Pennsylvania synod hunger leaders, LAMPa Director Tracey DePasquale and ELCA Hunger Advocacy Fellow Quentin Bernhard joined fellow hunger leaders from around the country and world at the ELCA World Hunger Leadership Gathering, Feb, 1-4 in Houston, Texas. The gathering celebrated 50 years of ELCA World Hunger and included service-learning site visits, workshops, worship, and fellowship.

Pennsylvania hunger leaders present came from the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, the Lower Susquehanna Synod, and the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod. Participants brought their experiences leading hunger ministries to the gathering, where they shared and learned from the witness and experiences of others and began to develop plans for more action on hunger—and on the intersections of hunger and other issues in our public life—going forward.

The gathering highlighted the relationships and impacts of 50 years of ELCA World Hunger in countries around the world, including the United States. Hunger has been addressed with communities and partners in 67 countries since the American Lutheran Church’s first World Hunger Appeal in 1974. The call to justice has been heard, and hundreds of thousands of people have contributed more than $650 million to support ELCA World Hunger. The work of ELCA World Hunger focuses on the areas of agriculture and nutrition, water and sanitation, health care and disease prevention, income and savings, and education and training.

According to ELCA World Hunger, as many as 828 million people worldwide live in hunger. The root causes of hunger are complex and include rising costs, global conflict, climate change, and the lingering impact of COVID-19. These causes continue to impact communities around the world, including those here in Pennsylvania, where food prices continue to contribute to hunger and where continued advocacy is needed to ensure all children and families have access to healthy meals all year long.

“I think one of the most significant takeaways for my context in the Lower Susquehanna Synod is to better tell the story of what is already happening on the territory of our synod,” said the Rev. Jillian Riddle, who serves a congregation in the Harrisburg area. “As a member of the Lower Susquehanna Synod World Hunger Committee, I get to see the many and varied ministries happening throughout our synod… Yet, I’ve realized more and more that these ministries don’t know much about one another….” Building relationships among partners strengthens all our work to combat hunger. Connecting with LAMPa helps us lift up the stories of these varied ministries in our communities.

The Rev. Eileen Smith LeVan and husband Brian Smith are sustaining givers to ELCA World Hunger and co-chairs of the Hunger Team of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod. They joined the gathering and are planning an event in June in Robesonia to kick off the synod’s hunger campaign. “Hunger is an ongoing issue in the lives of a significant portion of our community,” Smith LeVan said. “One of the challenges is helping people in our small, semi-rural communities recognize their connection to neighbors in nearby urban areas where poverty is especially prevalent.”

For the Rev. Bruce Davidson, significant support for ending world hunger can come through giving in congregations and through advocacy ministries. Davidson served as director of the ELCA state public policy office in New Jersey before retiring in the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod and worked with partners and congregations to increase the New Jersey state budget allocation for hunger relief from $170,000 to $9,000,000 in about two years. “In every congregation I served, when people learned what our church was doing, they grew in financial support and advocacy around issues of hunger and poverty,” he noted. “I learned that pastors can play a significant role in building awareness of the realities of hunger and can move congregations to respond with great generosity.”

Yet, despite the progress that has been made, hunger remains a significant problem, and it has grown in many places in recent months. Davidson, who was recognized at the gathering for his engagement with the hunger appeal since its beginning, consistently hears that the need seen at our hunger ministries is twice what it was last year.

Maggie Perry is a volunteer with Wittel Farm, a hunger ministry in the Lower Susquehanna Synod. Maggie identifies the rising prices of food and housing, climate change and lack of immigration reform as major justice issues witnessed by staff at the farm and contributing to hunger. Noting the challenges of engaging young people in ministry, Maggie says, “That’s why organizations like LAMPa are so important to show rising leaders that the Church is sending a voice and doing the good work.”

Looking forward, Davidson hopes to see an increased ELCA World Hunger presence in the seminaries of the church and a continued balance between domestic and global hunger in direct aid, education, and advocacy. These actions will enable ministries and future leaders to respond and serve our neighbors here and around the world. NEPA Synod’s hunger co-chairs also pointed to advocacy, saying “continued emphasis and education related to advocacy as a way to address root causes of hunger and poverty” is an important step forward. They also stress issues of food waste and awareness-raising as part of the work of building a more just food system, one that asks us to recognize our connection with all of our neighbors.

You can view an ELCA World Hunger 50th anniversary brochure, action guide, case statement, and poster online.

The gathering was rooted in 1 Peter 4:10 and in 1 John 3:18 and centered on the theme: “Embracing Hope—Taking Action—Moving Forward!” 1 Peter 4:10 reads: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 John 3:18 reads: “Let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.” Major goals included strengthening network relationships, equipping one another, empowering one another, and finding connection points between our hunger work and other issues.

DePasquale and Bernhard were part of a cohort of ELCA Witness in Society at the gathering that also included the Senior Director of ELCA Witness in Society; directors and staff of ELCA state public policy offices (SPPOs) in Minnesota and California; and all of this year’s ELCA Hunger Advocacy Fellows, who serve with the federal advocacy office in Washington, D.C., the Lutheran Office for World Community in New York City, and SPPOs in Washington, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. The ELCA Hunger Advocacy Fellowship is a year of growth, faith formation, and vocational development in an ELCA Advocacy office that is made possible with the support of ELCA World Hunger.

The congregations of St. James Santiago Apostol Lutheran Church and Iglesia Luterana Príncipe de Paz, hosted events for participant to learn directly from immigrants as well as congregations about accompaniment and advocacy with migrant communities through engagement with partners like Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation, and Opportunities (AMMPARO). For DePasquale, who has served in Guatemala with ministries affiliated with these congregations, it was a reminder of our unity in Christ that transcends borders.

“In so many ways, but especially in terms of our impact on the climate crisis, and its impact as a driver of hunger, violence and migration, what we do in Pennsylvania has an enormous impact on our siblings around the globe,” DePasquale said. If we seek a just world, where all are fed, “We need to show up and speak up.”

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