Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Orange Postcard Campaign

City Soup Philadelphia initiated an Orange Postcard campaign, an idea suggested for impact by City Soup committee member Dan Muroff, beginning on World Food Day on October 17, 2011. The aim of the campaign, which continues, is to alert government that people of faith are bearing witness to the exponentially growing nature of hunger and to enlist government action, specifically requesting a plan with policies designed to alleviate hunger. The orange postcard addresses the urgency of the problem as over 500,000 Philadelphians and 1 million people in the region regularly use food cupboard support, triple the number of persons needing help 4 years ago.
The postcard campaign started with 30,000 printed cards, and four weeks later, in mid November, an additional 20,000 cards were printed to meet the demand. In total, 50,000 postcards were printed and distributed to over 250 organizations including congregations, major universities, seminaries, campus ministries, health centers, schools of nursing, and community organizations. Muslims, Jews, and Christians responded to this advocacy campaign with eagerness.

I found that one of the best parts of this campaign were the stories related to its messengers – those people who resonated with this appeal and moved the message forward. Let me share a few wonderful examples of the synchronicity that this campaign inspired.

Advocacy opportunities were offered to City Soup by Rachel Falkove, Executive Director of the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Northwest Philadelphia, at the well attended and vibrant Empty Bowl dinners held in mid-November at Arcadia University and Chestnut Hill College. At the Arcadia University Empty Bowl dinner, a woman approached Dustin Wright, a student at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP) student and intern at Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in Pennsylvania (LAMPa), to say that she was a schoolteacher at Frankford High School in Philadelphia. She wanted to know if she could have 2000 postcards for students’ use at Frankford High, where hunger is ever too present in the school and surrounding community. She went on to say that advocating for “something better” would be a very special piece of learning for the students there. 2000 postcards were delivered to the high school!

One rainy evening while leaving the LTSP, I saw in seminary's Brossman Center parking lot a gray van with lights flashing and a window going down.  I walked over to find seminary professor and Director of Contextual Education the Rev. Dr. Charles Leonard flagging me down. He asked if I had more postcards - he was out of them. He had offered the cards at his polling place on Election Day in November, and had been distributing them at his church and in his office. He went on to say that had he had cards the previous day, he would have handed them out at the luncheon that followed a funeral. I laughed, handed him 200 cards, and told him he was one of our most creative and determined distributors!

A nursing student at Thomas Jefferson University School of Nursing, who has been an active City Soup participant over the past two years, asked that 250 cards be sent to her for distribution to her fellow nursing students. She emailed her professor, a pediatrician in the city, to gain his approval for a 2-minute pre-class appeal on the postcard’s merit. Her professor emailed her immediately to say that not only could she have 2 to 5 minutes to talk to the class, but that he would follow her with a reinforcement of the importance of this effort due to the fact that they, as medical providers, must be aware to look for the symptoms of hunger in the population they serve. He stated that, in all too many cases present in the emergency room and hospital, hunger and poor nutrition lie as an underlying/contributing cause of admittance. All 250 cards were signed, and the nursing school office paid the postage for the cards’ voyage to the office of Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter.

Sister Mary Scullion, co-founder of Project Home and recognized by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the twentieth century, offered in a phone call on November 15 to promote the Orange Card Campaign in her keynote address at Villanova University that evening. She was the keynote speaker at the "Villanova University Hunger and Homelessness Week" observation. I immediately thanked her for this generous offer, and wondered at the chance. For, just the day before, Schaunel Steinnagel, Hunger Action Enabler for the Presbytery of Philadelphia, had delivered 1000 postcards to the Campus Ministry office at Villanova. Sister Mary held up the postcard that evening, endorsed wide participation, and over 700 students and faculty members who attended the address left carrying postcards in hand. The Campus Ministry office paid the postage for all cards returned to them, and moved this effort along with other groups that passed through their doors.

Schaunel Steinnagel delivered 200 cards to Wayne Presbyterian Church, only later to learn that they had run out of cards during their Sunday offering. One of their hunger committee members ran across Route 30 to Kinko’s to reproduce another 100 orange cards and return them to the Church, where they were all signed and added to the original count!

The Rev. Dr. Katie Day, LTSP Charles A. Scheiren Professor, Church and Society; Director, Metropolitan/Urban Concentration, persevered in contacts made to Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, one of the mega churches in Philadelphia and known for its vibrant life of worship and community service. Enon asked to take 5000 postcards to support this hunger initiative. Hunger was preached at Sunday service, and 5000 postcards were signed, placed in the offering plate and then delivered to the Mayor’s Office. 5000 postcards, signed, sealed, delivered in one Sunday service!

David Chiles of Philabundance, and a City Soup committee member, garnered organizational support to place information about the campaign in the Philabundance newsletter which goes out to all the food cupboards and agencies they support. This was a first-of-sorts advocacy effort for the food bank, which traditionally does not do direct advocacy work. In these changing times, however, food banks across the country are realizing that advocacy for improved public policy is a must. Donations alone will no longer fill the food void left in so many of our country’s neighborhoods.

Marissa Harris Krey, Advocacy Developer for LAMPa, offered the postcards to every Eastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America event and congregation that she could think of. Synod Bishop Claire Burkat, local Lutheran churches and the Synod office became postcard-warriors for food justice and moved thousands of cards outward and onward.

I hope you can see the humor and delight that many of these stories incite. Day after day, unexpected turns of good fortune and serendipity attended the card distribution.

By mid December, we were informed that orange postcards were pouring into Philadelphia City Hall and being stockpiled in the mayor’s office. Individual persons would not be responded to… there were just too many of them to do so!!!  We were just delighted to hear this!

This news led to a meeting in late December with the Mayor’s Chief of Staff Everett Gillison (a former LTSP Urban Theological Institute student) and the city’s policy director for hunger relief. Seven attending faith leaders were told that the mayor will shortly announce the commencement of a poverty plan for the city that will include hunger, homelessness and jobs as key components of focused action. Our group of hunger advocates insisted that this plan be a comprehensive community-wide planning effort, that hunger be boldly and creatively addressed, and that this planning intent be communicated in the Mayor’s State-of the-City address in January. 

As it turns out, the orange hunger postcard campaign took flight, and we have learned this may be one of the largest postcard/advocacy efforts ever undertaken in Philadelphia. This interfaith advocacy appeal received Holy Spirit help, and all of us on the City Soup coordinating committee thank God for the help provided that came from so many good and true directions. We give thanks for all who participated and endorsed this campaign. We give thanks and pray for solutions-oriented action. It remains our deepest hope that concrete action will take place in response to this effort, and we wait in determined anticipation of good things yet to come. 

You can download an Orange Card here: HungerCard.pdf

by Diane Loucks, December 2011