A group of 20 religious leaders recently met with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to press for pending legislation to help fight childhood hunger in the United States.

Ruth Farrell, Coordinator of the Presbyterian Hunger Program, said, “Presbyterians care about hunger.  Most congregations are directly involved in hunger work in their communities and may know the names of children who depend upon programs in the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act pending before Congress.” 

Meeting with the group around a table symbolically spread with five loaves of bread and two fish, Vilsack said he sees the biblical story of the feeding of the multitude as a miracle of overcoming the fear of sharing. 

According to Bread for the World, the numbers on childhood hunger are alarming: nearly one in four children in the United States lives in a family that struggles to put food on the table. The quickest and most direct way to help them is through federal nutrition programs.

Congress is debating and renewing a set of nutrition programs aimed specifically at children. The child nutrition reauthorization legislation includes school lunch and breakfast programs, summer food distributions, and WIC (the Women, Infants, and Children) program.

Bread for the World President David Beckmann said that Vilsack “made a strong plea for churches to provide more leadership on policy issues that affect hungry people, notably supporting the president’s proposed $1 billion increase in annual funding for child nutrition programs.” 

The Obama administration’s request would help more eligible children to gain access to these programs. Vilsack emphasized in the June 15 meeting that the most pressing need is for better access to meals in the summer. For every 100 children who eat free or reduced-price school lunches during the school year, only 11 receive lunch during the summer.

The church leaders concluded the meeting with a prayer for the secretary, the USDA child nutrition programs, Congress, and the hungry children who rely on the programs. 

“It was very powerful to have a Cabinet secretary encourage grassroots advocacy on hunger,” said Max Finberg, director of USDA’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. “I think the church leaders who came to the meeting were encouraged, and also challenged to do more.”

For more information on childhood hunger in the United States and how to support policies and programs to help hungry children, visit the PC(USA) Office on Public Witness website or Bread for the World.