Covington & Burling Makes Flagship Gift to Bread for the City’s SE Center Expansion

The law firm of Covington & Burling has made the first gift for an upcoming $15 million expansion of Bread for the City’s Southeast Center on Good Hope Road. This $100,000 contribution will help Bread for the City (BFC) expand its civil legal services practice for low-income individuals living East of the River, and is part of Covington’s commitment with the DC Access to Justice Commission’s “Raising the Bar” Campaign to help bridge the legal services funding gap in the District of Columbia.

legal clinicCovington and BFC have a long partnership, dating back to the early 1990s, when legal services were first offered as part of Bread’s comprehensive approach to fighting poverty. In addition to more than 20 years of financial support, Covington provides BFC with loaned associates, each of whom works part-time for a six-month rotation as a member of BFC’s legal team. These associates provide direct legal services to BFC clients in the housing law area, representing clients in Landlord-Tenant Court and various administrative agencies to fight evictions, improper rent increases, and housing code violations.

“Covington’s support is a critical part of our formula for fighting poverty in the District of Columbia,” says Bread for the City Chief Executive Officer George A. Jones, who is also a member of DC’s Access to Justice Commission. “Their kind of commitment to providing substantial financial and pro bono support to civil legal services is what this city needs if we are to ensure that all residents have access to healthy food, safe and affordable housing, and equal justice under the law.”Bread for the City’s legal clinic provides services to approximately 1,800 low-income DC residents each year, as well as brief service and referrals to several thousand more annually. Unfortunately, the clinic has outgrown the existing space at Bread’s Good Hope Road location. Bread’s legal clients need a larger waiting area and more private meeting rooms where attorneys can speak confidentially with them. And as the legal staff grows to meet the needs of our community, more work space is needed.

Covington’s grant comes from an attorneys’ fee award in a pro bono civil rights case in Arizona in which the firm won an injunction against Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s racial profiling of Hispanic individuals. The firm’s policy is to donate fee awards in such cases to charitable causes.

Undoing Racism potluck

Tonight in our Northwest Conference Room, we expect 40 community members for the second-in-a-while Undoing Racism potluck. These monthly events, co-sponsored by Bread for the City and Service to Justice, are opportunities to share food and stories, and deepen relationships.

The gatherings have taken different shapes over the years havipotluckng started with alumni from the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond’s Undoing Racism/Community Organizing trainings, but are open to anyone involved in anti-racist work in DC.

The goals are to:
– Connect and energize racial justice work across communities and issues
– Support each other by sharing food, cultural, and healing practices, fun, and frustrations
– Commit to organizing your community to undo racism

Please join us! 6-8pm Wednesday, March 11th at Bread for the City, 1525 7th St NW – Shaw Howard (Green/Yellow) Metro — G2, G8, 64, 70s, 96 Buses.

If you are able, please bring food or drink from your family or community to share.

Questions? Contact Joni at jpodschun at or 202-595-7866.

Budget Training and Forums…#WeAreAllDC

At her open house in February, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that she would be hosting a series of three Budget Engagement Forums throughout the city.

The purpose of these forums was to let residents know about the proposed items in her budget, and also to hear directly from residents about what things they would like to see her prioritize.

To help DC residents get vocal about what they wanted to see in the budget, our friends at the Fair Budget Coalition, started a social media campaign that included DC residents and service providers taking pictures with signs that depicted how they would Mayor Bowser budget 3like to see the city spend those funds. Bread for the City teamed up with Fair Budget, So Others Might Eat (SOME), Academy of Hope, Southeast Ministries and Sasha Bruce Youthwork to host a pre-meeting on the day of the forum that was to be held at Anacostia High School.

What would the budget look like if it truly had low-income DC residents at heart? That is the question that community members came together and answered one the morning of February 21st, while fellowshipping over a delicious breakfast.

We honestly weren’t sure how many people were going to show. The snow that was supposed to start at 1:00pm decided to come at 10:00am instead. That didn’t stop over 15 residents from coming out that morning. People wanted change, and they were willing to do what it took to get the ball rolling—snow or no snow!

Monica Kamen from Fair Budget did a mini budget training so that we could all see how the money is currently spent. Then we talked about some of the things that people are tired of seeing in DC, and who they see suffering the most. Finally, I led the group in a visioning activity, where we thought boldly (and radically!) about what sort of DC we would like to live in, and what sorts of priorities it would take to achieve that vision.Mayor Bowser budget 4

Mayor Bowser budgetThe end result was a beautiful tree that laid out the problems, the vision and the proposed solutions that could be addressed by the budget over the next four years.

Though the Budget Forum that was scheduled for that day was eventually canceled, residents were so geared up about the vision that they created, that we all tweeted Mayor Bowser to invite her to meet with the residents who had gathered at Bread. She was unfortunately, not able to make it.

We agreed to set a future date where residents could meet with one of her representatives directly to talk about their vision, and what things they would like to see in the budget.

The rescheduled Budget Forum was February 28th, and over 150 people turned out to tell Mayor Bowser what sorts of things—like truly affordable housing, adult education programs and more—they would like to see in the budget.

What would YOU like to see in the Mayor’s budget? Tweet us using the hashtag #WeAreALLDC!


Undoing Racism

A month ago I had a powerful experience. I spent two days with 45 mostly-young people in a training workshop on “Undoing Racism”. Almost 30 of the 45 were Bread employees or Board members – black, white, mixed, and Asian-American – and were there as part of Bread’s commitment to racial equity.

The program was run by a venerable group, based in New Orleans, the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (PISAB). It was founded over 35 years ago to address pervasive issues of institutional racism. As Bread’s Board Chairman I had traveled with our CEO, George Jones, our Medical Director, Randi Abramson, and another Board member, Dorothy Hawkins, to New Orleans to study several health clinics; our trip was managed by PISAB, which had deep connections to the area’s clinics. During that visit, we heard an enormous amount about PISAB’s efforts to engender racial equity. It became clear to all of us that this was training that our staff and board needed to have, particularly since over 90% of Bread’s clients are African-American.

To be clear, this wasn’t a training about racial prejudice or people’s attitudes to one another. This was, to me, all about consciousness raising. This was about having the white attendees start to see the world through black people’s eyes and having the black attendees confront a step-by-step analysis of how Eurocentric racism formed our economic, social and governmental institutions.

Race-relationsAll of this was hard, hard to hear, hard to confront, and hard to accept. But the evidence was overwhelming and incontrovertible, and it damns our society from the perspective of social and economic justice. It is important, however, to emphasize that these conclusions were the culmination of two days’ hard work. We were cautioned not to talk about the conclusions because they were so inflammatory, and so difficult to accept without understanding the build-up, that people hearing them without having gone through the training would reject the premise. But these points are too important to our future as a society to leave them unsaid without reliance on a training workshop that relatively few will attend.

It is not a surprise to learn that the financial net worth of whites in America is higher than the financial net worth of blacks. What is a shock – but shouldn’t be with our history of racial discrimination – is that the median wealth of whites is 13 times the median worth of blacks. That, according to the Pew Research Center, the median net worth of a black family in America is just $11,000, compared to white net worth of over $141,000. (Washington Post, 12/12/14). This disparity doesn’t even address income inequality or the disproportionate accretion of wealth by the top 1%.

The Undoing Racism training tracked the formation of economic, social and governmental institutions that consistently discriminated against African-Americans, relegated them to second-class status (if that) and fostered an economic exploitation that has formed what is often called the economic underclass. undoing racism

But to dismiss it solely as an economic phenomenon is to ignore its genesis in a calculated effort to oppress blacks and exploit them. The education, wealth and health outcomes that are the product of that economic, social and governmental oppression and exploitation are the burdens that we face every day at Bread for the City. And for those of us who are steeped in white culture, assuming the privilege that just seems to accrue to us, it was eye-opening and, more to the point, deeply troubling to begin to understand how our African-American friends and clients confront – on a daily basis – a world that seems calculated to diminish them and undervalue them.

Those without economic power are thus trapped in multiple ways, and while Bread for the City is a safety net for those mired in poverty, we would not be pursuing justice if we did not seek to address America’s racial inequities. The Bible commands us, “Justice justice you shall pursue.” Raising consciousness of our society’s inherent racism so that we can change the way we think and act, and move the next generation into a more equitable world, is an important first step. And I am very proud that Bread for the City is in the forefront of that effort.

Paul Taskier cropped







Beyond Bread – Making Ends Meet in the District

Guest Post by Patrick Sullivan, Director of Field Operations at Nest DC

Believe it or not, I’m the only Nester that was hired with any property management experience. The field is full of folks overwhelmed by the daily drama and, to be honest, the (mostly) unrewarding nature of the work. It’s hard to be stellar under those circumstances. But hey, I was told I didn’t have a choice. I was the kid who slipped through the cracks. Poverty, foster care and an educational system that didn’t know what to do with me. I was pretty sure any job was almost out of reach. Never mind a good job. But a blend of hard work, perseverance and luck led me to a happy marriage and a career(!). I genuinely love working at Nest. With all that, I am even more sensitive to those who have less. That’s why when I get to work, it’s like coming home.

We’re not just a management company here at Nest. We’re aiming to make the city a better place. I’m not gonna lie, when I interviewed and the folks said they cared about community and gave back, I thought they were full of it. Just another part of the sales pitch. But wow. I was wrong. Those boss ladies had me starring in fundraising videos, volunteering, donating and generally thinking about others. And it’s awesome. I’m particularly excited about our work with Bread for the City. They “provide vulnerable residents of Washington, DC, with comprehensive services, including food, clothing, medical care, and legal and social services, in an atmosphere of dignity and respect.” I know what it feels like to be vulnerable. It’s terrible. And I want to help. I want you to help, too. Consider a donation to BFC. I can image there are more than a few lawyers reading this! Can you help out in the legal clinic? Can you put together a food drive at work? What about a clothing drive? It’s not about making time; it’s just about doing the right thing.

We’re always looking for an excuse to give our friends at BFC a shout out. We’ll be donating $1,000 as part of our Washington City Paper “Best of” campaign. If we place in the top three for best management company (or best friend) we’ll kick in even more.Patrick Sullivan Nest DC





Civil Legal Assistance Saves Money and Helps People Escape Poverty

Bread for the City PIcnic
This is  a crosspost from Lonnie Powers, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. We found it on This post first appeared on

Sargent Shriver, President Johnson’s personal choice to lead the War on Poverty, was once asked which anti-poverty program he considered the most important.

“My favorite is Head Start because it was my idea,” he answered. “But I am proudest of Legal Services because I recognized that it had the greatest potential for changing the system under which people’s lives were being exploited.”

Legal services, also known as civil legal aid, has indeed been a potent anti-poverty tool in two ways. First, through individual case work that enables poor people to gain access to the rights and benefits from state and federal service agencies, health care providers, and schools to which they are entitled. Second, through large, class-action lawsuits and advocacy efforts that change laws and governmental policies that adversely ― and overwhelmingly ― affect poor people.

With the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty in 2014, we have been treated to numerous assessments of the effectiveness of Johnson’s (and Shriver’s) program these past 12 months. It is indisputable that tremendous progress has been made and that much work remains.

To continue progress, civil legal aid must be deployed more broadly in future efforts to combat poverty, and public resources for legal assistance must be increased greatly.

With regard to class action lawsuits, we have seen how civil legal aid has resulted in significant legal victories. In 1970, legal aid attorneys successfully argued before the US Supreme Court in Goldberg v. Kelly that state welfare departments cannot terminate benefits without first providing applicants with a fair hearing. In 1973, California Rural Legal Assistance successfully sued to stop large agricultural operators from requiring migrant farm workers to use short-handled hoes while working in fields. (The short-handled hoes forced workers to stay bent over for long periods of time; field managers required their use because if they saw workers standing up, then they knew that they were resting and not working. After these hoes were banned, back injuries among farm workers dropped by more than 30 percent.) More recently, a federal lawsuit by Greater Boston Legal Services resulted in changes in policy by the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance which had improperly denied benefits to people living with disabilities.

A look at how civil legal aid case work for individuals struggling with homelessness and/or unstable housing, as well as those who are victims of intimate partner violence, is also instructive.

Numerous programs around the country demonstrate that civil legal services can help poor people keep their housing, or negotiate exits from housing that prevent immediate evictions, and ensure a smooth transition to safe, affordable housing. A pilot program launched in 2009 by the Boston Bar Association showed conclusively that poor people fighting eviction notices in housing court in Quincy, Massachusetts, fared much better when they were represented by attorneys. Two-thirds of those with full representation kept their housing; only one-third of those who went through housing court without an attorney were able to do the same. Similar results have been found in New York City, San Francisco, and San Mateo County in California.

Meanwhile, a landmark 2003 study published in Contemporary Economic Policy showed that legal services is one of the most effective ways to help women living in poverty escape intimate partner violence. Amy Farmer and Jill Tiefenthaler, researchers at the Carnegie Mellon Census Research Data Center, were intrigued by a Department of Justice report noting that rates of domestic violence had significantly declined during the 1990s. They analyzed data from the National Crime Victimization Survey and the Census to tease out the reasons for the improvement. Their conclusion? Access to civil legal services ensured delivery of protective orders; assistance with child custody and support; and divorce and property distribution that victims needed to begin rebuilding their lives. Civil legal assistance was also critical for resolution of domestic violence-related legal disputes around immigration, housing, and public benefits.

While services provided by emergency shelters, counselors and hotlines are vital in the short-term, Farmer and Tiefenthaler wrote, services provided by civil legal aid “appear to actually present women with real, long-term alternatives to their relationships.” (It is also interesting to note that between 1994 and 2000, the period during which incidents of domestic violence declined, the availability of civil legal services for victims of domestic violence increased 245 percent — from 336 such programs to 1,441).

Despite these clear successes, many people do not understand what civil legal aid is, and surveys regularly find that most Americans erroneously believe that poor people have a right to free counsel in civil cases. Meanwhile, state and federal funding for legal assistance is well below what it needs to be.

This fall, the Boston Bar Association’s Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts released Investing in Justice, a report showing that more than 60 percent of those who are eligible for civil legal aid in Massachusetts and seek services are turned away due to lack of resources. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the task force.) The Task Force proposed that the Commonwealth’s investment in civil legal aid be increased by $30 million over the next three years to begin to address the unmet need. Currently, the state invests $15 million annually in civil legal aid.

The irony, of course, is that the civil legal aid yields a measurable ― and significant ― return on investment. Looking at work solely related to housing, public benefits and domestic violence, three independent economic consulting firms which did analyses for the Task Force found that every dollar spent on civil legal aid in eviction and foreclosure cases saved the state $2.69 on services associated with housing needs such as “emergency shelter, health care, foster care, and law enforcement.” Every dollar spent assisting qualified people to receive federal benefits brings in $5 to the state. Every dollar spent on civil legal aid related to domestic violence is offset by a dollar in medical costs averted due to fewer incidents of assault.

This summer, Philadelphia resident Tianna Gaines-Turner became the first person actually living in poverty to testify before Congressman Paul Ryan’s congressional hearings on the War on Poverty. In her strong and moving testimony she spoke of the need for increased state and federal funding to end poverty, saying, “People living in poverty ― those who were born into it, and those who are down on their luck ― want to get out of poverty. We want to create our own safety nets, so we never have to depend on government assistance again.”

Civil legal aid is a powerful tool. It helps people living in poverty build a foundation of stability so they can create a better future for themselves, their families, and our communities.


You can learn more about the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation on their website:

Bread for the City’s Legal Clinic is funded, in part, through private and public dollars awarded by the DC Bar Foundation. You too can support civil legal services for DC residents in need here.


Let’s Get Ready to Garden!

It may be too cold to garden but it’s not too cold to dream. Let’s get started on the next growing season at Bread!

Garden Open Hours Are Back!Grow for the City logo no edge
Garden open hours are BACK at the Northwest and Southeast Centers. Ask for me, Zachari, at the front desk and together we’ll look through seed catalogs, read books, and plan what the garden will look like.

Pre-season Garden Open Hours at Northwest Center
Tuesdays, 10am-1pm
1525 7th St, NW

Pre-season Garden Open Hours at Southeast Center
Thursdays, 10am-1pm
1640 Good Hope Road, SE

Gifts can also be made to the garden that will help us purchase seeds, dirt, and other garden goodness. Donate here!


Event: Rooting DC. February 28th. Wilson High School. 
Want to learn more about gardening? Cooking? Want to share your skills? Register for Rooting DC! It’s FREE and there will be lots of workshops, seeds, and great people!

Bread for the City Clients who need tokens to make it there can get them from me on Tuesdays (NW) and Thursdays (SE). Click here to register.

Have general questions about Bread for the City’s rooftop gardens and our sustainable agriculture projects? Email me at You can also support these efforts through your giving to our rooftop gardens or City Orchard. We appreciate all your help!


Make a secure online donation


Gateway or Gatekeeper? Social Services Agencies & the Referral System

The human service world is full of gatekeepers – individuals or organizations that control access to resources. Gatekeepers manifest in countless ways: they can look like staff who determine eligibility criteria, place people on wait lists, or restrict days and hours that someone can access services.

We recognize that some of this is unavoidable and at times important. We are all working with limited resources that make structure and guidelines necessary. However, for individuals using services, the gates can feel restrictive, endless, and oppressive. We have been thinking about the role that social service providers inadvertently play in perpetuating these systems of oppression. We think that folks accessing services deserve better. We think that as providers, we have a responsibility to do better.

Admit OneThe social services department at Bread for the City has begun to explore and wrestle with which of these gates can be opened and turned into gateways – entry points to access resources. How can we move toward a more humane, compassionate, and just service delivery model that will value program participants’ time and energy? We believe the starting place is to assume that individuals and families know what they need. Our resources will be better used to support increased independence, well-being and cooperation within the community if we create a system that places client interests at the center.

Currently in the social services world many agencies rely upon a ‘referral system’ in order to screen for eligibility and control demand for services. In this context, a ‘referral’ means a written letter or form that a staff person from an agency/organization completes for a client to be able to access goods like food, clothing, furniture, or computers from another agency/organization. These requirements are not uniform across DC non-profits. Every agency has different requirements for what kinds of referrals they will accept, the information they must contain, how long they are valid for and who can complete and sign them. The graphic below summarizes the current referral system. referral systemThe current referral system places a burden on clients both financially and emotionally. Clients incur the costs of transportation to two agencies along with the cost of time away from work and/or childcare. Additionally, the service delivery system is so often dehumanizing and it’s hard to have to ask for help. Folks are struggling to feed their family and then have to go two places to get one piece of the help they need. Not to mention the stress and hassle factor of negotiating multiple complex and inefficient systems. Last week, we heard from clients in the community impacted by this system during an open meeting. We estimated that with the cost of transportation ($2-$5 on bus, much more on metro!) and at least 2 hours off work for travel and wait time ($8.25 DC minimum wage) – getting a referral could cost someone nearly $20! Also, remember that this isn’t a one-time thing – that agencies that require referrals are asking clients to do these steps over and over again each time they need the specific good (clothing, food, computer, financial assistance with IDs).

We envision a better system that puts the client at the center and believes the client is, in fact, the best expert of their own need and capacity. This system would eliminate the need for a 3rd party written referral by encouraging providers to create internal intake processes that reflect their eligibility requirements. We know this model can work – at Bread for the City we do not require these third-party written referrals for our general services (food, clothing, legal, medical, social services). Instead we have an internally designed and run intake system to screen for our eligibility requirements like DC residency, income and family size. Intake also helps us to track the information we need to monitor and improve our services. We believe that this works better for both the client community that we serve and for our staff. please come in

We have begun to hold open meetings with clients interested in being involved in this advocacy effort. If you are interested in joining us to work for a better way please feel free to contact Kathleen Stephan at

BFC Supports the Language Access Amendment of 2015

language access coalition

For years, the Language Access Coalition, on which I serve as Bread for the City’s representative, has been talking about amending the Language Access Act to give it more “teeth.” Under the current law, a person who has been denied language access can file a complaint with the DC Office of Human Rights (OHR). The problem is that even if OHR determines that the government agency violated the Act, OHR has no power to force the agency to make changes or to compensate the complainant. As a result, we’ve seen agencies violate the Act over and over again with no sign of changing.

As we’ve spoken about on our blog before, language access means that DC government agencies must provide meaningful access to services for limited and non-English speaking customers. This includes oral interpretation and written translation of vital documents.

Today, Councilmember David Grosso introduced a bill to amend the Language Access Act. The highlights of this bill that the Language Access Coalition and Bread for the City wholeheartedly support are:

1) Provides a private right of action for aggrieved people to sue a DC government agency in DC Superior Court if the Act is violated (like with other discrimination claims under the Human Rights Act), which can provide a complainant with injunctive relief and compensatory damages (money),

2) Gives OHR the power to fine government agencies that are found to have violated the Act, with the money going into a fund to support language access, and provides a right to appeal an OHR determination to the Office of Administrative Hearings,

3) Provides additional language resources in DC public and charter schools, such as increasing the number of language access coordinators in schools and providing comprehensive trainings for teachers and counselors, and

4) Explicitly adds the DC Council and the Executive Office of the Mayor to the list of covered entities that must provide language access.

Why is this important? Within the past year or so, I filed language access complaints on behalf of four clients against the Department of Human Services (DHS), and OHR foundlanguage access that the agency violated the Act in each of these cases. Yet, the agency continues to deny language access to DC residents.

For example, one of my clients, Ms. Fernandez (name changed to protect her identity), returned to DHS to recertify for food stamps while awaiting a decision on her initial complaint, and she showed the DHS worker a Spanish “I Speak” card, which was given to her by the OHR investigator to help articulate her language needs. Nonetheless, the worker refused to provide Spanish interpretation, and Ms. Fernandez’s food stamps were unnecessarily terminated again.

This failure to comply with the law must stop immediately. Bread for the City applauds Councilmember Grosso’s proposal of this amendment, and asks that the DC Council give it their unanimous support.

*Allison’s work is funded, in part, by the DC Bar Foundation /DC Legal Services Grant Program – Private Grants.

Day of Service in honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Bread for the City hosted 60 volunteers on Monday’s Day of Service in honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We welcomed volunteers from Blank Rome, Skadden Arps and Wiley Rein, as well as other community members at our centers in NW and SE, DC.

Living up to the purpose of the day, the volunteers worked hard to sort and process three pallets of fresh produce, including onions, potatoes, and carrots, into family-sized servings that Bread will distribute to clients through our two food pantries this week.

Volunteers also made a significant contribution in our clothing program by helping to organize the shopping area and storage room (a much needed task after the holiday season!) and to sort many bags of donations to ensure the program is well-stocked with seasonal items for these cold winter months.

At Bread for the City, volunteers play a very real and important role in helping us to accomplish our mission. We thank those who served on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and all of our other volunteers for all they contribute!

MLK Day volunteersMLK Day volunteers 2 MLK Day volunteers 3MLK Day volunteers 1