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Circle of Protection

Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. - Proverbs 31:8-9

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Ofelio – Washington, D.C.

January 13, 2014 by Stephen Padre

Ofelio

Photo: Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World

 

Ofelio has built an effective small business preparing the traditional tamales that are much in demand in Washington, D.C. He immigrated to the United States from rural Mexico almost 30 years ago.

In the United States, Ofelio found some of the things he sought for his children: a secure home, nourishing food, and education. But it took a toll on Ofelio’s physical and emotional health. He worked for ten years in restaurants, often 12 hours a day, seven days a week, with no job security. Even while Ofelio was throwing himself into hard work, he felt that he was losing the struggle to support his family. He felt defeated and became depressed.

Moving to Washington, Ofelio started making tamales at home for friends at church, and he laughs about it now since making tamales is considered a woman’s work in Mexico. Soon he was filling bigger orders on a regular basis. Ofelio secured the permits and certifications to launch his catering business through the help of a D.C. nonprofit agency.

Ofelio is a single father; his business is the family’s lifeline even while it provides for little more than essentials. He combines tamale deliveries with after-school pickups. He is cooking by 5:00 a.m. most days. In the midst of everything, he finds time to be a dad.

What Ofelio needs but cannot obtain is a start-up loan. A few thousand dollars would allow him to move the business out of his home kitchen, but by banking standards his business is too small and too risky. Without access to capital, Ofelio cannot move beyond just barely making it. He has big ideas: renting a commercial kitchen, buying a delivery vehicle, hiring a staff. And taking classes to improve his English and providing quality childcare for his two youngest daughters.

Ofelio has been turned down by banks many times. Most government programs do not provide loans to businesses as small as his. With a loan as low as $20,000, a commercial kitchen would be within reach. So far that loan is not available.

FACT: Immigrants like Ofelio are 13 percent of the population but 18 percent of business owners.

Tara Marks – Pittsburgh

November 7, 2013 by reed

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Photo: Laura Elizabeth Pohl for Bread for the World

Tara Marks’ story of poverty so extreme that she skipped meals to provide enough for her son is an inspiration. Pell grants; the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) were the stepping-stones that helped Tara escape poverty and go to law school.

Tara’s journey shows that our government’s budget discussions are about more than numbers. Fiscal decisions have real consequences. For Tara, a budget that funded domestic nutrition programs created a path out of hunger and poverty for her and her son, Nathan. Tara noted that when she was hungry, abundance surrounded her. “This was not a question of availability of food, but a question of affording it. I did not live in a food desert; I lived in a food mirage. I had many grocery stores around me, but I could not afford to go in and shop.”

Tara passed out from hunger before finally applying for SNAP, which gave her access to adequate food. Food assistance alone did not help her move up the ladder of prosperity, but it gave her the stability to get the education that did. Stories like Tara’s not only humanize hunger and poverty, but serve to remind our members of Congress that decisions made today will affect lives tomorrow.

Tara Marks, a former SNAP recipient from Pittsburgh, Pa., is studying to be a lawyer.

FACT: Just over half of all Americans (51.4 percent) will live in poverty at some point before age 65. (Urban Institute, “Transitioning In and Out of Poverty, 2007).

Barbie Izquierdo – Philadelphia

November 7, 2013 by reed

Barbie Izquierdo

Photo: Laura Elizabeth Pohl for Bread for the World

Barbie Izquierdo is a young mother who has found the task of feeding her children challenging. Having lost her job during the recession, she was often unable to buy enough food for her daughter, son, and herself. Looking back on the hardest days, Barbie recalls thinking, “I literally have nothing left. What do I give them?” Some days, Barbie skipped meals to make sure that her children could eat.

“I feel like America has this huge stigma of how families are supposed to eat together at a table,” Barbie says, “but they don’t talk about what it takes to get you there or what’s there when you’re actually at the table.”

As the valedictorian of her high school class, Barbie dreamed of going to college and earning a degree in criminal justice so she could earn a decent salary. But first she had to figure out how to keep her children fed. The seemingly simple act of providing food was a stressful struggle—jobs are hard to find in her North Philadelphia neighborhood.

Eventually, Barbie qualified for benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), which provided some relief. But finding healthy and affordable food on a slim budget is its own challenge for those who live in poor neighborhoods. Barbie had to take two buses and travel an hour to reach a decent grocery store. The food she was able to buy with her SNAP benefits usually lasted only three weeks.

Barbie Izquierdo, who appeared in the movie “A Place at the Table,” is finishing her college degree at Esperanza College, Philadelphia.

FACT: Nearly 15 percent of U.S. households struggle to put enough food on the table. More than 48 million Americans—including 15.9 million children—live in these households. (USDA, “Household Food Security in the United States,” 2010).

Sheila Edwards Howard – Chicago

November 7, 2013 by reed

Amanda BornfreeSheila Edwards Howard has lived on both sides of the poverty line—and she has advocated for poor and hungry people from both sides of that line as well.

Edwards Howard grew up in the violent “K-Town” section of Chicago, left the neighborhood as a young woman with a well-paying, stable job, and then found herself struggling again after a horrible fall in a Chicago train station left her unable to work. Edwards Howard has founded an anti-violence nonprofit, Born to Be Light, written a book, recorded a gospel CD, and enrolled in college—all while living below the poverty line and dealing with the debilitating pain that is a constant reminder of her accident.

She also helps other poor and hungry people through work with her church, and has said that she hopes the difficult decision to go public with her troubles will be of help to someone else in the same situation. “My pride got in the way first,” she said of being approached by a director to appear in a film about people living in poverty. “[B]ut then the Christian side of me stepped up.…maybe by sharing my story, my hardships, maybe that will help shed some light and help others that are out there. I was embarrassed at first, [but] if I don’t stand up, next time it may be my children.”

“Right after about a year after my accident, I realized that had I would not be the same, and I went on disability,” Edwards Howard says. “I had three children. They gave me $900 a month for me, and they gave me $122 I think for each child. Keep in mind that’s to pay my rent. I had food stamps, but it wasn’t a lot, so a lot of times we would run out of food stamps.”

Her message to “hold on until times of change” and “keep moving” is an important one for those working on behalf of poor and hungry people, the people in need themselves, and those who belong to both groups.

Sheila Edwards Howard is one of the subjects of the 2012 short film The Line, a documentary that profiles four people struggling to make ends meet.

FACT: A person working full-time at the minimum wage earns only about $14,500 a year.

Alli Morris – Bend, Ore.

November 7, 2013 by reed

Photo: Brad HornPregnant and homeless at 16, Alli Morris moved into a maternity homeless shelter called Grandma’s House in Bend, Ore. When her son, André, was born on Oct. 31, 2010, doctors quickly discovered that he suffered from hypopituitarism, a condition in which the pituitary gland doesn’t produce normal amounts of hormones. André’s medical condition is treatable, however, and he can live a healthy, normal life if he continues to take his medication. Without his medications, André could suffer from seizures and brain damage. It is also imperative that André eats nutritious food. “Nutrition is a really big deal with André,” Alli explains. “With his thyroid problem, if he doesn’t eat healthy, he would become an unhealthy, obese baby, because he doesn’t have a metabolism.”

In order to ensure that Alli and André get the nutrition they need, Alli applied for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)—two programs that help mothers and children like Alli and André.

“I get vouchers for cheese, milk, berries, vegetables, beans, tortillas, and bread. It’s really nice,” Alli says. “André wouldn’t be as healthy as he is without WIC because he wouldn’t have everything he needs. I would not have been able to supply all of that [food].”

Alli graduated from high school last year and got a job working as a bank teller at The Bank of Cascades, where she receives full benefits and childcare. With this additional funding, she and André were able to move into an apartment, and the two are living on their own, which was always Alli’s goal.

“Money is my biggest stress,” Alli confesses. “I want to be able to give André the world …I want to be able to support me and André by myself. I want to show him that I can do it.”

FACT: One in every two babies born in the United States is enrolled in WIC. (Births: Preliminary Data for 2009. National Vital Statistics Reports, Vul. 59, No. 3, December 2010. Annual Program Data for 2008. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service.)

Heather Turner – Annandale, Va.

November 7, 2013 by reed

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In 2007, Heather Rude-Turner was living a comfortable, middle-class life with her husband and two children. But her husband started drinking heavily and became extremely abusive. Rude-Turner knew this was a dangerous situation for her and her children, so they left in January 2008. She lived with family for a few months, but eventually moved with her children into a shelter for abused women in March 2008.

She found a job driving a school bus and did everything she could to be resourceful for herself and her children. By September 2008, Rude-Turner had saved enough money to move her kids into a small apartment in northern Virginia. But even then, she felt she was living on the edge of poverty. She often didn’t have enough food to feed herself and her children, so she would go hungry. “Even though I was working, we still didn’t have enough,” Rude-Turner, a former marine, says.

But when she filed her tax return in 2009, her pastor at Ravenswood Baptist Church in Annandale, Va., told her about an important resource for working people struggling with poverty: the earned income tax credit (EITC). This is a refundable tax credit for low-income workers that offsets the burden of U.S. payroll taxes. Only working families can claim the EITC, which is designed to encourage people to work. Rude-Turner immediately filed her tax return and received the tax credit. “Without the [EITC] benefits,” she says, “it would have been a lot more difficult for us to get on our feet.

Today, Rude-Turner lives in a house in a safe neighborhood, works full-time as a teacher at a childcare center in Annandale, Va., and is engaged to be married. She hopes her hard-earned degree will help her get a promotion at her current job—and perhaps lead to a new career teaching at a public school. Naomi and Isaac, 3, are flourishing in their new home and new family.

Rude-Turner knows it would have been difficult to reach her goals without the help of family, friends, her church, and programs aimed at helping poor and hungry people overcome difficult circumstances.

FACT: The earned income tax credit (EITC) is a refundable tax credit that supplements the wages of low-income workers. In 2010, this credit lifted 5.4 million people out of poverty—including 3 million children (Bread for the World, “Expanding the Circle of Protection,” 2012).

Dawn Phipps – Boise, ID

November 7, 2013 by reed

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Photo: Joseph Molieri

Many people think those of us who need food assistance are nothing but deadbeats and leeches, but the truth is that most of us have jobs; we have families who need to eat and children who are wondering when dinner will be ready. I first found myself needing food assistance when the recession hit a few years ago and my employer laid me off. As a single mother and the sole means of support for my children and myself, I eventually realized that if I was going to adequately care for my family, I was going to have to ask for help.

For me, applying for benefits, including SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps], was like admitting defeat. However, the worst part of the experience was how society treated me once I received the benefits. Once, a woman at the grocery store said to me, “I should have known better than to come to the store on the first of the month with these losers and their food stamps. Don’t you feel the same?” After I explained to her that I was sorry she felt that way, as I received food stamps, she said to me, “Well, you don’t LOOK like you’re on food stamps!”

I can tell you that people who receive food stamps don’t have a certain look. They are people like you and me who need a hand. I can never fully know another person’s path in this life, so I do my best not to judge anyone. Solving the problems that contribute to hunger is a huge challenge that will take time and the efforts of all of us. But if we put aside our judgments and work together, we can make sure that families like mine never have to face hard times or hunger alone.

Dawn Phipps is a nurse and hunger activist living in Boise, Idaho.

FACT: Although nearly 49 million Americans receive food stamps, the program is working as it was intended. Food stamp usage is designed to increase during tough economic times, like the current recession, and will decline when the economy rebounds.

Amanda Bornfree – Chicago

November 7, 2013 by reed

Amanda BornfreeA couple of weeks after I found out my husband and I were expecting our first child, we lost our health insurance. We were disappointed, as is to be expected. I had been excited about going forth with my prenatal check-ups with a doctor I had chosen for her directness, serious demeanor, and expertise.

Due to our sudden shift in income, we qualified for Medicaid, and I was eligible for WIC [Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children] benefits. When I first visited the WIC clinic, I was greeted by my caseworker. After filling out important paperwork, she went over my options for doctors and midwives. She spoke of each professional with respect and honesty. She shared with me the various options I could choose from. I was a little surprised that I had choices. Once I selected the professional I wanted to visit, my caseworker picked up the phone and made my first appointment. I wanted to open my arms and embrace her.

She then pulled out a pamphlet about the nutrition that I needed as a pregnant woman. She talked me through it and answered all of my questions. She then informed me of the WIC monthly vouchers. I would be able to receive foods with essential nutrients for my body and my baby. The assistance I received made me feel loved and important. It gave my husband and me more faith in our belief that everything was going to be alright. And that faith fed our determination to succeed.

When I looked around the WIC clinic, I saw that I was among a community of women that cared for each other. Different generations, complexions, languages, and experiences—all of us present to keep ourselves and our families healthy. We all believed in that, whether we were there to help or to receive help. We all believed that everyone has the right to live a healthy life, and that a healthy life begins during the period from the start of a woman’s pregnancy until her child’s second birthday—the crucial 1,000 days.

Amanda Bornfree, from Chicago, Illinois, is a strong advocate for WIC.

FACT: Although 81.3 percent of eligible infants are enrolled in WIC, the program reaches just 47.3 percent of eligible children ages one to four. (USDA, “WIC Eligibles and Coverage, 1994 to 2007: Estimates of the Population of Women, Infants and Children Eligible for WIC Benefits”, 2009.)