It was really great to write this article. Writing it gave me a rare opportunity to collaborate on a little project with my wife, a manager in the non-profit sector working to fight human trafficking and hunger issues, to tell a story that is inherently challenged with popular misconceptions about "the kind of people" who are poor.
In Orange County, California, where my butt sits as I write this article, over 456,000 residents at any time (about 15% of the county population ) are at risk of going hungry at least a few times each month. Of those, nearly 40% are children, about 20% are elderly. By measures in the 2000 Census, it breaks down this way:
- Those living below the poverty line: 214,000;
- Seniors on fixed incomes: 88,000;
- Those on public assistance: 62,000;
- Unemployed: 92,000;
- Total at risk in Orange County: 456,000.
But here's the deal, in Orange County, the fifth most populous county in the nation with over 3 million people and renowned for its affluence and conservative values, pockets of poverty co-exist with new and old money in relative obscurity.
Far from the specter of the hapless pan-handler, poverty is a condition that afflicts our neighbors with near invisibility. There's even a term for it, "America's Working Poor." Basically, it's a term describing those who aren't on the streets yet, but are in the dire position of having to choose between food and shelter. It's a condition that could be afflicting your next door neighbor without your knowledge.
One of the biggest challenges, is that once in the poorhouse, it's tough to break back out. With almost all your meager resources engaged just to make the $218 per month week motel charge on a 1-bedroom so your family of 4 or 6 can have shelter, it's difficult to scrape together the security deposit plus first and last month's rent for a new rental.
Consider this, while the U.S. Census Bureau defines a poor family as a household of four earning less than $20,614 per year, Orange County, with its high costs of living, is closer to about $33,000. Factor in the economic dynamics of the current housing crisis and it becomes easy to see a formula for struggling families unable to pay rent or mortgage while supplying food for their family.
If you want to find out more in case you're in need, or in need of helping others, take a look at the following resources:
Local (California and Orange County)
- Dial 2-1-1. Like dialing 4-1-1 for information about local vendors and local haunts, 2-1-1 is an information line for social services. Here you can find information about social service agencies, for example, that can help you or someone you know who may be in need of help finding lodging if you, or someone you know, becomes homeless. Other services include information about: food banks, career centers for new job skills, pet adoption assistance. It's also a great resource if you're simply looking for someplace to volunteer your services to help others.
Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County, the local affiliate of the
national organization Feeding America (formerly America's Second
Harvest). Second Harvest Food Bank Orange County is working to
eliminate hunger in Orange County. They have many volunteer programs,
as well as food and pantry programs to help those in need.
- www.svdpoc.org. Council of Orange, Society of St. Vincent de Paul conducts many beneficial humanitarian programs offering person-to-person service to the needy and suffering. They're always on the lookout for volunteers. Check out the site and click the tab "Get Involved."
- www.SalvationArmyOC.org. The local county chapter of the renowned international organization, Salvation Army Orange County conducts many programs and services for the needy. Check out the tab "Volunteer Info" and then "Volunteer Opportunities."
- www.FeedingAmerica.org. They're mission is to feed America's hungry through a network of food banks and engage the country in the fight to end hunger.
- PovertyUSA.org. This is a program that seeks to support self-sufficiency and self-determination for people working to lift themselves out of poverty.
www.TearFund.org. An organization that works with local churches to make global connections for local support.
- www.WorldVision.org. World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice.
- www.crs.org. Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic community. Their mission includes alleviating suffering and providing assistance to people in need without regard to race, religion or nationality.
- www.MercyCorps.org. Mercy Corps works in dsiaster areas, conflict zones and other places where chronic poverty and instability exists around the worlds. Their strategy is to work in countries "in transition," where communities are recovering from disaster, conflict or economic collapse. (I love their motto, "Be the change."
Finally, but not least, we received a special request to include the following video from CARE about unlocking the power of women. I absolutely agreed. Not just because a nun asked us to include it (and you don't deny requests from nuns!), but also because it gives another perspective about global poverty and the role of women and their power to change things. (Did you know that, globally, there are 1.4 billion people living on just $1 (one dollar...per day), and 70% of them are women and girls?
Check it out below. It's worth 2 minutes and 35 seconds of your time.
This post is part of Blog Action Day 08 - Poverty