Coralville Catholics and Protestants advocate for global nutrition bill
By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
CORALVILLE — Modeling a Catholic social teaching, the “Two Feet of Love in Action,” Catholics and Protestants advocated for maternal and child nutrition at the Cedar Rapids offices of U.S. Senators Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst. The “two feet” teaching refers to the complementary ways in which Catholics are called to respond to injustice. The late Msgr. Marvin Mottet of the Diocese of Davenport developed an early model of that teaching.
The concerned constituents from the Coralville area united around a goal to ensure that moms and babies in developing countries receive the sustenance they need to thrive. Their effort began when Bread for the World volunteer Steve Panther invited members of the Social Justice Commission of St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville and other Christians to a June 25 meeting with staffers for the two senators. Their mission: to seek financial and leadership support for a global nutrition bill.
Senate Resolution 260, introduced June 24, strongly encourages the continuation of federal assistance in supporting global progress against maternal and child malnutrition and a commitment of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to global nutrition.
Moms and their babies — from conception to 2 years of age — are the focus of this initiative to ensure that children receive the nutrition they need to survive and thrive from childhood to productive adulthood.
Bread for the World, an ecumenical Christian advocacy organization, chose global maternal and child nutrition as the focus of its hunger-fighting campaign for 2019, said Zach Schmidt, a Chicago-based senior regional organizer with the organization. He works with volunteers such as Steve Panther to achieve this goal at the grassroots level.
“The United States has been a leader in global nutrition around the world,” said Panther, who is Lutheran. “We’re asking to continue this leadership in promoting global nutrition.” He pointed out that “poverty-focused foreign assistance is less than 1 percent of the entire federal budget. The State Department’s Global Health Fund is a small part of that. In fiscal year 2019, the Global Health Fund included $145 million for global nutrition. At the meeting, we advocated for increasing the $145 million to $250 million.” The group also asked the senators co-sponsor Sen. Res. 260. The more co-sponsors, the better chance for the bill’s passage, Schmidt said. A House version of the bill also exists.
The meeting’s advocacy partners from St. Thomas More Social Justice Commission were Ann Houlahan, Cecilia Roudebush and Karla Smith. Other partners were the reverends Russ Melby, retired pastor and recipient of the 2013 Robert D. Ray SHARES Humanitarian Award; Eric Hansen, pastor of Faith Lutheran Church, Andover; and Trish Decker, pastor of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Cedar Rapids.
All of the stories the group shared personalized the work to alleviate hunger at home and abroad. “We discussed food insecurity,” Smith said. “I reported on St. Thomas More’s ‘The Last Shall Be First’ monthly food drive,’ and that my husband and I pick up the donations once a month and deliver them to alternating food pantries (Iowa City, Coralville or North Liberty). The donations have been averaging 400 to 450 pounds of food per month.”
Roudebush talked about Iowa City schools providing breakfasts for kids in need, as well as backpacks filled with food that students take home on Fridays to help get through the weekends. The North Liberty Rec Center provides noon lunch during the summer with donations from various churches, she said.
Houlahan talked about the work of the Iowa City Catholic Worker House, which includes welcoming refugees as house guests as they await asylum hearings. That led to a discussion about refugees and why they leave their homelands, Smith said.
Malnutrition is a serious problem in places such as the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, Panther said. “Poverty is one of the issues pushing people from the Northern Triangle toward the border; that’s another important reason to focus on global nutrition,” he continued. “The first 1,000 days from conception to the second birthday is important because your whole cognitive and physical foundation are set during that time. Nutrition is probably the most important non-genetic factor in the development of children.”
Panther told the congressional staffers that St. Thomas More’s Offering of Letters (another Bread initiative to alleviate hunger through a letter-writing campaign to members of Congress) was “by far the most successful one I have participated in.” The pastor, Father Chuck Adam, and the Social Justice Commission “were fully committed.”
In his report to Schmidt, Panther said “the senatorial staff were very receptive to our presentation, so we are hopeful that they will share it with Ernst and Grassley.” Meanwhile, Sen. Res. 260 has been referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.
Smith sent her report to Kent Ferris, director of Social Action for the Diocese of Davenport. She shared the group’s legislative efforts and St. Thomas More’s hunger-fighting efforts. Ferris responded: “This is a great update for a number of reasons. It combines local, on-the-ground efforts to address hunger in our community with active, knowledgeable voices undertaking legislative advocacy advancing global solidarity at the same time.”
“Likewise, I am inspired as a parishioner of Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine looking for the best Bread angle to take this summer. Second-century philosopher Seneca said, ‘the best ideas are common property. We may replicate your approach in Muscatine!’”