An Exciting Week for THI: Legislation Moves Forward, Kids’ Voices are Heard

253572_541081119268750_1037426611_n

Children from Elsa England Elementary in Round Rock and Travis Heights Elementary in Austin were able to meet Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. shortly after the Breakfast Bill passed the Texas House of Representatives.

It has been an exciting week for the Texas Hunger Initiative. Last Thursday, Senate Bill 376, the “Breakfast Bill,” passed the Texas House of Representatives and now moves forward to the governor’s office. And yesterday, House Bill 749 passed through the Senate Committee on Government Organization with a unanimous vote. In this bill, it is proposed that the Texas Hunger Initiative and the Texas Department of Agriculture would work together on a five-year plan to increase participation in summer food programs.

It really is history in the making.  These two bills have the potential to feed hundreds of thousands of hungry children throughout the state.

Children from Elsa England Elementary in Round Rock and Travis Heights Elementary in Austin witnessed history unfold last week with the announcement of SB 376 passing the House, as they stood on the steps of the State Capitol for their Rally Against Childhood Hunger.

Funded by the Sodexo grant, Elsa England Elementary third-graders have been tackling childhood hunger all year, raising funds, giving presentations to younger students, and even writing persuasive letters to President Obama.

For their teacher and primary organizer of the project, Rachael Brunson, childhood hunger is an issue that hits close to home.

“There were many, many days when I did not have enough to eat,” Brunson said in an interview with TV station KXAN in Austin. “When you don’t have enough to eat, you find it hard to concentrate on anything except where you’re going to get your next meal.”

Childhood hunger is a huge problem in Texas today, affecting one in four Texas children, according to a study from Feeding America.

Ricky, a student at Travis Heights Elementary, brings a face to these statistics.

“I myself have suffered from hunger,” he said during the rally, standing on top of a crate to reach the microphone. “It affected my grades and I went all the time not knowing where my next meal would come from. I don’t want any other kids to suffer like I did.”

Because of stories like Ricky’s, childhood hunger became the issue the students rallied around.  Elsa England students partnered with students from Travis Heights Elementary to prepare for their rally at the Capitol, months before the event. They rehearsed chants, brainstormed T-shirt designs, and created colorful posters and banners.

Students came to the Capitol ready for their rally, armed with chants like “Kids should never be famished!” and posters urging the public to “Get involved now!”

Speakers included Jeremy Everett, director of the Texas Hunger Initiative, Joanna Linden, CDO of Capitol Area Food Bank, and Dr. Jesús H. Chávez, superintendent of Round Rock ISD.

Linden said her work puts her directly in the front lines of hungry children, and shows her how crucial the issue is in Texas.

“I get to see many different faces of hunger every single day, and as a mom of two daughters of my own, the thing that disturbs me the most is the face of a hungry child. Two out of every five of our clients are kids,” Linden said. “Food is the fuel for children to learn and develop every single day. Hunger limits a child’s potential and their opportunity to grow.”

Linden was inspired by the enthusiasm of the students, teachers and all involved in the rally.

“They inspire the work that we do to make sure that kids are fed. Through partnerships, through people getting together, we truly are able to make a difference,” Linden said.

After the Breakfast Bill passed, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. spoke to the students on how crucial the legislation will be for children across Texas.

“Studies over and over again have indicated to us that if a child eats a nutritious meal, then he or she will learn more, and that’s what we want,” Lucio, Jr. said. “You will be our leaders of tomorrow, and we want you to be healthy. We want a healthy workforce, healthy families, and we want all of you to lead us in the right direction—our state, our country, our world.”

Round Rock Superintendent Chávez hopes the rally, and the hunger project, will have long-term impact on students.

“It shows them the difference that they individually can make, and the power of a group and working together,” he said.

For Daniel, a student at Elsa England Elementary, the project and rally have made him more aware of issues affecting children in his community and around the world.

“I’ve loved everything we’ve done. I knew it would make me a better person, because it’s a big problem that I’m solving,” he said.

Daniel has plans to work in a career where he can continue the fight against hunger when he grows up, in a “place where there’s a lot of hungry kids.”

But let’s hope he doesn’t have to do so. Let’s hope that our work, the work of similar organizations, and Texas legislation can wipe hunger off the map, so students like Daniel can live in a state where childhood hunger doesn’t exist.

Written by: Ashley Yeaman, Social Media & Communications Coordinator, Texas Hunger Initiative

Photo by: Charis Dietz, Director of Communications, Texas Hunger Initiative

The Christian Church’s role in fighting hunger and poverty: Jim Wallis speaks at Baylor

7298386718_211869dce0_z

Which issues should the Christian church be focused on today? What questions should modern Christians be asking? Currently, abortion and homosexuality have been at the forefront of theological discussion and media attention. While these issues are important, in can be argued something crucial is being left off the agenda. How should the Church approach social justice issues, including poverty, hunger and immigration in America? Why aren’t these issues a regular part of Christian discussion? Jim Wallis, CEO of Sojourners and a spiritual advisor to President Barack Obama, recently spoke at Baylor University on Christianity’s role in dealing with social justice issues.

Wallis spoke at Baylor’s chapel service on Monday, April 22. Afterward, he led a discussion over lunch with students who will be attending the upcoming Baylor mission trip to Washington D.C. This trip will focus on hunger in America.

Wallis suggests that many are disenchanted by the direction the Church is headed.

“What’s the fastest growing religious affiliation in the country? ‘None of the above’ [i.e. the choice on a survey form]. What’s interesting is most of the none of the above’s believe in God. They don’t like what they see about religion,” Wallis said.

Wallis felt much the same way during the Civil Rights Movement when he was 14 years old. Having been a part of the evangelical church his entire life in Detroit, he started asking questions about what he was seeing around him. “Why do we live the way we do in one neighborhood,” he would ask, “when life seems different just a few miles—a few blocks—down the road?”

“I heard there were black churches. We never visited them or had a black preacher come talk to us. And I heard these stories about people who were hungry, unemployed, in jail,” Wallis said. “I [was] watching my city being torn apart by racial segregation, tension, anger, hatred, violence. It was coming apart.”

His pastor’s response did little to bring resolution: “Jim, something you have to understand: Christianity has nothing to do with racism. That’s political, and our faith is personal.”

“That’s when I left my church, dead in my heart,” Wallis said. “Here was a thing that was pricking my heart hard. What’s happening to my city? This was ripping my heart apart and then they said your faith has nothing to do with that.  So as a young person, I said, ‘Well, I want nothing to do with the faith.’ ”

Wallis joined the Civil Rights Movement shortly thereafter and, with time, he rediscovered his faith. “I realize now that my church and many other white churches missed the most important moral issue of my time growing up: race in America, the Civil Rights Movement. They missed it. They just entirely missed it. That’s why people check none of the above,” Wallis said.

Will the modern Church miss the social justice issues that are affecting our society today?

Wallis argues, based on what is presented in the Bible, that these issues should be just as much a theological concern as they are a political concern. Wallis referred to Matthew 25: 35-40, which reads:

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

“How we treat [people in need] is how we treat Christ,” Wallis said. “And that’s converting [Christians]. It’s changing our minds and our hearts . . . . This is changing churches, and you know what? I think this could change Washington D.C., which is amazing to say, because this town doesn’t change for anything.”

God, Wallis said, has called Christians to be defenders of the poor, the hungry, and others in need, and that is why social justice should be a central issue in Christian churches today.

“It’s going to take going deeper into these issues and not getting caught up in the political right and left,” Wallis said.

Once the Church becomes unified around these issues and brings them to the forefront of discussion, real change could take place in America.

Wallis left the group with a challenge.

“I always say, Here’s how you recognize a member of Congress: they’re the ones walking around with their fingers in the air. And they lick their finger to see which way the wind’s blowing. You don’t change a nation by changing what that one, wet-finger politician [believes]. You change a nation only when you change the wind.”

Let us be that wind of change.

Written by: Ashley Yeaman, Communications Coordinator, Texas Hunger Initiative

Photo by: Melissa Roy, Creative Commons