Compassion Should Not Be Seasonal: The View from a RESULTS International Intern

December 3, 2013
by Philipp Nell, Fall 2013 U.S. Poverty Intern

On November 25, Bread for the World published its 2014 Hunger Report, titled Ending Hunger in America. The same day they held a panel discussion at the National Press Club in Washington DC. As an intern for RESULTS I was sent to this event to take notes and learn more about poverty in the United States. I am a German student participating in the Washington Semester Program at American University. Before I came to the US, I was well aware that considerable gaps exist between the very wealthy and poor segments of the population. However, I didn’t expect the extent of poverty and hunger in one of the world’s richest countries. By conducting research concerning poverty and health issues for RESULTS, I started to understand that existential threats, such as food insecurity, lack of insurance, or underinsurance for both adults and children, represent causes of everyday struggles and hardship for significant number of the US citizens. Germany, as well as various Central European and Scandinavian countries, provides a more extensive social system that provides basic sustenance  and insurance but also a safety net for people who face predicaments in economic recessions. I realized being poor in this country means two things at the same time: being responsible for yourself – meaning you have to be the architect of your own fortune – on the one hand, but also being dependent on decisions made by others (members of Congress) on the other hand. Existing and important programs are not permanent, but threatened by recurring votes of Congress. It is imperative that organizations, such as RESULTS and Bread for the World, advocate and take responsibility for sustaining programs that serve destitute people. 

Bread for the World picked a fitting and symbolic time for this event. Thanksgiving ought to remind us to be grateful for the gifts and wealth of the nation. It is celebrated with abundance and a vast variety of food, yet there are people who can hardly afford basic nutrition and are reliant on food programs. While some are worrying about leftovers, others worry that nothing will be left over at this day because the month is almost over. It has become a part of American culture to be particularly generous on Thanksgiving; or magnanimous as Washington called it. But compassion shouldn’t be seasonal and the underserved suffer all year long. Therefore, it is indispensable to make continuous efforts to sustain programs, such as SNAP, America’s largest program in the domestic hunger safety net. Still, more can be done and NGOs offer further possibilities and opportunities.

Panelists Sharon Thornberry and Dominic Duren presented information about programs they respectively are responsible for. Dominic Duren is director of the HELP Program in Cincinnati, OH. His concerns are young men and women facing the challenge of making a successful transition from prison back to their communities. He advocates for a change of the public perception; ex-prisoners suffer a lack of opportunity because their job applications seem to be denied on principle when previous convictions are disclosed. The reason why some relapse into criminal deeds is a lack of perceived opportunity. Without a job it is hard to feed family and oneself and suffering from hunger can urge to act without considering consequences. It is imperative to break this vicious circle in order to enable ex-offenders to succeed in society.

Sharon Thornberry spoke up for adequate supply of food in rural areas. Supermarkets can be more than 100 miles apart from some parishes. Elderly and disabled are mostly affected by this fact. Therefore Sharon advocates building up networks that connect farmers, business and recipients of food aid. She is the creator of FEAST, a vanguard of this conception.

David Beckmann, President of Bread for the World, encouraged participants to continuously prevent Congress from SNAP. He underlined this claim by stating that the least possible cut to SNAP of $4 billion will equal the amount of food provided by churches and food banks together. Emphasis laid on the fact that poverty and unemployment are deeply interconnected. In this respect he proclaimed the core statement of the 2014 Hunger Report: 4 Steps to ending hunger in America.

On panel discussions, people often state or relate to numbers and charts. But numbers and charts cannot fully portrait the consequences of poverty on lives of people who live these hardships. Barbara Izquierdo, activist of Witnesses to Hunger, provided an emotional perspective on this topic. I believe anyone who experienced hunger will try to prevent others from going through the same hardship. This fact shouldn’t be neglected only because some have been lucky. A society is measured by how it treats its weakest members and as John Carr, moderator of the panel said, America can do better.

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