But it wasn't only Jews whom the Rebbe loved, and non-Jews came to know that. One dramatic and little-known incident involved the Rebbe and Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm. In 1968, Chisholm became the first black woman elected to Congress. A powerful figure in her own right, Chisholm lacked the power to stop senior, and influential, southern Democratic congressmen, many of whom in those days were racists, from assigning her to the Agricultural Committee, an intentionally absurd appointment for a representative from Brooklyn. One New York newspaper headlined the affront: "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn?" Chisholm, who wanted to work on education and labor issues, was both frustrated and furious.
She soon received a phone call from the office of one of her constituents. "The Lubavitcher Rebbe would like to meet with you." Representative Chisholm came to 770.
The Rebbe said, "I know you're very upset."
Chisholm acknowledged both being upset and feeling insulted. "What should I do?"
The Rebbe said: "What a blessing God has given you. This country has so much surplus food and there are so many hungry people and you can use this gift that God's given you to feed hungry people. Find a creative way to do it."
A short time later, on her first day in Congress, Chisholm met Robert Dole, the Kansas congressman who had just been elected to the Senate; Dole spoke to Chisholm and expressed great concern regarding the plight of midwestern farmers who were producing more food than they could sell and were losing money on their crops. Working with Dole and on her own, in an effort that eventually benefited millions of poor people and farmers, Chisholm greatly expanded the food stamp program. In 1973, the Agriculture and Consumer Protection Act ordered that food stamps be made available "in every jurisdiction in the United States". Chisholm played an even more critical role in the creation of the Special Supplement Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which mandated food supplements for high-risk pregnant women and for young children at nutritional risk. Chisholm led the battle in the House, and Dole and Hubert Humphrey did so in the Senate; today some eight million people receive WIC benefits each month.
David Luchins, a twenty-year veteran of New York senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan's staff, heard Chisholm relate the story of her meeting with the Rebbe and her work on behalf of food stamps and WIC at a 1983 retirement breakfast in her honor. As she said that morning, "A rabbi who is an optimist taught me that what you think is a challenge is a gift from God". And, she then added, "If poor babies have milk and poor children have food, it's because the Crown Heights had vision."