Poverty in Our Backyard & What We Can Do to Help

How many of us couldn’t get through the day without the help of our friend, the Venti Pumpkin Spice Latte?  Few.  Jarringly, that “necessity,” when purchased on a daily basis, comes out to a whopping 18+% of the income of someone living in poverty in the U.S. today.  Here’s the math: $5.83 x 365 days = $2,127.95.  $11,770, according to federal poverty guidelines, is the poverty line for a single person.  ($2,127.95 ÷ $11,770 = 0.18) 

If this seems hard to believe, you may be even more surprised by the reality that many of our neighbors face such a circumstance.  In Phoenix in 2015, more than 4 out of every 25 residents were living in poverty.  Sadly, that same year, Arizona had the 5th highest rate of impoverished children in the country.  Personally, that’s difficult to internalize.  Yet, at the time, I was student teaching in an elementary school in Phoenix.  I vividly recall a little girl trying to sneak an extra bag of carrots on Friday because she knew she wouldn’t have meals over the weekend.  I know the problem exists; I just wholeheartedly wish it didn’t.  While I can’t wish the problem away, I can do things to help.  You and your kids can too!

Next weekend, I’m volunteering with the Welcome to America Project.  This organization was founded after 9/11 when Scottsdale resident Carolyn Manning-Giedraitis, whose brother-in-law was killed in the World Trade Center, read about political refugees in Phoenix who, too, were victimized by the Taliban.  The photo that corresponded to the article showed a family of 5 with nothing more than 2 chairs and a television on the floor.  Touched by the photo and relatable circumstances, Carolyn felt moved to collect household donations for the family; the Welcome to America Project grew from there. 

Nowadays, this 501(c)(3) has volunteers deliver home goods to refugee families every Saturday morning!  I’ve been assisting with deliveries for several years now, and, unlike many other volunteer events, kids are welcome to help!  It’s really a transformative experience to meet individuals who do not have so much as pillow upon which to sleep.  Why? They are beyond grateful for their safety.  They are beyond grateful for the receipt of the most basic necessities—soap, cutlery, bedding; it’s impossible for that gratitude not to rub off on you too.  What we so often take for granted is brought to the forefront, and I always leave with the perspective that my so-called problems are really not so bad. 

In light of Poverty in America Month, I chose to highlight the Welcome to America Project.  However, I could have chosen a handful of fantastic local organizations.  To kick off the year on a positive note, I urge you to find a way for you & your family to support those battling poverty.  These are our neighbors, and we have the capacity to help.  Believe me when I say that all parties involved leave better than they arrived.  From the bottom of my heart, have a fulfilling and thriving 2017!