A pencil-thin boy walks through an Ethiopian farm field of sparse, failed crops in a photo that accompanies an article about terror and drought in Africa in the April 4-11 issue of America magazine. The image is riveting. America reports that 10 million Ethiopians are facing hunger.
Thousands of miles away in Iowa, women and men line up outside meal sites like Café on Vine in Davenport waiting for the noon meal to be served. Although their situation isn’t as dire as what the Ethiopians face, these individuals represent the one in eight Iowans considered “food insecure,” which means they lack an adequate supply of nutritious and safe food.
Both of these scenes should call to mind the passionate Year of Mercy message of Pope Francis, his “burning desire” that we rediscover the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Consider the many and varied opportunities to respond to the pope’s message, starting at home in Iowa; opportunities that require a greater giving of self. Prayer is the basis on which to build. When you pray for the hungry, they are no longer out of sight, out of mind.
Think about advocating for hunger-fighting legislation, volunteering at a meal site or teaching someone who is illiterate how to read. How does reading relate to hunger? Lauri Jones, kitchen manager at Café on Vine, observes that some café guests don’t know how to read, a skill that is essential to be able to provide for oneself. Lauri recommends reading the book “Hunger in the Heartland” by Debra Landwehr Engle and Rachel Vogel Quinn to learn more about alleviating hunger in your community. If you’d like to volunteer at Café on Vine, give Lauri a call at (563) 324-4472.
One hunger-alleviating effort awaiting our support is Iowa Senate File 2307. The Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) says this legislation would provide $900,000 for food donation programs, including those supported by the Iowa Food Bank Association. SF 2307, which has passed the Senate Appropriations Committee, has four parts:
• Food Donation on State Capitol Premises, which encourages the donation of excess food from a sponsored event on Capitol grounds to a food bank.
• Iowa Agricultural Products Clearance Program, which would acquire surplus agricultural products to avoid unnecessary waste and to provide nutritional food to people with low incomes and the unemployed.
• Iowa Emergency Food Purchase Program. This matching grant effort would provide for the purchase of food for the food bank network. State funding of $250,000 would be matched by private donations resulting in $500,000 in food for hungry Iowans.
• Prison Produce Garden Program. The Iowa Department of Corrections would establish a produce garden at each of the correctional facilities the department operates. The harvested produce could be used to feed individuals in correction facilities or donated to an Iowa
Ask your Iowa senator to support SF 2307 (https://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislators/senate).
At the federal level, you can advocate for legislation reauthorizing child nutrition to be brought to the Senate floor for a vote. The Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016 impacts hungry children in Iowa and throughout our nation. Reauthorization of this bill is crucial to the one in five children in the U.S. living at risk of hunger. Bread for the World says this legislation would streamline summer and after-school meal programs to make it easier to serve meals to kids year-round. It would also allow some states to provide summer electronic benefit transfer cards to families in hard-to-reach areas to purchase groceries. Some states would also have access to alternative methods of reaching kids who can’t make it to meal sites.
Finally, earmark a donation to Catholic Relief Services (CRS, www.crs.org) on behalf of the 10 million people now facing hunger in Ethiopia. CRS has more than 50 years experience in responding to natural and human-made disasters in that country. The agency works to help people sustain themselves through efforts aimed at improving agriculture, livestock, health, nutrition and water and sanitation. Funding for emergency response is just 46 percent of what is needed at the present time, CRS says.
In his letter explaining the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis reminds us that “In each of these ‘little ones’ Christ himself is present.” If we can remind ourselves that Christ is present in the Ethiopians facing hunger, the Iowans who are food insecure and the nation’s children who are at risk of hunger, we will go a long way toward alleviating hunger in the world.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor