Palomas, Chihuahua

We ask your blessing O Lord on those of us who eat this Bread
Bless those who baked it
And those who won't be able to partake of it
And give us the opportunity to share it in the Heavenly Table.
We give you thanks, O Lord
For this Bread that nourishes us
Grant it as a great Blessing and give it
to the one who does not have it
We give you thanks O Lord, for 
making yourself present in this home.

"It is hard to read out loud without weeping. Not far from the wall it is painted on, there were many elderly sitting with dignity at tables and eating a simply meal they would not otherwise have had that day, not far from where this was painted on the wall," said Victoria Tester, U.S. coordinator for the Palomas Outreach. "There was a beautiful light falling among the tables and across their hands and faces. If I were a painter I would have painted it..."

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Light and Presence to Others

Enveloped in Your Light, may I be a beacon to those in search of Light. 

Sheltered in Your Peace, may I offer shelter to those in need of peace. 

Embraced by Your Presence, so may I be present to others. 

-Rabbi Rami Shapiro

Saturday, April 14, 2012

School Supplies for the Children of Palomas and Rural Chihuahua

Poster created from a drawing by a Palomas child.  Click on image to enlarge
Professor Alexandra Neves of Western New Mexico University's School of Education has initiated a school supply drive for the children of Palomas and rural Chihuahua, on behalf of the work of U.S. humanitarian worker Esperanza Lozoya.

Professor Neves invites the WNMU, Silver City and all surrounding communities to come forward to participate in this effort. School supplies may be taken to the main office of the School of Education on the 2nd floor of the Martinez-Fall building on the WNMU campus now through May 2nd. School supplies will be distributed directly to children at Palomas and rural Chihuahua schools by Esperanza Lozoya and volunteers shortly after school starts this fall 2012.

WNMU’s school supply drive aids the Palomas Child Education Project, an effort by the Palomas Outreach, led by Esperanza Lozoya, which distributed school supply packets to 776 children in Palomas schools in 2011, and sponsored 57 Palomas children to attend school. 120 backpacks full of school supplies were also distributed in remote areas of rural Chihuahua. This was only possible because of the individuals and organizations who stepped forward to change the children’s lives.

Without school supplies or registration fees, many children do not attend school. Professor Neves, a native Brazilian, inspired by reports of Lozoya’s work to aid the children, ran a very successful 2011 WNMU drive that raised school supplies for an estimated 500 of the 896 children served in 2011.

For more information about the 2012 WNMU drive, contact Professor Alexandra Neves at For other questions concerning the work of Esperanza Lozoya, or an email copy of school supply lists used by Palomas schools, contact Victoria Tester, who serves as a U.S. coordinator on behalf of Lozoya’s work, at

The Palomas Child Education Project will run through the fall of 2012. Other organizations are invited to contact Victoria Tester if they would like to sponsor a drive. Esperanza Lozoya and all Outreach volunteers express their deep gratitude to those who came forward in 2011 to make their work on behalf of the children possible.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

'Tell Washington to Stop Playing with Food Aid'

Oxfam America today released a very clever video urging Congress to make some changes to agriculture legislation to make food aid programs more effective.

Here is what Oxfam America says about its campaign:
This is a call-to-action for Americans to speak up and tell their members of Congress that we’re sick of these special interest giveaways that cost lives and tax dollars. Thousands have already signed our petition calling for reform. The push is part of Oxfam's GROW campaign to tackle the politics behind hunger.  We grow enough food on this planet to ensure everyone has enough to eat, but political obstacles, like unnecessary food aid regulations, get in the way.

Life-saving food aid represents a tiny fraction, just .05 percent, of the federal budget. Yet every year, millions of dollars end up in the pockets of special interest groups instead of helping to feed hungry people.
And here's the pitch:
Right now Washington is playing with our global food aid programs, with regulations that protect special interests at the expense of hungry people. These regulations cost taxpayers up to $500 million per year. It’s time to put an end to the wasteful special interest deals by reforming food aid programs in the 2012 Farm Bill. If we cut the red tape we can reach up to 17 million more people with life-saving aid at no additional cost to taxpayers. Save millions more lives, without spending a dime. It’s a no-brainer. 
Take Action

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Constact Act of Praise

Prayer is sitting in the silence until it silences us, choosing gratitude until we are grateful, praising God until we ourselves are a constant act of praise.

 -Father Richard Rohr

Monday, April 09, 2012

An Innovative Community-based Approach to Address Poverty

The other day I had a chance to chat over a cup of coffee with Scott Miller, CEO of Move the Mountain Leadership Center about different approaches to address poverty in Albuquerque and other communities around the country.  Among the topics that we discussed was the local Circles New Mexico project, an innovative approach that brings together various segments of the community. New Mexico is one of 23 states where the organization has implemented this model, which addresses some of the systematic causes of personal debt and increasing financial literacy. The program builds relationships between families living below the poverty line and those earning middle to upper-level incomes.  Here's what Circles New Mexico says on its Web site.
The Circles® model matches volunteers (Allies) with low-income families to expand their resources for greater networks into the community to reach economic stability. Everyone in the Circle works together and in doing so, identifies and dismantles the systemic barriers that keep people stuck in poverty.
This strategy has made great strides in 62 communities around the country. Early results demonstrate that for every $1 spent on the Circles, $2 in welfare and food stamp subsidies are returned to the state, and $4 to the community as new earned income.
The effort, an example of how local communities can work together to address poverty, has gained national recognition. Read a great piece in The Huffington Post.

If you would like to know more about Circles (and currently reside in the Albuquerque-Santa Fe area), you are invited to attend a fundraiser tomorrow, April 10, at Flying Star and Bookworks in the North Valley (4026 Rio Grande NW).  Here is a flyer:

Click on image to enlarge

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Happy Easter!

The good news of the resurrection of Jesus is not that we shall die and go home to be with him, but that he has risen and comes home with us, bringing all his hungry, naked, thirsty, sick prisoner [brothers and sisters] with him." 

- Clarence Jordan

Saturday, April 07, 2012

A Few Thoughts (and Prayers) along the Route of the Urban Way of the Cross

It was important to walk in silence and listen in silence. Otherwise, how could we hear the voice of God?  

The words of our Creator were everywhere, if we only those of us who participated in the Urban Way of the Cross on this Good Friday allowed ourselves to listen to the answer.  

We participated in the conversations with God (and with each other) at each of the stations.  

But those were our own words about 
injustice and a lack of faithfulness on our part and on the part of the society that we represent.  

It was incumbent on us to listen to the other side of the conversation.  And God's answer was not necessarily a call to action or empathy. 

 At one station, the question was, "Why doesn't the church speak with a stronger voice against injustice?"  

The words that  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" resounded in our ears and in our hearts.

"There was a time when the church was very powerful--in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. 

In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society."

"Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are. 

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century."

God's answer came in a gust of wind that seemed to say "You are right to urge the church authorities, with all their power and influence, to speak out for those who are suffering in many ways." 

But there was also a soft breeze that gently floated a number of cream-colored petals through the mild air until they landed softly at our feet.  "The message was, you are the church too, and you must continue to speak out against injustice."

Even as we focus on the big picture, our Creator also wants our attention to the here are now.  

Another one of our stops was St. Martin's Hospitality Center, the place where my wife Karen spends sometimes agonizing and frustrating, but many times joyful, days as an advocate for homeless clients.

The very presence at this site represented a remembrance of many people who for one reason or another are forced to live on the streets (or alternatively at shelters and motel rooms). But the first station back at Wells Park was dedicated to our homeless brothers and sisters, as was the last station at Health Care for the Homeless. So our reflection at St. Martin's more directly addressed our kinship with with others, no matter what their religious affiliation.
God spoke to us in many, many other ways, and not just at the stations.  For example, it was the joy (and admiration) of seeing an old friend who was just back in the country after serving as a nurse for a couple of years at a hospital in Haiti.

And on this day God gave us the gift of a mild day, golden sunshine and a gentle breeze--not necessarily the images that we have traditionally associated with the death of Christ.

Who says we have to wait until Easter to rejoice in the love of our Creator?

(Rev. Greg Henneman from Central United Methodist Church, one of the organizers of the walk, also wrote about the Urban Way of the Cross.  Read his post in the blog Alive Theology).

Friday, April 06, 2012

'The Want or Scarcity of Food'

The World Hunger Education Service (WHES) recently published its 2012 World Hunger and Poverty Facts Statistics as part of its Hunger Notes series. The report uses statistics from the World Food Organization (FAO) and other agencies to provide a good context about the current state of global hunger. The report included this chart from the FAO, which looks at statistics for the number of hungry people in the world in 2010. 
For those of us who have been involved in the anti-hunger movement, the concepts and statistics are all too familiar, including the definition of hunger  as "the want or scarcity of food" (Oxford English Dictionary). 

And many of these themes in the WHES report have been addressed in recent Hunger Reports published by the Bread for the World Institute.

Still, there are some points in this report that bear repeating:
  • In round numbers there are 7 billion people in the world. Thus, with an estimated 925 million hungry people in the world, 13.1 percent, or almost 1 in 7 people are hungry
  • The world produces enough food to feed everyone. World agriculture produces 17 percent more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, despite a 70 percent population increase. 
  • Poverty is the principal cause of hunger. The causes of poverty include poor people's lack of resources, an extremely unequal income distribution in the world and within specific countries, conflict, and hunger itself. 
  • Harmful economic systems are the principal cause of poverty and hunger. Essentially control over resources and income is based on military, political and economic power that typically ends up in the hands of a minority, who live well, while those at the bottom barely survive, if they do.
  • Climate change is increasingly viewed as a current and future cause of hunger and poverty. Increasing drought, flooding, and changing climatic patterns requiring a shift in crops and farming practices that may not be easily accomplished are three key issues. 
Click here to read full report

And here is the bottom line
The target set at the 1996 World Food Summit was to halve the number of undernourished people by 2015 from their number in 1990-92. (FAO uses three year averages in its calculation of undernourished people.) The (estimated) number of undernourished people in developing countries  was 824 million in 1990-92. In 2010, the number had climbed to 925 million people. The WFS goal is a global goal adopted by the nations of the world; the present outcome indicates how marginal the efforts were in face of the real need. So, overall,  the world is not making progress toward the world food summit goal, although there has been progress in Asia, and in Latin America and the Caribbean.
So in other words, the global community has the resources to end global hunger and poverty and the awareness of the steps that must be taken to address the problem (i.e. the Millennium Development Goals).  And even though the MDGs have helped support progress in some countries, the aggregate problem has not been resolved. We can speculate about obstacles, including the recent global economic downturn and recently high fuel prices.  But even those contingencies cannot mask the real problem: a gap in the political will to make the necessary structural changes.

Wounding and Healing

Wounding and healing are not opposites. They're part of the same thing. It is our wounds that enable us to be compassionate with the wounds of others. It is our limitations that make us kind to the limitations of other people. 

- Rachel Naomi Remen

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Handwritten Letters, E-mails and Phone Calls, Oh My!

The social media revolution is making a difference in the way Bread for the World advocates, members of a congregation and anti-hunger advocates communicate with their member of Congress.  First, let me point out that hand-written letters remain an effective way to communicate with your member of the House or Senate.  But they are not the only means.  E-mails are okay, as long as they are personalized and provide evidence that you are a constituent (your postal mailing address!) 

A lot, of course, depends on what priorities the office of your elected representative has placed on social media.  So how do you know what the staff members of each congressional office are thinking?  First, you have to ask the staffs of each office how much weight they put on different forms of communication with constituents.  

Also, there some insiders who can offer valuable information, such as blogger Matt Glassman, who has worked as an Analyst on  theCongress for the Congressional Research Service  (Library of Congress).  In  a post entitled On Writing Your Congressman, Mr. Glassman offers a very complete view of the workings of a congressional office.  

The reality is that number of e-mails is exploding, while the number of letters are remaining constant or falling slightly, as evidenced by this graph that Mr. Glassman posted: in his blog

Click on image to enlarge
Here's what he says about the graph:
If you don’t work in politics, this graph is probably pretty striking. If you do, it’s probably either familiar or terrifying, or both. Members of Congress interact with constituents in a variety of ways: in person, both in their districts and in Washington; over the phone when people call their offices; and through the mailing of letters. We can’t say for sure how many people a Member meets in person or how many phone calls come to the Hill each day. But I think it’s safe to say that, traditionally, neither of those forms of communication ate up nearly as much time as the mail did in a congressional office. The mail comes three times a day in Congress, and it’s unrelenting.
Here's what he says about letters:
With postal mail, it was always easy to know if you were being written to by a constituent or by someone from outside your district. The rule of thumb for sorting such mail is typically something like this: if it’s a constituent or interest group from our district, put it in the pile for things that we will promptly respond to; if it’s a constituent from outside our district, put it in another pile for things that we will promptly deliver to the correct office; if it’s a interest group from outside our district, look through it quickly and see if it’s personal or a form letter / mass spamming. If it’s the former, consider responding. If it’s the latter, definitely trash it.
And here's his take on the dilemma that congressional staffers face regarding e-mails:
The problem with that you can’t tell if the sender is from the district or not. And there are quite obvious incentives to not exclude anyone who might be a constituent. And so the incoming email has a tendency to nationalize the constituent communications techniques used in most Member offices; there’s just isn’t a sorting algorithm that  lets you separate your constituents from other citizens.*** Which means that the information context Members are facing in their offices is much more national in scope, even after they’ve tried to filter it. This has consequences. For one, it forces a complete rethinking of an office communications strategy. But it also distorts one’s perspective of district opinion, and tends to orient Members toward national public policy; people from outside the district are much more likely to communicate about policy issues than distributive politics such as grants or earmarks.
I recommend that  you read his entire piece, which contains great insights about the inner workings of a congressional office.  Part 1 and Part 2

And to be on the safe side, keep on sending those hand-written letters so that you don't face the risk of being "filtered out."  But by all means, do not discard e-mail as an option for communicating with your elected representative about the Offering of Letters.  And e-mails are and will continue to be a very useful took (along with phone calls) when communication must be made in a timely manner (as in action alerts).

A Pause at Midweek

Darkness deserves gratitude. It is the alleluia point at which we learn to understand that all growth does not take place in the sunlight. 

-Sister Joan Chittister

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Candidate Forum on April 28 (Another Opportunity for Advocacy)

Michelle Lujan Grisham (center)
Last November, Bread for the World members in Albuquerque met with five of the candidates seeking the soon-to-be vacant seat in the First Congressional District.  

We delivered petitions from Bread members and anti-hunger advocates urging the candidates that if they elected to that seat that they commit to protect programs that help the poor and vulnerable. Read more.

Martin Chavez (2nd from left)
We will continue to seek opportunities to continue the discourse with the candidates and post them on this site.  We recently learned via  that the three of the candidates with whom we met, Democrats Martin Chavez, Eric Griego and Michelle Lujan Grisham, will participate in a forum on Saturday, April 28, at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, 2401 12st NW in Albuquerque, 9:30-11:30 A.M. 
Eric Griego (center)
The event, described as an "old fashioned town hall  meeting, is sponsored by the Ward 11A Democrats.  Here is a  flyer with information on how to present a question to the candidates.  We hope some of our Bread members in the First Congressional District  will be there.

Bread for the World is a nonpartisan organization, and we hope to publicize activities of the two remaining Republican candidates, Janice Arnold-Jones and Gary Smith.  The other GOP candidate, Dan Lewis, has dropped out of the race.

Monday, April 02, 2012

The Eternal Presence

Sunset at the Grand Canyon
In worship we have our neighbors to right and left, before and behind, yet the Eternal Presence is over all and beneath all. 

Worship does not consist in achieving a mental state of concentrated isolation from one’s fellows. 

But in depth of common worship it is as if we found our separate lives were all one life, within whom we live and move and have our being.

- Thomas Raymond Kelly