Colorado church plans letter-writing appeal to U.S. senator, urging help for hungry people

By Melodie Woerman
Posted Apr 20, 2023

St. John’s, Boulder, Colorado, will be the site of a letter-writing campaign April 23 by members and others in the community urging U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet to work for greater SNAP benefits in the upcoming Farm Bill. Photo: Chris Williamson

[Episcopal News Service] This won’t be an ordinary Sunday at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Boulder, Colorado. On April 23, in addition to attending worship, members will gather to write letters or sign postcards or even make artwork to tell U.S. Senator Michael Bennet how they want hungry people to be helped in the 2023 Farm Bill being considered by Congress.

The Farm Bill, which last was passed in 2018 and is up for renewal this year, covers a variety of farming, forestry and food programs, but the largest share of its expenditures goes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Formerly known as food stamps, SNAP provides monthly grocery benefits to more than 41.5 million low-income people.

Wayne Grider, who organized the church’s effort, told Episcopal News Service he expects adults, teens and children in the congregation, as well as people from other area faith communities, to take part. Once the written pieces are complete, they will be blessed on April 30, and the church is seeking an appointment with Bennet in his Denver office, where the materials will be delivered in person.

Grider said the letters will urge Bennet, who is a Democratic member of the Senate committee that is drafting the bill, to make SNAP benefits accessible to more people and to cover more nutritious food, as well as to make certain the United States can respond to food issues overseas. He noted that with inflation, SNAP dollars now buy less food, hurting hungry families. And in areas like Boulder, where the cost of housing is high compared to other parts of the country, families are struggling to pay rent in addition to buying groceries.

He added that in February, SNAP recipients also lost added benefits that had begun in March 2020 to help them during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Food Research and Action Center, a nonprofit that advocates for polices that help alleviate hunger and poverty, calls the combination of rising prices for food, heating, housing and transportation a “hunger cliff.” It notes that the group hit hardest are older adults at the minimum benefit level, who saw their monthly SNAP benefits fall from $281 to $23.

Parish members’ written appeals are taking place in conjunction with Bread for the World, a Christian advocacy organization that seeks to influence decision makers to work to reduce hunger and promotes letter-writing campaigns to help churches be advocates. And according to an email from the Rt. Rev. Dan Edwards, former bishop of Nevada who is serving as bishop-in-residence at St. John’s Cathedral in Denver, seven other Colorado Episcopal churches are planning similar letter-writing efforts efforts – including one at the cathedral taking place at the same time as the one in Boulder – along with Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian and AME congregations.

Advocacy for those who are food insecure

St. John’s advocacy on the issue of hunger grew out of a parish social justice retreat earlier this year led by the Rev. Julia Domenick, St. John’s associate rector, and the Rev. Marc Smith, a priest-in-residence. Domenick told ENS that parish members had studied justice issues online for the past two years, and the retreat brought people together to explore where they thought God now was calling them to act. Out of that came a parish commitment to look at food insecurity, among other issues.

The USDA defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life. In 2021, almost 34 million Americans suffered food insecurity, and Domenick said the number in Boulder County is 25,000 people, including 5,000 children.

Keeping SNAP benefits available to as many people as possible also is a priority for The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations, which represents the policy priorities of the church to government officials in Washington, D.C. In a statement provided to ENS, Patricia Kisare, legislative representative for international policy, said, “While The Episcopal Church has parishes throughout the country involved with critical feeding ministries, the problem of hunger is systemic and beyond the scale of charitable organizations alone,” which makes the SNAP program essential in helping feed people. “We advocate against proposed cuts and imposing burdensome restrictions that would lead to more Americans being unable to put food on the table.”

Kisare said the Farm Bill also authorizes all of the United States’ international food programs, “which provide food assistance to communities during food crises and help to address long-term food security needs of the most vulnerable populations around the world.” She noted that millions of people around the world continue to face extreme levels of hunger, and that The Episcopal Church is advocating that these programs be reauthorized and funded so the money is there when they need help.

–Melodie Woerman is a freelance writer and former director of communications for the Diocese of Kansas.