Friday, May 22, 2015

An Ecumenical and Interfaith Approach to Anti-Hunger Efforts in North Carolina

(Bread for the World members around the country are dedicated and creative in the ways they promote an Offering of Letters. We saw this with Cathy Brechtelsbauer in Sioux Falls, South Dakota;,Ed Payne and the leadership team in Minneapolis-St. Paul;Beth Lepinski in Appleton, Wisconsin (and the Coral Gables, Florida,  United Church of Christ); the leadership team in Indianapolis, and Lucretia Tippit and her team at All Saints Lutheran Church in Albuquerque. To the list, we add the efforts of grassroots team in North Carolina).

The Bread for the World convention in Raleigh, North Carolina, was a collaborative effort, with a couple dozen  churches, businesses, faith organizations joining with Bread to put on this big anti-hunger event at Highland United Methodist Church on March 28. More than 200 people from different corners of North Carolina attended the event, which included a panel discussion entitled "Responses to Hunger from the Christian, Jewish and Muslim Traditions"

A central theme of the event was Feed Our Children, Bread for the World's 2015 Offering of Letters, (generating 223 letters to House and Senate members from North Carolina). The discussion touched on many aspects of hunger in the United States and in North Carolina.

"Our goal in Raleigh was to pull folks in from what is called the Triangle area, which includes Raleigh, but also Durham and Chapel Hill, two smaller university communities, both with strong progressive communities," said Patrick O'Neill, one of the organizers of the event.  "The convention did draw folks from throughout the state, but we focused on getting those who lived closer to Raleigh, which is the Capital, and the hub of the state's political infrastructure."

"Of most importance to us was to target people (many from area churches) who were already invested in hunger-relief efforts such as soup kitchens, food pantries and other direct service. By tapping them we were targeting people who already saw this work of eliminating hunger as important. We wanted them to see how much more could be accomplished through advocacy," added O'Neill. "We gave folks the opportunity to start that day with an offering of letters, and connecting them with Bread."

'The Marriage of Service and Advocacy'
The keynote speaker was Gene Nichol, professor of law and Director of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina. Nichol addressed the overwhelming statistics that dominate the poverty culture of North Carolina.

Other prominent speakers also offered significant insights, including Bread for the World President David Beckmann; Jill Bullard, executive director of Inter Faith Food Shuttle; and Rev. Steve Hickle, Faith Outreach Director of Stop Hunger Now. See this link for full lineup.

We used an array of presentations to make our point -- speakers from many disciplines, drama, first-person accounts of personal poverty/hunger, first-person stories of how government programs made a difference in people's lives -- all with an inter-faith message. Our goal was to keep things moving and keep the program interesting so people would want to stay until the end," said O'Neill.  "The drama also infused humor in the program, and a spot-on specific message from the Rev. Steve Hickle (of Stop Hunger Now) about the marriage of service and advocacy really set the tone for making that crucial connection."

Kiara, Miles and Terrance Ruth
Featuring Two 2010 Hunger Justice Leaders
Bread activists Terrance and Kiara Ruth, graduates of the 2010 Hunger Justice Leaders training, also spoke of  had speaking roles at the convention.. "I highlighted the link between hunger and education, said Terrance Ruth, who is principal at AMIkids Infinity in Raleigh.

"I discussed how my school of suspended high school students is filled with the same demographics year after year," said Ruth, who also serves as school and policy education and communication Specialist at The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation. We have minority male, criminal history, poor, and academically struggling students on free lunch.  Read more thoughts about Terrance Ruth's thoughts on education and society in his series of  Letters to My Son, which describe the  reality of African-American students and express hope as Miles grows up

Kiara Ruth also addressed the Bread event, speaking about her direct experience with food stamps in her home state of Arkansas.  

The Hunger Justice Leaders program not only helped strengthen the commitment of Terrance and Kiara to anti-hunger and social justice efforts, but it also brought them together.  Read more in Bread Blog from freelance writer Patricia Bidar.

Bread member Bryan McFarland, whose band Jacob's Join has performed at the Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina 2012, provided the music for this year's Bread event in Raleigh.

The North Carolina model worked because of great planning and a lot of behind-the-scenes work."Our success had a key element -- we spoke with many people in advance, including those who had planned the two previous state conventions, and we assembled a committee of about two dozen people (who had a depth of commitment in their hearts and souls)," said O'Neill."Most importantly, we were able to match individuals with their areas of giftedness. Everyone did their jobs, and as the months, weeks and days wound down our excitement grew. We knew we had a winne.r"

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