By TIM BULLARD
CONWAY — Mark Barwick received a friendly welcome at St. James Church when he visited before Christmas to spread the word about Bread for the World, a group he works for in Charleston.
There are 44,000 citizens who support the organization, and for 25 years the group has worked with both Republican and Democratic political parties on the issue of world hunger.
Barwick said there are 300,000 households in South Carolina that the U.S. Department of Agriculture calls “food insecure.” They simply cannot put food on their tables. That’s higher than the national average, and Bread for the World thinks that is scandalous.
The organization was founded by a Lutheran; the group was ecumenical from its beginnings. About a third of its membership is Roman Catholic. The remaining two-thirds includes Presbyterians and Lutherans.
“There is a very strong working relationship with the U.S. Catholic bishops,” Barwick said. “What we do is a strong part of Catholic social teaching. The Roman Catholic Church has the best articulated social teaching of any other church in our culture and should be proud of that.
“An important part of that is not only looking at charitable giving, but going beyond charity to look at the structures — the economic and political structures — that are behind poverty and hunger and a lot of the things that we combat on the surface,” he said. “Catholic social teaching forces us to look at the root causes of hunger and why people are hungry in this world.”
Barwick emphasized that Bread for the World is not a relief agency or a development agency. “We put all of our resources into advocacy. We work with the federal government and Congress in trying to find some ways that we can shape public policy toward poor and hungry people.
“It’s unashamedly a political organization in a sense,” said Barwick, “because we know that politics can really hurt people and can really help people, too. We want to be on the side of helping people.”
Bread for the World alternates its focus each year between a domestic hunger concern and an international hunger concern. In 2000, the campaign was called “Fair Share: Working to End Hunger.” One fair share goal is to raise the federal minimum wage by $1 over the next two years.
“Most people see the wisdom of it,” said Barwick, noting that some people still take advantage of cheap labor. Horry County has a very low per capita wage income level compared to other areas.
Another fair share goal is the passage of the Hunger Relief Act, legislation that would strengthen the food stamp program by removing obstacles such as vehicle allowance.
“Until a few weeks ago if you owned a car of a certain value you would be disqualified from receiving food stamps,” Barwick said. “The Hunger Relief Act, which has passed for the most part, overturned that.”
One item that has not been approved is a measure to restore food stamps to legal immigrants. In the 1996 Food Stamp Bill legal immigrants were disqualified from receiving any food stamp benefits.
“We are hopeful that it will be overturned,” said Barwick.
One parish member noted that a legal immigrant cannot get food stamps, but the mother’s baby can because the infant is a citizen.
“We’ve grown accustomed to food banks and emergency shelters on the landscape of our country,” said Barwick. “We’ve always had a level of a subclass or poor people as part of our economic structure, for better or for worse, but we are creating more and more of a disparity between rich and poor people in this country.”
He added, “I know a lot of people like to say poor people are lazy. Actually the most industrious and hard-working people I know are low-income workers. You want to see somebody pull something out of their hats with amazing survival skills, talk to some of these single moms who have to balance all kinds of things just to survive.”
Barwick also expressed disappointment that “there was not one word about poor people” during the recent presidential election.