Taking Action to Address Transit Inequality
Poverty Reduces Cognitive Capacity
The fact that poverty makes life harder is hardly news, but the science that shows how poverty reduces cognitive capacity is. The accompanying infographic below shows the correlation – poverty consumes mental resources, which reduces IQ and leaves less capacity for other tasks.
Two of my nieces were a week away from college finals. Both were talking about late nights, and mind-diminishing fatigue, and both took heart in the fact that it was only a temporary condition. Harvard Economist, Sandhil Mullainathan, says: “Poverty is the equivalent of pulling an all-nighter. Picture yourself after an all-nighter. Being poor is like that every day”. I would further say: Imagine being a single Mom with two children, the youngest of which has a serious medical condition. Then imagine not knowing how you will purchase the medications for your child and food for the upcoming week. Or how you will explain to your older child why you can’t buy school pictures this year.
Raising a family is hard work, doing it on the mental capacity equivalent to pulling an all-nighter, inconceivable. The Social Work Degree Center infographic also shows that more than half of us will live in poverty at some point before we are age 65, and woman and children experience the greatest poverty. Currently, in Washington, 1 in 5 children live below the poverty line. Poverty isn’t the struggle of a few in our country; it is the reality of many.
This past spring, WithinReach Chief Program Officer Sharon Beaudoin spoke on a CityClub panel about the effects of poverty on health. More importantly, Sharon and fellow panelists, Ben Danielson, MD, (Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic), Gordon McHenry (Solid Ground), and Sam Whiting (Thrive By Five) talked about what we can do to support families living in poverty, how we can change the picture. The conversation was many-sided.
The first step to changing this reality is being aware of how poverty affects millions of families every day. Despite operating with limited capacity due to poverty, social injustice, health inequity, lack of access and more, Dr. Danielson was quick to remind us that the families we serve everyday are strong and resourceful. Let’s keep the conversation going, and make the connections Washington families need to be healthy!
Balancing the Budget & Tough Choices Families Make Everyday
Olympia managed to avert a budget crisis, much to the relief of Washington citizens and many lawmakers. It took months of work, negotiations and two special sessions to come up with a final budget that our legislators could agree to. During the process, furlough notices were sent to workers whose employment depended on state funding. Single parents that relied on childcare subsidies scrambled to make arrangements under already difficult circumstances. Pregnant women, caregivers and parents wondered if they might get the aid that goes a long way in providing much needed nutrition for their families. During these last two weeks of budget negotiations the word “budget” seemed to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind. At WithinReach we worried what the looming government shutdown could mean for the most vulnerable families we work with.
We were relieved when we learned a budget passed and a government shutdown avoided. Unfortunately, these feelings of accomplishment and relief did not come to all. There are thousands of families in Washington that are not able to balance their household budgets and provide their families with basic needs. At the WithinReach Family Health Hotline, we talk to these families every day. These families make concessions and choices about what to fund and what to forgo on a daily basis. These are hard choices. Pay the rent or feed the family? They choose to find a way, and sometimes they ask for help.
The families we talk to want to know that they are doing everything in their power to keep their children on track. They want to provide enough food for their children so that they have the necessary nutrition to focus and do well in school. They want their children to receive health insurance so that they will not have to forgo medical care or be strapped with huge hospital bills. They want for their children what we believe all children deserve—access to healthy food and quality health care. The recent budget passing helped to remind us of the important role these government benefit programs serve in the lives of families throughout Washington. They truly help to lessen the financial struggles of families and help parents breathe easier knowing their children have what they need to be healthy. We are happy to answer those phone calls, and help to alleviate the tough choices that many of those families are forced to make every day.
Summer Meals: Free Meals for Kids all Summer
Q and A with St. Leo Food Connection Director, Kevin Glackin-Coley
Q: What is the Summer Meals program?
A: For the parents of the 467,279 Washington schoolchildren who receive free or reduced price school meals, summer can be a time of struggle as they stretch available dollars to cover the gap left by school meals. The Summer Meals Program helps by providing free nutritious meals and snacks to kids and teens during the summer months. Summer meal sites are located in schools, recreation centers, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, and camps. The program begins at the end of the school year, and ends in the fall when school begins. All kids and teens (18 years old and younger) are eligible for the program, regardless of income.
Q: Why would a food bank operate Summer Meals sites?
A: At St. Leo Food Connection we run the largest food bank in Pierce County and one of the only food banks in the county that is open on Saturdays. Our Backpack Program provides two days worth of food on Fridays to more than 600 children at numerous Tacoma and Clover Park Public Schools. We know from the growth of this program that many children in our community are at-risk of going hungry. This sad truth is only exacerbated during the summer when school breakfasts and lunches are not available for many of the children who rely on them during the school year. Last year we served more than 700 children daily throughout the summer, but we know that the need is even greater. With the program expansions that we are putting into place, we anticipate that we will be serving close to 800 children on weekdays throughout the summer.
Q: How does the Summer Meals Program impact the community?
A: Parents and caregivers in the community are relieved to know that they have a safe place to send their kids for healthy meals during the summer. Last year a grandmother of several kids who attended one of our sites expressed it this way, “The Summer Feeding Program is really good for the kids because it gives them fresh foods and it is really hard to buy fresh foods on public assistance. Sometimes when a parent could not give their child snacks, they would keep their kids inside because they did not have enough snacks for all the kids outside. You feel bad for the other kids, but you cannot really help them. The SFP means food equity for the kids here at the apartments.”
To locate a Summer Meals site near you, call the Family Food Hotline, 1-888-436-6392 or visit the online search tool at ParentHelp123.
Reflections sparked by the Bridges out of Poverty Training
Three years ago in February, I met a 65 year-old woman, Berta, whose husband’s health was failing. She had recently lost her job of fifteen years and was told it was a result of the recession. She felt like it had more to do with her age. Before that month she had never asked anyone for help, but when I met her she was in line at a food bank. She shared that the food bank was a true lifeline that allowed her to keep enough food in the house and without it, she and her husband would have gone hungry. However, the food bank was packed with standing room only, and on days like that, everyone is tense. All Berta could think about was the fact that the last time she left her husband alone for a few hours, he had fallen broke his wrist and now Berta could see no way of paying off the piles of bills.
I started at WithinReach, fresh out of university, as an AmeriCorps service member. In college I had spent a great deal of my time dedicated to studying the social and political systems of the outside world in courses like Political Science, Spanish and Religion. I also worked at the Diversity Center where we created programming aimed at exposing students and community members to the beauty of diversity and to the prominent influence of privilege and oppression in our world. Pacific Lutheran did a great job of opening my eyes to the complexities of our world…but after my first few months as an AmeriCorps at WithinReach, I was ready to preach about how a person has to be “in it”–living and working with people like Berta–before you get even close to being able to understand the reality of our beautiful yet broken world. I have lived in that mindset ever since the beginning of my service, but after attending a fabulous training in March, my hard-line stance has started to become tempered.
This past March, I went to a training called Bridges out of Poverty. This two day seminar, facilitated by Jodi Pfarr, was specifically directed at service providers and it presented a wealth of tools for understanding and combating poverty. I had so many “aha!” moments, that I came to realize that after three years of working in the field, I had become complacent. I got lost in the grind of reality and forgot to pursue the knowledge and theory that would keep me learning about the systems and the roadblocks of oppression and poverty. I had forgotten that a person needs to balance both living “in it” and getting “above it”, in order to be able to reflect on solutions to our society’s problems.
Berta’s story is one of many that have stuck with me through the years. I feel good about the fact that she and I worked through the application process for Basic Food (food stamps) together, and that she was able to supplement the food she got at the food bank with more fresh fruits and vegetables from the grocery store We also talked about creating a payment plan in order pay off the bills she owed.
I wonder how things turned out with Berta and her husband and I obviously still think about them from time to time. Reflecting back, perhaps her story is so powerful to me because it is so similar to many other stories that I have heard and been part of since. The cycles and patterns of poverty are definitely what impact me most. However, working at a place like WithinReach–a place that provides opportunities to grow with trainings and experiences like Bridges out of Poverty–I am confident that I will continue to work as part of the solution.