You know, I signed up for this Blog Action Day thing thinking it was an awesome idea and a great way to get information out there about a topic that I think most of us try to avoid thinking about too much. And then I realized I had no idea what to say or how to say it.
Everywhere you look in the news now there are stories about people losing their jobs, their homes, having to make do and do without, driving less and reusing more. It seems like I can't check in with the news without seeing at least one story about someone or some family that's being affected by the dump our economy has been taking recently. They've even gone so far as to suggest we are on the verge of another Great Depression.
It seems like all we hear about is what people don't have, and like we're hearing an awful lot about poverty in the United States recently, so maybe one might wonder what the point is of having a special day, dedicated to the discussion of poverty.
The thing is that what we hear about on the news isn't poverty.
Poverty is having to choose between eating today or paying for your transportation to work. It's choosing between paying the electric and paying the rent. It's working two jobs and leaving your kids home alone at night because you can't pay someone to watch them. It's not getting medical care when you need it because you don't have insurance. It's going to work when you're sick or when your kids are sick because taking a day off will cost your job. It's living in bad housing in unsafe neighborhoods and not being able to move because it costs too much and you wouldn't be able to afford the rent, anyway. It's sending your kids to school without a coat, without lunch, without school supplies because you can't afford to buy them.
And, yes, we can all point fingers and say that these people make these choices. They drop out of high school, have too many babies too early with no way to support them. Any number of things.
But the resources and the opportunities, many times, are just not there for them to make other choices.
So why do we feel the need to judge that which cannot be helped?
The problems with the economy are beginning to highlight another cause of poverty in the United States. Sometimes a person loses a job, and finds there are none other available. Businesses are being shut down in their entirety, often crippling the communities they were in.
Imagine that you have a job. It's not the best job, but you get by. The bills stay paid, there's food on the table, and there's a little extra for other things. You're living paycheck to paycheck and there's never anything left when you get your next check. You work for the largest employer in your area, so you feel pretty secure.
You go in to work one day. It's a Wednesday, just like any other day, and you're working first shift. It's just like any other day, except that, when you get there, the doors are locked with a chain and a padlock. You have no idea, for sure, what's going on, but the word is that your employer has gone totally belly up. Not only do you not have a job, but the paycheck you were waiting to get tomorrow won't be coming. It's the largest employer in town and you are definitely not alone in your sudden joblessness. While there are other businesses you could work for, they all depend on the money spent by employees of that larger company. If those employees don't have money to spend, it won't be long before the other businesses will go under, as well. In the meantime, they certainly won't be hiring.
What do you do?
This is the face of poverty in America. It is a face we're going to see more and more of in the coming months. Normal, regular people who are getting by on too little and then lose even that. These are not the people that spend their lives on welfare. They don't need to. They have jobs. They work and earn money. Often, they are too proud to ask for that kind of help.
This is also only one extreme of poverty in America.
Poverty is everywhere. Sometimes it announces itself plainly. Sometimes it's more softspoken, too proud to draw attention to itself.
It's the kid at school who always seems to forget his coat, no matter how cold it is.
It's the coworker who you never see eating lunch. The one who never participates at potlucks or attends luncheons.
It's the eldery man who is always wearing the same tired, worn out pair of shoes.
My family is extremely fortunate. We have secure income, health coverage, sick leave. We have car, house and life insurance in case something should happen. Things can and do get tight financially, but we're not at risk of losing our home, our cars, my job, our kids. In so many ways we are blessed.
Every year about this time, the California State Employees Charitable Campaign kicks off (what appropriate timing!). I've participated in this ever since my first year as a state worker. I started with a $5 per month donation. The CSECC deducts it from my pre-tax wages and donates it directly to the charity of my choice. Every year that I've been promoted, I've upped the ante for the next year's Campaign. I currently donate $30 per month ($360 per year) to three charities. Usually I swap out charities each year (although one has remained a constant).
I know that $120 per year for one charity isn't a lot. But it's certainly more than nothing, which is a step in the right direction.
This year, when I make my switch, I will be choosing charities that help combat poverty at home. One of them will be the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services, but I still haven't decided on the other. I also wonder if anyone (*ahem*SweetPea*ahem*) would be interested in participating in their Run to Feed the Hungry (we don't really have to run).
What am I hoping gets accomplished today?
I hope that more people will begin to see with compassion, instead of judgement. I think we could all use a little more of that.
I also hope that more people will begin to see that even little things can help a lot. You don't have to be financially rich to help others.
Just rich in spirit.