As we’ve said before, food and shelter must be supplemented with other necessities, such as hygiene products and furniture, to help people live with dignity and thrive. Here’s the story of the largest furniture bank in the U.S. helping reduce waste by repurposing furniture for people in need.

The Blogunteer

Several organizations offer assistance to those dealing with homelessness.  Today’s organization helps bridge people into a home while helping reduce the waste that goes into landfills.

In 1987, Fran Heitzman was working as a custodian at a church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.  A woman brought in a crib and asked Fran if it could be used in the church nursery.  There wasn’t a need in the nursery, but Fran was sure he could find a home for the crib.  After finding a social service agency that wanted the crib, Fran thought he should be able to find a home for other furniture items to truly help those in desperate need and Bridging was born.

The mission of the Bridging organization is to provide families and individuals transitioning out of homelessness and poverty with a gift of quality furniture and household goods to stabilize and improve lives while effectively using community…

View original post 443 more words

Advertisements

Summertime

On last Sunday’s Tony Award Broadcast, Audra McDonald sang the Gershwin hit, “Summertime”

Summertime,

And the livin’ is easy

Fish is jumpin’

And the cotton is high

Oh, your daddy’s rich

and your mamma’s good lookin’

So hush little baby

Don’t you cry.

But for a lot of children, summertime means life becomes more difficult.  As schools let out for the summer, children who rely on school breakfast and lunch programs cannot rely on those two meals each day.  As we posted last week, the Feeding America Map the Meal Gap project added child food insecurity to its map, and identified a disturbingly large area of the country where child food insecurity reaches more than 30%, and a distressingly small proportion where the food insecurity was less than 14%. As the New York Times reported last November, millions of children are now receiving free or reduced-cost lunches as once solidly middle class parents have lost jobs or homes during the economic crisis, qualifying their families for the decades-old safety-net program.

A number of communities have begun summer lunch bus programs where buses or food trucks bring nutritious meals to children in their neighborhoods.  These programs operate in conjunction with the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program, and the programs operate in locations that range from some of the biggest cities to rural areas.  There are buses in Chicago; Englewood and Denver, Colorado;  Marin County, Kentucky in rural Appalachia, and even here in New Haven, Connecticut. But the SFSP relies on local community organizations and not-for-profit charities to implement the program in each community.  So, although more than 21 million children receive free and reduced price school lunch, just over 3 million get summer meals.

As with so many issues related to poverty, it seems that the solution to summertime child hunger cannot be addressed by just government or the private sector alone, but requires partnerships between public and private, national and local, and not-for-profit and for-profit organizations to fully address the problem.  USDA solicits help from local organizations through the Corporation for National and Community Service.  Packaged foods giant ConAgra has partnered with Feeding America to provide grants to supplement and expand existing summer food programs in local communities.  In other words, everyone needs to contribute to the solution, because no one sector can solve a problem this big and this basic.  Find organizations in your local community and help make summertime a little easier.

Child Food Insecurity

Map the Meals

Feeding America has updated its Map the Meal Gap project.  While the overall food insecurity rate is disturbing, it is particularly appalling to see the child food insecurity rate in this country.

Measuring U.S. Child Poverty against the Rest of the World

The UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre recently issued Report Card 10, “Measuring child poverty”, which identifies the United States as having the second highest incidence of child poverty of among 35 of the world’s richest nations.  Among EU countries and other countries belonging to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United States, with  23.1% of its children living in households which fall within “poverty” levels as defined by the OECD, ranked 34th of 35, just above Romania.  Only in Romania were a higher percentage of the nation’s children living in poverty.

It is not news that the United States has a high percentage of children living in poverty.  As the National Center for Children in Poverty notes,  21% of U.S. children live below the federal poverty line and 44% of U.S. children live in low-income families.  Indeed, children, who represent just 24% of the U.S. population, make up 34% of the U.S. population living below the U.S. federal poverty line.

While it is true that the two measure different things: the federal poverty standard measures “absolute poverty” and the OECD standard measures “relative poverty,” the message is the same–an astonishing number of children in one of the richest countries in the world live in poverty, and that the United States, a country that likes to think of itself as a model of economic prosperity for the world, when compared to countries which are its economic peers or near-peers, falls below all with the sole exception of Romania.

Headlines have focused on the comparison with Romania, but the really interesting aspect of the report does not actually involve the U.S.

The UNICEF report also includes the “child deprivation” ranking of the EU nations, providing a perspective into what the international community identifies as necessary for raising healthy children.  The report identifies 14 items, the lack of two of which identifies children as deprived.  The required items go beyond merely ensuring the basics for sustaining life, but measure the quality of life.  It is not enough that there is food, but the food must be nutrious, with fruit and vegetables and protein every day.  It is not enough that the child have shelter, but the child must also have enough light and room to do homework, and be able to invite friends home to play and eat.  It is also not enough that the child have clothing, but the child must also have at least some new clothing.  The list also includes items necessary to developing young minds through the exchange of ideas found in books (other than school books) and through the internet.  And the opportunity to be involved in social activities with classmates–money to participate in school trips and events, and the opportunity to play, with outdoor equipment like bicycles or rollerskates and indoor games and toys.

In measuring child deprivation, the report uses a standard of basic childhood comforts that greatly exceeds the rather modest standard of living decried by conservative commentators skeptical of the U.S. poverty rate as overly luxurious.  The UNICEF report presumes that children’s most basic needs–food, shelter, health care, personal hygiene products necessary to keep clean and healthy, such as soap, toothpaste, and diapers where necessary–alone are insufficient without ensuring that the food is the right kind of food, and that children have the opportunity to participate in the larger society through the exchange of knowledge (through books and the internet) and social interaction and to grow as individuals through play and leisure activities.

The U.S. is not part of the ranking, but it is intriguing to consider how the U.S. might rate against its economic peers in the EU.  Because the deprivation standard is based on an objective set of criteria, the very high end of U.S. income would have no effect on the relative position of its poorest children, as could be argued was a factor in the U.S.’s poor showing in the relative poverty ranking.  Still, it seems likely the U.S. would also rank quite low on the child deprivation scale as well.   U.S. government programs focus on the most basic needs–food, shelter, and, to some extent, health care–alone.  There are no provisions for hygiene items and new clothes, let alone internet or subsidies for school field trips.   Indeed, some politicians argue that the U.S. government provides too muchblunting ambition to suceed by providing too many services to people in need.  (There is little evidence that cuts to programs gets more people to work.)  Others argue that the current economic crisis means we must cut these very basic supports in order to shore up our national debt.

Both arguments are short-sighted.  If, as these same politicians say, children are our nation’s future, shouldn’t we give them not just the bare minimum to survive, but the basics they need to thrive?  Nutritious food to grow strong bodies, space and books enough to develop young creative minds, and opportunitiy for play and friends to encourage engagement in society.   Without these things, we are impoverishing not only our children’s opportunity to grow but also our nation’s future.

Moreover, the report demonstrates that the current economic climate is not a valid excuse for shortchanging a nation’s children.   Although Iceland is recovering from bankrupty, and Ireland is not far from bankruptcy, both have “child deprivation” rates of less than 5%.   The report demonstrates that governments can take effective action to limit child poverty and prepare our children for the future.

As  Gordon Alexander, the director of UNICEF’s Office of Research, noted, “The best performers show it is possible to address poverty within the current fiscal space. On the flip side, failure to protect children from today’s economic crisis is one of the most costly mistakes a society can make.” It is possible to do better than we do.

So How Many Diapers Do We Need?

We at NDBN have been blessed by the support of very generous sponsors, including our Founding Sponsor Huggies,which has pledged 20 million diapers.  Twenty million is a huge number, so much so that you might think we can end diaper need right here and now.  But you would be, unfortunately, wrong.  Twenty million is but a drop in the bucket when one considers that there are 5.7 million children under the age of three living in poverty or in low-income families, and that these children need an average of 50 diapers a week for the three years or so that they need diapers.  (Infants require 8-12 diapers a day; toddlers require 4-6 diapers.)  That means that 285 million diaper changes a WEEK are necessary to ensure that babies are clean, healthy and dry.  Over the year, infants and toddlers in low-income families require nearly FIFTEEN BILLION  (15,000,000,000) diaper changes.  So the 20 million we are able to distribute provide only slightly more than one tenth of one percent (0.001) of the diapers needed.

It is a lot of diapers.  To help visualize how many diapers, Eastside Baby Corner in Issaquah, WA has some great pictures of the NDBN/K.I.D.S. distribution this March in their blog post:  Want to See What Nearly 100,000 Donated Diapers Looks Like?.  Imaging multiplying that number of diapers by fifteen thousand (15,000) to get to the number necessary to help babies and toddlers in need.

We can’t do it alone.  Local diaper banks need your support, and if your local area does not have a diaper bank or a diaper pantry in a food bank or other social service organization, consider organizing a diaper drive to help local families get the diapers they need.  To learn more about how you can help, contact us at info@diaperbanknetwork.org

%d bloggers like this: