Bishops speak out regarding plight of hungry children



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Bishops speak out regarding plight of hungry children

April 13, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011   
tparham@flumc.org     Orlando  {0275}

An e-Review Feature
By Meredyth Earnest**

TALLAHASSEE — (L-R) Rep. Greenstein joins Bishops Whitaker and Goodpaster for a discussion in the Capitol's rotunda. Photo by Meredyth Earnest, Photo #05-0153.

ANDALUSIA, Ala. — In a call to action for United Methodists to respond to the plight of children and the impoverished, Bishops Larry M. Goodpaster and Timothy W. Whitaker of the Alabama-West Florida and Florida Conferences, respectively, participated in a news conference April 7 at the Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee.

The news conference drew attention to the Florida Children's Summer Nutrition (CSN) Bill, also called the Ms. Willie Ann Glenn Act, and highlighted the release of the Florida State Hunger Report.

The bishops stood in support of the bill, sponsored by Senator Steve Wise (R-Jacksonville) and Representative Ron Greenstein (D-Ft. Lauderdale), and were joined by Florida schoolchildren. Prior to the news conference, Goodpaster and Whitaker joined other concerned United Methodists in lobbying legislators at the Capitol.

In 2004, both bishops supported the same legislation, which seeks to provide meals to more than one million needy children during the summer months.

Although Goodpaster and Whitaker were the only religious leaders speaking at the news conference, many other denominational leaders are involved with the work of Florida Impact, a supporter of the bill.

"We work alongside our brothers and sisters and are grateful for their work within the faith community," Goodpaster said. "Children are our future and we must do all we can and use all our resources to ensure they find the nutrition they need."

Whitaker added, "These children belong to all of us — not just one religion or one community."

The bill requires each school board to ensure that children of low-income families have access to at least one summer food site in the district that is open for 40 days of summer. That site must be within five miles of a school with 50 percent or more free and reduced-price school meal eligibility. The bill also ensures additional summer food sites within 10 miles of all elementary schools in low-income areas. The bill provides an exemption to school boards, but requires the issue to be publicly debated and voted on at an annual school board meeting.
 
"In one sweep, we could feed more children, import more federal tax dollars and generate a positive impact on our local communities' summer economies and still maintain local autonomy," according to Florida Impact leaders.
 
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.

The 2005 state hunger report released during the news conference is a biannual report published by Florida Impact.

"This report is a big piece of what we do," said Debra Susie, executive director of Florida Impact. "The focus of the 2005 report is the Summer Food Service Program. We want this program to be more accessible to local communities and the children within them."
 
Susie highlighted three statistics from the report during the news conference. "Florida ranks second in the nation on missing out on federal summer nutrition dollars," she said. "There are one million eligible children who are missing adequate summer nutrition. Finally, $106 million of federal tax money is sent to Washington from the state of Florida that we never get back in the form of the summer nutrition program."

TALLAHASSEE — The decorated hands of Florida children adorn the Capitol's rotunda. Photo by Meredyth Earnest, Photo #05-0154.

Florida Impact sponsored an inter-religious legislative briefing in Tallahassee April 6-7 to advocate for programs and budget priorities that serve the interests of the state's most vulnerable citizens.
 
Called "One Voice for Children," the event enabled participants to explore "in theory and practice ... the Judeo-Christian traditions of economic justice and apply these to actual legislation," according to the event brochure.

Activities during the first day included a legislative briefing on issues of economic justice, a tour of the governor's mansion, and dinner with a keynote speaker and cultural entertainment. The second day of activities included visits to legislators and monitoring floor sessions and committee meetings, the news conference, a sending-forth ceremony, and an open house sponsored by Florida Impact.
 
In 1996, the Council of Bishops called upon The United Methodist Church to reshape its life in response to the crisis among children and the impoverished and in faithfulness to Jesus Christ. The Bishops' Initiative on Children & Poverty (BICAP) was created to serve as a call to action for United Methodists in response to the suffering of children and the poor throughout the world.

"The Council of Bishops calls every United Methodist congregation and person to a deepened level of reflection and action toward life together with the poor," Goodpaster said.

One of the goals set forth in the BICAP 2001 Biblical and Theological Foundations Document is for United Methodist churches to "enter into cooperative efforts with grassroots movements and organizations that can guide us into community with the poor and strengthen advocacy for justice and compassion in public policy matters and international monetary and trade policies." The document further states, "Congregations are challenged to collaborate with local schools, hospitals, civic organizations, and government agencies to provide comprehensive systems of care for all God's children."

The Alabama-West Florida and Florida annual conferences are two of 63 regional areas of the United Methodist denomination in the United States. The Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference has more than 146,000 members, including about 600 active and retired pastors serving approximately 700 churches. The Florida Annual Conference comprises all of the United Methodist churches in the state east of the Apalachicola River, including 730 churches and missions and nearly 330,000 members.

For more information about the Alabama-West Florida or Florida conferences visit http://www.awfumc.org and http://www.flumc.org, respectively. 

For more information about Florida Impact visit http://www.flimpact.org. For a look at the 2005 State Hunger Report visit http://www.flimpact.org/Hunger2005.pdf. More information on BICAP can be found at http://www.umc.org/initiative.

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This article relates to Church and Society and Missions.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Earnest is director of communications for the United Methodist Church's Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference.




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