Like other moms, Cindy Changyit Levin of Morton Grove sometimes has to take her children with her as she travels around town.
With Levin's volunteer work lobbying members of Congress to vote for food aid to help families in developing nations survive, though, Levin sometimes brings her 5- and 8-year-old to Congressional offices.
Levin explains in the Q&A below. For more on why she feels so compelled to volunteer to help feed the starving,
Q. How do you find time for this?
I am a stay at home mom. I did not have so much time when I started because I had two infants. But as they have grown, I have grown. Now that they're 5 and 8, they do this a lot.
Q. What do they do?
They write letters, we do Girl Scout awareness things, and they come with me. They're little lobbyists.
They've talked to Senators Durbin and Kirk, before he had the stroke, about the need for global vaccines for children in poverty.
Both have attended meetings in Rep. Schakowsky's office with me. Sometimes they just read a Star Wars book, other times they have something to say.
Q. You volunteer with the charity Bread for the World to ask elected officials to vote for global food aid. So is Bread all political advocacy or is there any hands on delivery of food?
They are purely advocacy. They're advocates for getting the funding that would provide direct services.
This is hard for people to understand sometimes. I hear this quite a bit, that people would prefer to give money to or volunteer with a food pantry.
Most Bread members do support their food pantries and do hands on things, but when we speak out we can really be talking about millions and billions of dollars and a much greater impact than what each individual can do by themselves.
Q. What would make a successful 2012 for Bread for the World?
In one aspect, there are legislative successes. If we were to prevent the worst cuts from happening, that would be phenomenal success.
In some years you hope for increased funding, but in a political ciimate like this, holding the line, protecting what we have, would be a success.
They’re looking at cutting $35 billion in SNAP benefits (food stamps; SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) over 10 years. So if we can stop that in the Senate, that would be a success.
If we can hold poverty-focused foreign aid levels steady, that represents a lot of lives saved.
The other aspect is mobilizing Americans to be more active.
If Bread can get more people to be holding meetings, not just writing letters, but being engaged with members of Congress, that’s a success too.
Q. Are food stamps the main focus?
Bread is focusing on SNAP benefits and Earned Income Tax Credits as the two proven and effective programs that can help people stay above the poverty level.
The funny part about this is that I’m not usually an activist for domestic issues. Usually global hunger is my focus, but it’s hard not to be involved when it hits so close to home.
Q. What do you see as your future career?
Staying in advocacy. Engineering gave me a good background for information organization, logical thinking and program management, which can be used for organizing volunteers or anything.
The best part of my day as an engineer was volunteering for the food depository. This combines my talents with my values and what I feel is important in life.
Q. Tell about a time when you lobbied an elected official.
On April 16, Bread knew that a "special order" (a time when Congresspeople can speak on the House floor) was going to happen, and they wanted an Illinois rep to speak. Bread knew I was in Schakowsky's district, and that I had a relationship with her, so Bread asked could I ask her to get on floor and talk.
Because I do this kind of work a lot I knew the aides in her offices so I called Evanston office, there was a big scramble, and I got a call (the next day) about an hour before she took the floor.
Here's the text of what she said:
“This is the richest country in the world and yet 1 out of 5 of our children is food insecure- goes hungry. That is such a moral outrage. You know the average food stamp benefit is $1.50 a meal. That’s what you get when you are lucky enough to be part of the SNAP program. And as this map shows, it’s everywhere. I actually live in a district that is considered one of the least hard hit by food insecurity, but that’s all relative because in the 9th congressional district in IL more than 11% of the households are experiencing food hardship – the inability to put enough food on the table. And even the least of the hard hit districts has 7% of it’s families unable to put enough food on the table in the richest country in the world. It’s intolerable. You know the headline today in Politico “Republicans axe aid to the poor” makes me so sad. Who are we as a country? What are we as a country where a Republican candidate denigrates Barack Obama by calling him the Food Stamp President. I’m proud that this president wants to defend, protect, and save a program that feeds so many people. Here’s what the Catholic bishops say, ”SNAP – also known as Food Stamps – helps feed millions of households. At this time of economic turmoil and growing poverty, the committee should oppose cuts in this effective and efficient anti-hunger program that helps people live in dignity. I know we’re almost out of time. I just want to say we’re asking for dignity for Americans that are struggling. The average food stamp recipient is only on it for 9 months. One of the former recipients called it a “trampoline” that helps you get past it. I’m asking for dignity for Americans and saving the nutrition programs, especially the SNAP program – the food stamp program. Thank you.”
Q. Parting thoughts?
This falls within the Circle of Protection. Bread for the World and many other organizations are using the phrase circle of protection. Make cuts, but don’t do it for people depending on aid for survival. Make a circle of protection around poorest, most vulnerable people, and then proceed from there.