Op-Ed: Ensuring a Place at the Table for Everyone

Rev. David Beckmann, the President of Bread for the World, on the important role churches and the faithful must play in combatting America’s hidden hunger crisis.

A volunteer fills grocery bags at a food pantry in a church on March 26, 2009, in Waterbury, Connecticut. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images) 

Feb 28, 2013

Almost 40 years ago, a small group of thoughtful people gathered around a table in the basement of a church on New York’s Lower East Side because they believed in a world without hunger. Led by Art Simon, a Lutheran pastor, members of that multidenominational coalition formed Bread for the World. Simon and other Bread members asked why people starve in a world of plenty. The clear answer is lack of political will.

Although there has been a mass exodus from hunger since then, today's numbers are still stark. One in six Americans does not always have enough to eat, nearly one in four U.S. children will experience hunger. Nearly 900 million people around the world struggle with hunger on a daily basis. Until ending hunger is a political priority, it will persist. A major motion picture like A Place at the Table is an important vehicle for moving hunger to the top of our national agenda.

In recent years, Participant Media has used socially relevant films and documentaries to inform Americans and the world about daunting problems that they can help solve through political action. An Inconvenient Truth expanded awareness of climate change. Food, Inc. and Waiting for Superman” fostered public discussion and action regarding alarming trends in food production and education. Similarly, A Place at the Table will raise awareness about hunger in our midst.

RELATED: America's Hidden Hunger Crisis

A Place at the Table shows the valiant and crucial role of local efforts to feed people who don’t have enough. For instance, Pastor Bob Wilson of Collbran, Colorado, transports four pallets of food from a food bank twice a week to distribute to hungry people in his community. The documentary reveals a nation in which people of goodwill consistently show that they love their neighbors by volunteering their resources toward feeding them. Those individuals represent the front line in the fight against hunger.

But the film also shows that people across the nation—whether in urban or rural communities—still go hungry. Barbie Izquierdo, a single mother, must sometimes choose between feeding her children or feeding herself. She feeds her children and goes hungry. Rosie, a Colorado fifth-grader, has trouble concentrating in school because her stomach is growling.

Local churches and community pantries deliver food to the tables of our vulnerable neighbors, but they can’t reach all of them, and they don’t have enough to give them. All local efforts combined are only the equivalent of four percent of federal expenditures on anti-hunger programs in the United States. The federal government provides 23 times the amount of food assistance as does charity. Hunger in the United States can only be quelled through a national goal and a unified plan to end it.

Bread for the World is excited about the opportunity presented by A Place at the Table to raise awareness and inspire people to act. Isaiah reminds us that God’s table is abundant for all people, “a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines, of rich food filled with marrow….” That vision of God’s bounty informs the advocacy work of Bread for the World. We are a collective Christian voice, urging lawmakers to end hunger at home and abroad.

We are pleased that the launch of A Place at the Table coincides with Bread for the World’s 2013 Offering of Letters. Together, they magnify our focus on ending hunger through changes in public policy.

Our association with Participant Media does not end when the film hits theaters across the country. Bread for the World is also a partner on the social action campaign accompanying the film. Through A Place at the Tables social action campaign (www.takepart.com/table), Bread members have more avenues for action—at both the local and the national levels. Bread for the World and Participant Media will regularly ask our advocates and the public to take action throughout this joint campaign.

Once you have watched the movie, stay abreast of the policies that affect hungry and poor people by following Bread for the World, which has almost 40 years of experience successfully advocating on Capitol Hill. The Bread for the World website can keep you up to date on legislative actions, which is especially important this year as Congress looks for ways to reduce the deficit and balance the budget.

From that small table in the New York City church basement four decades ago to the negotiating table in Congress right now, Bread for the World envisions a world in which the table is set for all people.

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