Welcoming Su Sie Ju as BFC’s Legal Clinic Director

It is with great pleasure that I can announce that Su Sie Ju has accepted the position of Legal Clinic Director for Bread for the City!

Su SieSu Sie’s first contact with Bread for the City came in the previous century when she was a summer law clerk here while she was a law student at the University of Virginia. Following graduation, Su Sie clerked for the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and was then a NAPIL (now Equal Justice Works) fellow at the National Partnership for Women and Families.  She accepted the position of Family Law Attorney in 2000 and became our Northwest Legal Clinic Supervisor in 2007.  In addition to ably providing legal representation to our clients and supervision to our staff attorneys, Su Sie provided wise counsel to Vytas and me as our little legal clinic grew over the past decade.

In addition to all her work internally, Su Sie has been on numerous committees of the Superior Court of District of Columbia designed to improve the workings of the Family Court. She has also served on the Access to Justice Commission.  Su Sie is the recipient of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association Educational Fund Community Service Award and the District of Columbia Bar Foundation Jerrold Scoutt Prize.

Su Sie is excited to take on her new role. She says, “Bread for the City is a special place, and it’s an honor and privilege to serve as its Legal Director. Vytas has left big cowboy boots to fill, but Bread for the City has a great group of smart and dedicated attorneys who will help make that boot filling a lot easier.”

We could not be more fortunate to have someone of Su Sie’s caliber and experience ready and willing to take the helm.  Please join me in congratulating Su Sie!

Society of Heroes: How Jack gives back

Our donors come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes the smallest of them all can show us how easy it is to help out in a big way. Today I’d like to introduce you to one special donor named Jack. Two years ago, at just 12 years old, Jack created his very own comic book series, Society of Heroes, and since then, has sold copies at a local gallery and school events to raise money for Bread for the City. This creative fundraising idea came about as part of Jack’s school project called a “Profile of Passion,” or POP. Students are asked to choose a project based on their interests, while considering their personal identity and how that fits into the identity of their greater community. Since Jack has always had an interest in helping others, it was a no-brainer for him to come up with a project with a philanthropic angle. The result? Jack raised $400 for Bread for the City by selling Part I and Part II of his comic, and Part III is being drafted as I blog. Find out more about Jack’s awesome project below:

Why did you want to write a comic book series to benefit Bread for the City?

Jack and his comic book standI have always loved to draw and create comic books since I was little. I have also been concerned about homelessness since I was young. When we were deciding what we wanted to do for the POP project, I decided to combine the two. I wanted to help Bread for the City because I really wished I could help people who were starving and without homes, and I wanted to find a way my art could help them.

How did you come up with the idea for Society of Heroes?

I came up with the idea of the Society of Heroes from teams such as the Avengers and Justice League. I took my favorite of the superheroes that I have created in the past and put them together as a team: Super Lad, Hawk Man, Wind Woman, Electric, Moon Ninja, and Brick Thrasher and made them a team.

Why do you think it’s important to support your community?

It is important to support the community because many people right now are starving in the United States alone, many of them children. With Bread for the City, I can help make sure fewer people go to bed hungry and show that people who have more should help those with less.

What would you tell other people your age about giving back to your community?

I would tell them how important it is that we help others, no matter what our circumstances, because it gives people hope and makes them feel less alone and shows that other people care about them.

How’s Part Three coming?

I have finished the rough draft, and I’m about to start the final draft!

If you’re interested in purchasing this comic series, please email me at eschneider(at)breadforthecity.org and I’ll put you in touch with Jack. Get ‘em before they’re sold out!

What’s happening at City Orchard?

There’s a lot going on at City Orchard this month as our first harvest kicks into full swing! As of the end of July, we’ve harvested 1,306 pints of fruit from City Orchard and 2,094 pounds of veggies from UDC’s Muirkirk Research Farm. Many thanks to our sustainable ag crew, the food program staff, and the hundreds of volunteers who made this possible.

Misson Continues - BFCI also want to acknowledge and celebrate some recent collaborative rainmaking on the part of our development department and other City Orchard stakeholders. We were recently awarded a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant to continue the management of City Orchard in Beltsville for another two years! We are grateful for this vote of confidence from our hosts at UDC. Additionally, one of our key partners, Purple Mountain Organics, was awarded the same grant to grow an unbelievable amount of sweet potatoes for our pantry next year. Get ready for a delicious Holiday Helpings Season in 2015! We’ll have a lot to be thankful for!

Here are some of the ways that you can get involved in City Orchard over the next month:

Volunteer at City Orchard!

Every Wednesday, we head out to the Orchard, leaving from the NW Center at 9:30am. We invite you to join us. Groups welcome. Contact volunteer@breadforthecity.org if you’re interested in getting your hands dirty!

Crop Mobs Rock!

Here are the pictures and tweets from our latest Crop Mob! We get lots of work done and have fun, too. The next Crop Mob is Sunday, September 14th. Will you be there? Sign up here!

Party at City Orchard!

Get your party on after September’s Crop Mob! Please join us as we celebrate our first full harvest at the City Orchard Ribbon Cutting Event on Sunday, September 14th from 3:00-5:00 pm. RSVP by emailing events@breadforthecity.org.

Lots is happening this August! Stay tuned for more.

New bill can help DC’s disabled and elderly residents save for a rainy day

As the benefits coordinator for the Representative Payee Program (RPP) here at Bread, I witness firsthand how difficult it is to live on Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI is a program for low-income people who are either disabled or elderly. Recipients cannot have resources of more than $2,000 or their benefits will be cut off. This rule hasn’t been updated since 1989. Even more striking, the income exclusion amount (portion of a person’s income that is not counted against SSI eligibility) hasn’t been updated since the inception of the SSI program in 1972 — over 40 years ago!

But an exciting bill has been proposed in the House and Senate that would greatly impact and improve the lives of many of DC’s poorest and most vulnerable residents. The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Restoration Act of 2014 aims to bring about some significant changes to the outdated rules and regulations that SSI recipients must adhere to in order to maintain their benefit eligibility.

It may seem impossible that SSI beneficiaries could even manage to have savings when the monthly SSI benefit in 2014 is only $721. While it is very difficult, some of our clients are able to set aside a small amount each month toward savings. One RPP client who has been in our program since 2004 has always budgeted to save about $40 per month. Unfortunately, after working hard for many years to save this money, she is now over the SSI resource limit. She will need to spend down under $2,000 or be penalized her entire SSI check. She will have to spend this money on something she may not need right now, and therefore will not have access to it if she needs it in the future.  In addition, many clients receive large lump sums of back payments when they are first awarded SSI benefits. The SSI approval process can take months or even years, but once approved beneficiaries are owed the monthly amount going back to the month after their initial application date. SSI awardees are given only 9 months to spend down these back payments, and after that the money is considered a countable resource against the $2,000 limit.

Knowing that your benefits will be cut off if you save more than $2,000 is a tremendous burden. The costs of everyday living and unforeseen emergencies have increased dramatically since the creation of the SSI program in 1972. Raising the resource limit would help our clients save up for a “rainy day,” such as a family emergency or a move. One RPP client has recently used his savings to travel to another country to visit his very ill mother. And think about how much it costs you to move — the application fees, security deposit, transportation, supplies — it all adds up. If the SSI resource limit was increased as this bill proposes, our clients would have more access to stable housing because they would have the resources to move in when the opportunity arises.

Being able to save would also greatly benefit SSI recipients who want to return to work, by allowing them to save up for a car for transportation, continuing education classes, or certification programs.

In this regard, the increase in the income exclusion amount is also key. Right now, only $20 of an SSI recipient’s unearned income and $65 from earned income is not counted against their monthly SSI amount. This bill aims to increase that amount to $110 for unearned income and $357 for earned income, which would be a great relief especially to those recipients who are trying to go back to work.

SSI recipients are people who are disabled and elderly; therefore, it makes sense that many choose to live with a family member or friend. Unfortunately, under the current rules, an SSI recipient could be penalized up to a third of their income for living in another person’s household if the other person is responsible for paying rent and other household expenses. This is called “in-kind support and maintenance,” and in 2014 the maximum reduction in an SSI recipient’s monthly benefit is from $721 down to $480.67. The amount that their benefit is reduced depends on the portion of the rent and household expenses that the SSI beneficiary contributes. The SSI Restoration Act proposes to do away with this provision, opening up the possibility for low-income disabled and elderly recipients to have a trusted person at home to provide help and support without the fear of SSI penalties.

Bread for the City feels strongly that the SSI Restoration Act of 2014 is an important bill that would help bring dignity and justice to some of the most vulnerable residents of our city. Please consider supporting the bill by contacting your U.S. Representative or Senator to express your support! You can learn more about this important bill through the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the National Senior Citizens Law Center.

A Toast to the Start of August

Toast is delightful, filling and easy. But first you have to chose what type of bread you are going to use. I would recommend a hearty slice of whole grain bread so that you have plenty of flavor and fiber — or, for our recipe today, we are using sliced scones. You can put a lot on toast from the simple butter and jam or mashed avocado and salt to the intricate, collard greens and black eyed peas. It is perfect for a light dinner alone or to serve to your family as a fun change. And it is so fast and easy for those nights where you have lost track of time. So read on and enjoy a few amazing recipes packed with protein and flavor, our toast, Whole-Wheat Jalapeño Cheddar Scones and our toast topping, Mashed Avocado with Shrimp.

Whole-Wheat Jalapeño Cheddar Scones


  • ½ cup applesauce
  • 2½ cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Jalapeno-Cheddar-Scones4 oz sharp cheddar, diced
  • 1 jalapeño, finely diced
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • ½ cup milk

Egg Wash:

  • 1 egg
  • salt and pepper


  1. Turn the oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or lightly grease the pan if you don’t have the paper.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Prepare your jalapeño and cheese. Cutting the cheese into cubes rather than grating it will  have pockets of gooey cheese that contrast nicely with the scone. If you want the spice of the jalapeño, leave the seeds and membrane; if you like it milder, remove them and chop up only the pepper itself.
  4. Using your hands, gently squish the applesauce into the flour until everything is incorporated but not smooth. The chunks of applesauce will create flaky scones. Add the jalapeño, cheese, eggs, and milk to the bowl, then use your hands to gently mix everything until it just comes together.
  5. Sprinkle flour on a clean countertop and dump the dough onto it. Gently shape the dough into a disc about 1½” thick. Cut the dough into six triangles like a pizza, and move them to the cookie sheet.
  6. In a small bowl, gently beat the egg for the egg wash. Brush it over the scones, then sprinkle salt and pepper over each one. Bake for 25 minutes or until the scones are golden brown.
  7. For this recipe, slice the scones in half lengthwise.

Spiced Shrimp and Avocado


  • 16 large shrimp (about 1/2 lb.), peeled, deveined, rinsed, and patted dry
  • shrimp-crostini-whippedbakingKosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. chili powder; more to taste
  • 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 small ripe avocados (about 12 oz. total)
  • 1 Tbs. fresh lime juice; more for sprinkling
  • 3 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • pepper, to taste


  1. Season the shrimp with salt, pepper, and chili powder. Set a heavy 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Add the oil and shrimp and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp are opaque and firm to the touch, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board.
  2. Pit the avocados and scoop the flesh into a small bowl. Add lime juice, chopped cilantro, and a pinch of chili powder. Mash with a fork until relatively smooth and season with a heaping 1/2 tsp. salt and a few grinds of pepper. Slice the shrimp in half lengthwise.
  3. To assemble, spread the mashed avocado over the slice of scone.  Top each with shrimp and sprinkle with lime juice and salt, and serve.


Goodbye (for now), V3.

“Nice boots,” I commented as we waited in the Mayor’s office for Lord High Legal Director Vytas V. Vergeer to be honored with a mayoral proclamation for providing twenty years of free legal services to the District’s low-income residents.


“There’s so much you don’t know about me,” Vytas replied. Apparently, this Bread for the City fixture and leading affordable housing advocate wears cowboy boots to every court appearance. He’s also been known to sport a cloak and dons a real tattoo of the Bread for the City logo — which he coined “the snowman” — on his arm. He never really considered himself someone who’d get a tattoo because nothing in his life seemed permanent enough to engrave on his body, but with this place, it seemed different, I learned.Purple Thursday selife

As Bread for the City’s communications lady, my interactions with Vytas have mostly been limited to encouraging him to send me courthouse selfies. But now that he’s leaving us behind for some appointment as “Administrative Law Judge” at the “Office of Administrative Hearings” or whatever, I rushed to find out all I could about this mysterious lawyer who I could always count on for witty one-liners in his responses to emails asking for legal stats. I now share some of what I learned with you:

When a young, less hairfree Vytas V. Vergeer walked into Bread for the City back in 1994, he was planning to meet with Jeannine Sanford — our then-legal director and current Chief Operating Officer — to find out how he could put his legal skills to work for DC’s residents living in poverty. “I wanted to do direct services and wanted to go wherever I thought my services were needed most,” he says, “This just seemed like a cool place.”

Jeannine was late to the meeting because she was dealing with a difficult client, but she eventually got around to meeting the young lawyer and agreed to accept his help in the growing legal clinic. His first assignment? “Jeannine gave me the difficult client.”

She continued to assign him cases, and within months, Vytas was brought on board as Bread for the City’s first contract attorney. “It was the way he just jumped in and tried to make himself useful, the way he cared about what was happening to our clients, the way he spoke with clients — no condescension, providing information that would help them navigate a difficult system to an outcome that was their best option under the circumstances,” says Jeannine. She knew right off the bat that he would be an asset to what was becoming Bread for the City’s legal clinic.

He started out by taking mostly housing cases until he later asked if he could start taking disability cases. “Vytas worked hard — maybe too hard,” Jeannine recalls, “and he left us briefly in the early aughts to work in a policy position at a national nonprofit. But he was kind enough to let us woo him back in the fall of 2002 to help us get the Southeast Center’s legal clinic off the ground.”

Under his leadership, Bread for the City’s legal clinic has grown from 3 attorneys in 1999 to 15 attorneys in 2014 — serving more than 13,000 of DC’s low-income residents over the last 15 years. Our lawyers now specialize in the areas of housing, disability, and family law. He has played a key role in positioning Bread for the City as a leader in the fight for affordable housing in DC, and he has been an important advocate for tenants’ rights. “We’re always on our client’s side,” he says, “We may not always be able to fix it, but we’re always on their side.”

One of his greatest accomplishments was the launch of the Court-Based Representation project in which staff attorneys from Bread for the City and the Legal Aid Society take on landlord-tenant cases on the spot — providing full representation to people in need of legal aid, right at the courthouse.

Now, Vytas is leaving us…again. In his role as Administrative Law Judge, he will hear a wide variety of administrative law cases, ranging from rent level issues to unemployment compensation cases. He says, “My hope is that I can bring some of the humanity from Bread for the City into the judicial system.”

It’s bittersweet, but in the form of about 17 happy hours and going away parties, we say congratulations and good luck to Lord High Legal Clinic Director Vytas V. Vergeer! But in Jeannine’s words, “He’s come back once before.” Just sayin’.

And we think the departure is bittersweet for Vytas, too. He says, “Over almost 20 years, through clients, colleagues, and even appearances at court, this place has given me more happy memories than any person deserves.” Awww, right in the feels, V3.

We’re Crop Mobbing at City Orchard!

Marline CoughmanIt’s Saturday morning. The sky is a deep blue with a bright sun that reminds you that it is summer without melting you when you try to leave your doorstep. (I mean, I hope it will be a couple degrees cooler in Beltsville, but as a born southerner, I really have no right to complain about heat). But here I am, about to pile into a van with a handful of other volunteers on their way to City Orchard, Bread for the City’s outpost at the UDC Muirkirk Research Farm. My van and about 50 others are all a part of the monthly Crop Mob, a coming together of community groups, clients, and volunteers to learn and share, work and connect over the pulling of weeds and picking of fruit.

It’s on the van ride up that you start to figure out what drew people to the Crop Mob — I have heard stories of grandparents with orchards, childhoods in the Midwest; people who love to garden and can school me on what’s happening, people who just want to grow something besides weeds. Everyone has a different story of what connects them to the earth, drawing all types of volunteers to the orchard.

July crop mob group

At our most recent Crop Mob on July 12th, volunteers were veterans, lawyers, clients, students, and staff. You can never predict what work will need to be done around an orchard, and this week we’re on berries. As the blackberry plants start to ripen, volunteers are finding the last strawberries hiding under dark leaves. One group is looking for the first blueberries on new bushes, and another is pruning the apple trees, heavy with new growth.

Crop Mobs like this are a new thing at Bread for the City, now happening on the Second Saturdays of every month. And if that isn’t enough farming for you, we are also taking trips up to the orchard every Wednesday. Interested in getting in on the communal farming action? Email volunteer@breadforthecity.org for more info!

The next Crop Mob is this Saturday, August 9th from 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM. It’s not too late to join the fun!

DC Rollergirls: Rolling into Bread for the City’s heart

DC Rollergirls group with VernieceEngineers, architects, lawyers, teachers, nurses, writers, artists, librarians, and work-at-home moms are all lacing up their skates every month. And while they’re at it, they are raising money and donating their time to charity organizations like Bread for the City. The DC Rollergirls is a volunteer-run non-profit that is fostering self-worth, personal strength, and female empowerment in women through the power of roller derby here in the DC area. Their six teams, the Cherry Blossom Bombshells, DC DemonCats, Majority Whips, Scare Force One, the DC All-Stars and the National Maulers are all bringing their badassery to serving the community.

In 2011, the DC Rollergirls approached BFC, at the suggestion of one of their girls who knew an employee, to form a food bank partnership, and we jumped at the opportunity. They fit perfectly in our mission and ours in theirs. “We liked the idea of helping those in need right in our own community,” mentioned Christy Chason, or BAT CAT as she is known in the derby realm.

BatcatThese ladies started clothing and food drives at their scrimmages and games, and they’ve been able to give BFC invaluable items that have helped us incredibly as we serve our ever growing population. They helped to sort clothes, and they set up BFC tables at their bouts to help raise money for the Holiday Helpings campaign. They continued to raise money every holiday season because they wanted to help less fortunate families in the DC area enjoy a complete holiday meal with all the trimmings. Like Bread for the City, the DC Rollergirls recognize that all people share a common humanity, and they want to see DC residents receive food, care, and clothing. Our very own Ryan Hill adds, “We really do appreciate the support we’ve received from the DC Rollergirls over these last 2+ years. With their help, we have been able to provide over 380 meals to our clients and their families.”

So let’s give a shout out to baddest ladies in town, the DC ROLLERGIRLS! 

Re:Imagining our Stories: Storytelling for social change

“Language exerts hidden power, like the moon on the tides.” – Rita Mae Brown

Here at Bread for the City, we love stories. We use them to to tell people how our services change lives, to demonstrate our history and expertise, and to show the broken systems that our clients have to navigate every day. When we get it right, these stories illustrate the resilience of our clients and their ability to survive and thrive in the face of great obstacles.

We also often use facts and statistics to paint a picture. In this case, our numbers are almost always about deficiency — for example, DC has some of the highest child poverty rates in the country or 93% of our clients are people of color. (Even our use of the term “client”can, for some, suggest an uneven power dynamic.)

A few weeks ago we were joined by Shana McDavis-Conway from the Center for Story-based Strategy for the first of three Storytelling for Social Change trainings held in our SE Center. They shared that while there are many ways to present truth, i.e. “the facts,” stories are the way people make meaning.

As Shana shared CSS’s narrative power analysis, I couldn’t help daydreaming about my first job in DC, where one of my tasks was to update about a dozen fact sheets. The assumption that we were working from at that organization was that, if given accurate information, politicians would make the right choice and fix the problem. I didn’t think much about how the policies had gotten there in the first place, whether the “problems” were actually the desired result of racist institutions, or — worst of all — whether the facts I was sharing could possibly be part of the problem.

I’ll get to an example of that shortly. The good news is, Shana presented an alternative — that stories can connect people and change minds. Literally.

narrative power analysis

Part of the reason stories work better at making meaning is because our brains are hardwired to sort information in different ways, based on all the ways we’ve been socialized to think about the world. Let’s say I start a speech with, “I got my love of cooking from my mom. Let me tell you about the creative meals she would make with our WIC checks.” That starts my message down one neural pathway in your brain, and probably for most people it’s a sympathetic one. Food and family. Everyone can still hear my story, wherever I go from there. In this open-minded state, I may be able to share something that changes someone’s mind, not only by sharing a different perspective but by literally building new neural pathways for information to travel in the future.

On the other hand, let’s say I start my speech with, “Did you know one in seven Americans is on Food Stamps?” That start gets me to some very different places in people’s brains. Some people, who have a strong personal responsibility narrative already hardwired into their brains, my message won’t make sense if it doesn’t fit their existing lines of thinking. They literally can’t hear me. Then there are the folks who were already predisposed to agree with me. For them, I’m just preaching to the choir.

Here’s where it can get even more insidious. Let’s say I share something like this headline from last year: “Black unemployment rate is consistently twice that of whites.” I think (as I’m sure Pew did) that my audience is hearing me as I talk about systemic racism and how capitalism has failed communities of color. But for anyone in my audience who’s been socialized to believe racist stereotypes (which is pretty much anyone raised in America), this might just go down their existing neural pathways as another example of the stereotype that “black people are lazy.” (For more incredible examples of this, see Provoking Thought, Changing Talk: Discussing Inequality.) Otherwise-sympathetic audience members might get triggered by my victim-blaming or further disillusioned.

In short, numbers alone don’t carry meaning. They can be heard in all kinds of ways, and even turned against us.

But stories help people make sense of the statistics, to understand the racist policies have shaped people’s lives, connect with their values, and share examples of resilience in the face of oppression and historical trauma. Stories are memorable. And finally, stories build power, as people gain a new perspective or see the truth about their lives reflected in someone else’s tale. Stories can lead to collective action toward self-determination.

Incredible things are possible when we really listen — to people like us, to people who are different, to ourselves.

So are you ready? What’s your story?


Student loan relief for SSI/SSDI beneficiaries

In an exciting new development, the Department of Education changed the policy on discharging student loans. This change could help thousands of people with disabilities. Bread for the City’s attorneys are hoping that with this change in the law we can help our clients get out from under the weight of student loan debt.

Under the new regulation, some SSI/SSDI recipients are now eligible to have their federal student loans fully discharged. Once a person is found to be “disabled” by the Social Security Administration (SSA), SSA decides how often they will review the person’s case based on the severity of their disability. This “continuing disability review” (CDR) schedule can be anywhere from 1 to 7+ years. The change allows SSI/SSDI recipients who have been set on a CDR schedule greater than 5 years to have their federal student loans entirely discharged.  Applicants only need to submit a short one-page application and a print-out from SSA showing proof of the CDR schedule.

Taylor Healy and Alexis MaguinaAlready, we have helped three people apply for loan discharge and two have already been approved! These clients are all SSDI beneficiaries who were having 15% of their monthly check garnished by the Department of Education – a huge hardship for anyone, let alone someone on a fixed income who is unable to work.

The loan discharge was a huge relief for someone like Sandra*, who worked in law enforcement for many years before deciding to go back to college to study criminal justice. After graduating from Marymount University, Sandra was diagnosed with breast cancer, unable to work, and owed over $34,000 in federal student loans. She fell into a deep depression, was evicted from her apartment and spent three months living in a public park before getting assistance from a case worker. Two years ago, she started taking medication for her depression and was able to get SSDI with the help of her psychiatrist. Unfortunately, fees and penalties were being added to her debt by the month and the Department of Education was able to garnish $212 per month from her SSDI check to repay the now $45,000 loan.

Within 48 hours of her legal intake at Bread for the City, I had gotten the verification needed from Social Security and submitted her application to the Department of Education. Last week, we received Sandra’s approval letter for discharge of the full loan amount! We celebrated with a huge hug and a whole lot of savings. Not only will Sandra be getting her full SSDI benefits going forward, but she says that just knowing that she’s “debt-free” is going to be an enormous help to her mental health and physical wellness.

If you know someone who receives SSI/SSDI and has federal student loans, tell them to come to legal intake on a Monday from 1-3pm!

*Sandra’s name has been changed to protect client confidentiality.