Bishops, UMW support summer nutrition bill at state capitol briefing



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Bishops, UMW support summer nutrition bill at state capitol briefing

March 26, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
407-897-1184   
tparham@flumc.org     Orlando  {0268}

An e-Review Feature
By Jenna De Marco**

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker and Alabama-West Florida Conference Bishop Larry M. Goodpaster will attend an upcoming legislative briefing here to urge lawmakers to make summer nutrition for children a priority.

Called "One Voice for Children," the inter-religious legislative briefing April 6-7 is designed to raise awareness about children's issues. It's scheduled as part of the United Way of Florida's annual Children's Week, which begins April 3.

The session will focus on the Children's Summer Nutrition Bill, also named the "Mrs. Willie Ann Glenn Act." The bill seeks to ensure that hungry children will have access to one nutritious meal per day for at least 40 days in the summer when school is out of session.

"We are there to put a focus upon the moral issue of our responsibility to care for needy children in our communities and express how we think that everyone is concerned about this," Whitaker said.

The bill, which allows school districts to use available federal money to pay for summer food programs, receives the support of Whitaker and Goodpaster, as well as their respective conferences and the Florida Conference United Methodist Women (UMW).

Named after the late Mrs. Willie Ann Glenn of Perry, Fla., the bill honors Glenn's contributions to feeding hungry children through her church, Stewart Memorial AME (African Methodist Episcopal). During the last six summers of her life, Glenn organized a summer feeding program for 100 to 150 children per day annually, according to Debra Susie, executive director of Florida Impact.

Whitaker said he and Goodpaster believe being in dialogue with legislators is in keeping with the Council of Bishops' Initiative on Children and Poverty.

"It involves a component of advocacy in the public square to provide for the needs of poor children in our community," Whitaker said.

The bill has faced some challenges from representatives of smaller, more rural counties who may feel they do not have the resources to transport children to the feeding sites or transport food to places where children gather, according to Whitaker. "The problem is in the delivery system," he said. Still, he is optimistic the bill will pass.

"On the whole, we would hope that school superintendents and educators would embrace this as a cause to educate their children — good education requires good nutrition," Whitaker said. "At the end of the day we are looking at hungry children, and we have a responsibility to care for them."

Susie said recent changes to the bill allow some provisions for school districts to opt out of the program if they choose. She hopes Florida Impact can raise awareness about the availability of federal money to support the program. Florida is second in the nation for the amount of federal money that goes unused for this type of program, according to Susie.

Susie also emphasized the importance of the religious community being involved in lobbying for this type of legislation. Lawmakers are influenced by the presence of religious leadership, and Susie said she appreciates the bishops attending the "One Voice" event.

"This is where the moral leadership is needed — does every child eat?" she said.

Susie will deliver Florida Impact's annual State Hunger Report during a press conference April 7 at 11:30 a.m. The bishops will attend, and Susie hopes many others representing the United Methodist Church will be there, as well. Children, legislators and representatives from a variety of other churches will also participate.

"We're all there unified — all these different groups and organizations to say: 'Our children are our future. Please be very aware of the future when you pass these bills,' " Susie said.

Cindy Cosper, coordinator of social action for the Florida Conference UMW and treasurer for Florida Impact, hopes for a solid showing from United Methodists.

"We'd like people to come, and we're going to educate them about issues that deal with children, hunger and poverty," Cosper said. "Once they get educated, they should visit their legislators."

Cosper said the main focus of the United Methodist Church and UMW is the summer nutrition bill. She said getting the bill passed might take some effort, but the payoff is being able to feed hungry children during the summer. She supports the presence of the bishops at the event.

"It definitely shows that the church, from the highest level down to the lowest level, is concerned about the people of Florida," she said.

More information about Children's Week is available at http://www.childrens-week.org. Information about Florida Impact and the schedule of events and registration information for "One Voice for Children" can be found at http://www.flimpact.org. For more information about the status of the Children's Summer Nutrition Bill visit http://www.myfloridahouse.gov.
 
Florida Impact works to reduce hunger and poverty in Florida. It educates and enlists Floridians in securing justice for and with those whose economic rights have not been realized. The organization works to increase access to food programs by conducting aggressive outreach strategies and public policy advocacy.

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This article relates to Church and Society.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Viera, Fla.




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