More than 40 religious leaders will issue a joint call for action to end global hunger Monday evening during an interfaith service at Washington National Cathedral.
The first Interfaith Convocation on Hunger is being organized by Bread for the World, a Washington-based, Christian anti-hunger organization. It is part of a four-day conference starting tonight at American University that is aimed at increasing efforts to end hunger and poverty in the United States and around the world.
The conference, called "One Table, Many Voices: A Mobilization to End Poverty and Hunger," also will include a day of lobbying on Capitol Hill for a hunger relief bill.
Organizers said the activities were prompted by what they called a lack of commitment from political leaders to alleviate hunger and poverty, a duty commanded by all faiths.
"The sacred texts of all major religions say, 'Feed the hungry and support the poor and sick,' " said Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, who will deliver the sermon in Monday's 7 p.m. service, which is open to the public.
"It is a mandate from the Gospel to feed the hungry because Jesus came and died in order that we have life and have it in abundance, and that means people having all what is basic for human living," Ndungane said in the phone interview from his office in Cape Town, South Africa.
"We've had an unprecedented increase in the global economy, and yet 850 million people go hungry every day," the archbishop said. "This is a scandal, and we need to right that."
The conference of workshops and speeches is co-sponsored by Bread for the World and Call to Renewal, a Washington-based Christian anti-poverty network.
Former U.S. senator and Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards will be honored for his advocacy for the poor. Edwards is director of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Other speakers will include anti-poverty activists, including Columbia University professor Jeffrey D. Sachs, who have sought to raise Americans' consciousness about increasing U.S. financial and technological assistance to poor communities around the world.
Just as "the Bible talks about prophets going to kings and demanding justice for the poor and the hungry," people of faith should demand that their elected officials "do all they can" to end hunger, said Howard Salter, a Bread for the World spokesman.
According to a 2001 study by America's Second Harvest, the nation's largest network of emergency food providers, an estimated 23.3 million Americans needed emergency food relief at some point in the year. Of them, 36 percent of them had to choose between paying for food and paying the rent or mortgage.
From 1999 to 2003, the number of Americans who lived in "food insecure" households rose from 31 million to more than 36 million, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They included 13 million children. A household is "food insecure" if it struggles to get enough food for all its members at some point during the year, the department said.
In 2004, requests for emergency food assistance in 25 major cities increased for the 19th year in a row, the U.S. Conference of Mayors reported.
On Tuesday, National Hunger Awareness Day, anti-hunger activists will hold a rally at 8:30 a.m. at MCI Center and then proceed to Capitol Hill to lobby legislators for passage of the Hunger-Free Communities Act. The bill would commit the United States to ending U.S. hunger by 2015 and authorize $50 million in grants to promote a search for innovative strategies to do so.
"Across the country, one in four people in a soup kitchen line is a child," said Rep. Tom Osborne (R-Neb.), a sponsor of the bill. "In my home state of Nebraska, more than 61,000 households live on less than $10,000 per year, making it terribly difficult for some to put food on the table. . . . Additional federal resources are needed . . . to eliminate hunger in the United States."
National Hunger Awareness Day was first observed in 2002 and is sponsored by America's Second Harvest.