Louisiana consistently ranks low in national reports on children’s well-being in such measures as the percentage of low birth-weight babies born in the state and the number of children who are living in poverty.

In an attempt to bring a concentrated effort to help improve the lives of children in the state, the Louisiana Interchurch Conference announced Friday a five-year campaign to garner the strength of congregations to educate about, lobby for and implement programs to meet the goal.

This Bread or Stones Campaign, has the support of all 24 leaders of the 16 member denominations in the conference and now the call for action will go to congregations, said the Rev. Dan Krutz, Louisiana Interchurch Conference executive director.

The name of the campaign comes from the Gospel of Matthew (7:9) where Jesus asks, “Would one of you hand his child a stone when he asks for a loaf?”

“For too many years we have been handing stones to our Louisiana children,” said Catholic Bishop Shelton Fabre, president of the conference.

Robert Gorman, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, said there have been small steps the state has taken to help children in poverty but Louisiana still remains on the bottom of child well-being lists like the Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count.

The campaign will include educating church congregations on issues surrounding child well-being and advocating the state to improve children and family care. In addition, Gorman said, the campaign will encourage individual congregations to get involved and partner with child well-being nonprofit groups that already are doing a lot of good work in the state.

Several issues that churches can get involved in include reducing the number of low birth-weight children born in the state, making sure children who reach the fourth grade are able to read at that level, ensuring high school students graduate on time and reducing the number of children living in poverty, Gorman said.

He said congregations can help by offering after-school tutoring and distributing information on how to sign up for things like child health care. He said they can also help focus efforts on things like employment readiness.

“This is not just a civic issue, it is a religious issue,” Gorman said.

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