Thanks to Daina Nanchanatt, Muhlenberg College Student, for submitting this post.
There is a saying by an unknown author that claims, “One benefit of being poor is that it doesn’t take much to improve the situation.” I think that I, at one time, may have agreed with this saying. If you don’t have money, get a job; hard work yields success. My attitude towards poverty has changed over the past three months as I visit food pantries and soup kitchens to interview participants as part of Second Harvest’s 2011 Hunger Study. I have spoken individually to people in poor socio-economic conditions about how they have come to be in their situations and what they are doing to try to overcome it. Now I know that poverty is anything but simple and surmounting the situation is anything but easy.
The above quote makes it seem so easy for poor people to pull themselves out of their socio-economic situations. However, it ignores how easy it is to fall into those situations in the first place: a lost job, illness, death in the family, or being born into poverty and not being able to escape. Being born into poverty reduces the opportunities that they have to improve their lives through education, for example. Furthermore, many of these reasons are out of the individual’s control. The failing economy has cost many people their jobs, homes, and security. Most disabled people who I have spoken to want to work; they simply are not physically able to work. Some people who visit the food pantries and soup kitchens are widows who lost their only source of income when their spouse passed away.
When I ask food pantry and soup kitchen participants if they would like to participate in a survey project that seeks to understand how the services that are provided by the food banks can be improved, many of them are very willing to help. They cannot provide for themselves the basic necessity of food and therefore depend on various forms of food assistance to feed themselves and their family.
So if it is not easy for individuals to pull themselves out of poverty, whose responsibility is it to help them? Food banks receive public and private funds to support their operations. Any significant reduction to either funding stream would inhibit a food bank’s ability to serve people in need. To illustrate, consider the State Food Purchase Program which is funded through the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. The State Food Purchase Program allocates cash grants from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to purchase food from brokers at reduced prices and distribute it to low-income people. This program allows the food bank to purchase and distribute more nutritious food than what may have been donated to the food bank. People who receive food assistance through soup kitchens, pantries and shelters depend heavily on the funds provided by the government.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s preliminary budget shows a funding of $17.5 million for the State Food Purchase Program. We are grateful that the Governor proposed a minimal funding cut of $300,000 to this program. However, the need for food assistance continues to increase and the rising costs of food and gas will make it harder for food banks to meet the ever growing demand with shrinking government resources. The government needs to take responsibility for its citizens and provide the adequate funds needed for food banks to continue to feed its participants.
Pulling citizens out of poverty is not a simple task. Situations that lead to poverty are different, and therefore solutions to this problem must be creative and innovative. The government needs to take responsibility for its citizens and help them through the transition from poverty to hopefully a stable socio-economic state. I believe that this quote by Nelson Mandela better exemplifies the state of poverty: “It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.”