Mind the Gap

Repression was the Duvalier family business in Haiti. The many crimes of these dictators against their own people are well documented. But the story most often repeated is how “Mama Simone” Duvalier had air-conditioning installed in the National Palace so that she could comfortably wear her fur coats, in a tropical nation where poverty increased as wealth was concentrated in the ruling family’s inner circle.

We read that and think: How obscene! No wonder they had a revolution.

Unfortunately, income inequality is a problem in the United States, too. Global Post has a nifty function where you can see how the gap between rich and poor in your area compares with the situation in other nations. President Barack Obama’s home city of Chicago has a similar income gap to Rwanda.

Maybe that was on his mind when he said in his inaugural address: “For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class.”

There’s nothing wrong with being rich. I’d be fine with the rich getting richer if the poor weren’t simultaneously getting poorer. As I’ve previously written, the rate of extreme poverty in the United States has doubled since 1996. By extreme poverty, I mean a person living on about $2 a day. Meanwhile, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service tells us that the top one percent of households hold about a third of the nation’s wealth.

I am neither a politician nor an economist. I offer no macro solution to this problem. But I can offer some micro ones. Extreme poverty in itself creates barriers to employment and self-sufficiency. People need help over those barriers, many of which seem like small things to those of us who are more fortunate. “Handouts” have a negative connotation. We hear that they are a “Band-Aid” solution. When you are bleeding, a Band-Aid is a wonderful thing. In addressing extreme poverty, we must first stop the bleeding.

There’s a mom and baby in South Florida who were homeless. The mother worked with an agency that got them shelter and also offered her a training program to become a certified nursing assistant. She still could not afford the diapers her childcare center required. But thanks to the Junior League of Boca Raton’s Diaper Bank, she has an ongoing supply of diapers and is able to work. My friends at The Diaper Bank in North Haven, Connecticut, provided a wounded Army veteran with diapers for his son. That enabled the man to go back to school for job training.

As a social worker who spent much of her career working with families in extreme poverty, I know what a big deal the little things can be. Imagine sending your kids to school in dirty clothes because you can’t afford detergent. How well would you do in a job interview if you had to show up in an old tattered suit? How far could you stretch your food stamps if you had to shop at a corner store because you had no way to get to a supermarket?

The United States is often called “The Land of Opportunity.” It will take some work for us to deserve that title again. We need to tackle some big issues. In the meantime, though, you might find some small issues to tackle in your own community to make sure that your most vulnerable neighbors really do have an opportunity to thrive.

 

Follow Joanne Goldblum on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jgoldblum

This article was originally published in The Huffington Post on January 29, 2013.

Something to Make Moms Smile

As the saying goes: Babies don’t come with instruction manuals.

This is tough on all new parents — but particularly on low-income families. Lower-income pregnant women receive less prenatal care, experience higher levels of stress and are more likely to deliver premature babies.

That’s why I’m a fan of Text4baby, a free texting service that gives expectant and new mothers tips on keeping their babies and themselves healthy. Text4baby is reaching women in high-poverty areas. A large percentage of women who sign up for the service live in zip codes with the highest levels of poverty in the United States. Most mobile providers will not charge women for receiving the texts, which are available in Spanish or English.

Moms learn things like how to get help to stop smoking, what vaccinations their babies need and how to get a good night’s sleep with a big baby belly. It’s a project of the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition. The texts are timed according to a woman’s due date, so she gets appropriate information. Ivory, a Text4baby user, explains:

They sent me text messages with things I was going through that day. For example, during my 7th month of pregnancy, I thought I was feeling contractions and I was a little nervous. That same day text4baby sent me a text message about Braxton Hicks contractions, and that helped me a lot because I knew that that was what I was feeling and it kind of eased my anxiety.

Low-income moms are often stigmatized. Moms who use the service can arrive at appointments with increased knowledge and confidence. This I find very significant. The lesson of Text4baby is that parents want to do what’s best for their kids — but first we have to know what’s best.

There’s a mythology around “maternal instinct,” the idea that we innately know all about taking care of our babies. We don’t. There’s good research that we can use to guide us on everything from what medicines to give our children to how we should lay them down to sleep at night. When it comes to parenting, knowledge is power.

An empowered parent is a mighty force for good, in the life of a child, a community or a nation. My colleagues empower parents by helping them get basic necessities like diapers. Text4baby empowers parents with information. There are lots of ways we can all get involved to help parents do the most important job in the world.

This article was first published in The Huffington Post on January 23, 2013

Living on $2 a Day

Researchers at Harvard and the University of Michigan have found that 1.4 million American families live in extreme poverty About 2.8 million children are included in those families. “Extreme” is not a strong enough word for the kind of poverty we’re talking about. The researchers defined it as living on less than $2 per family member per day. That’s $2,920 annually for a family of four. The study looked back to 1996 because in that year “Welfare Reform” placed new limits on the amount of time a family could receive public assistance. Between 1996 and now, the rate of extreme poverty has doubled.

For many people, the United States has become a third world country.

The study did not get nearly enough attention, though Gabriel Thompson did a fantastic piece on it forMother Jones. She spent a lot of time in Fresno, Calif., where she met people struggling to get by on temporary, low-wage jobs. Their experiences reminded me of a hypothetical day-in-the-life of a low-income family with a sick child written for this blog.

Welfare no longer provides a safety net since the 1996 “reforms.” As Neil deMause demonstrates in a greatSlate article, changes in the federal law have enabled some states to put a nearly impenetrable wall of red tape and shame between needy families and benefits.

Listen to Neil’s description of one mother’s struggle:

As her 2-year-old son scampers about a vacant office at the Sweetwater Valley Community Action Mission Program where she’s come to seek some help, Cassie explains that — like nearly 2 million other Georgians, almost 20 percent of the state — she receives federal food stamp benefits, which help put groceries on the table. But they won’t pay for non-food items, which is why she’s turned up at this private charity in suburban Cobb County in search of diapers.

Household supplies are a constant struggle for the poor in the absence of cash benefits, notes the charity’s program director Carla Pierce, pointing to the stockpiles of detergent and other items lining the mission’s storeroom shelves. (No diapers today, though; Cassie and her son go home empty-handed.) “Formula and diapers change a family budget in a second.”

 

Newark Mayor Cory Booker decided to live for one week on the amount a food stamps recipient would get. The mayor’s menus drew attention to just how difficult that is. He reported hunger pains. This calorie counter estimates that six-foot-three Booker was getting less than 1,000 calories a day.

Many state and federal officials are talking now about cutting safety net programs. I have one question for them: What safety net? We’d like to believe that no one in this country lives without the basic necessities. But that’s simply not true.

When Booker did his food stamps challenge, many people accused him of grandstanding and grabbing media attention. I have no idea what Booker’s motives were. But I find them far less interesting than the fact that food stamps are inadequate to feed a needy American — and can’t even be used for other necessities like toilet paper, soap or diapers. Focus, people!

The argument against public assistance is that it creates dependence. This argument is generally made by people with a distorted picture of what it means to be poor. (Eating a lot of Ramen noodles in college, by the way, does not give you even a glimmer of what life is like for people living in intractable poverty.)

In fact, the opposite is true. If we keep people in a position where survival is a constant struggle, they are ill-equipped to do the things that will lead to steady employment. Think of Cassie, who can’t even get diapers for her son. No day care will take a child without a supply of diapers. How is Cassie supposed to go on a job interview? Does she have a decent outfit to wear to that interview? How about shampoo and toothpaste? A job applicant who does not look and smell clean has a slim chance, at best.

The big idea was that making poverty even more unpleasant than it already was would give people the incentive to improve their lot. But the percentage of extremely poor Americans has doubled under this policy. Clearly incentive was not the problem.

Throughout human history, the main anti-poverty strategy has amounted to a long lecture on ambition and self-reliance. With centuries of proof that this strategy does not work, it is past time to try something else. Meeting people’s basic needs would be an excellent start.

Follow Joanne Goldblum on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jgoldblum

This article was originally published in The Huffington Post, on January 4, 2013

Poor Babies Set up for a Lifetime of Illness

Living in poverty — even in utero — can lead to a lifetime of poor health, a new study by a team led by Cornell researcher Kathleen Ziol-Guest has found.

The scientists tracked people whose families lived in poverty in the year before they were born through age two. As adults, they suffered from high blood pressure and arthritis at twice the rate of people from more fortunate backgrounds. These diseases showed up at young ages in the study group. Study volunteers were being diagnosed with arthritis by age 30.

Poor health may account for the low incomes that the study revealed in the group. They had an average annual income of $21,600 and worked fewer hours annually than their peers (1,460 vs. 1,877).

The study does not identify a cause for this disturbing legacy. We know that stress has an effect on the immune system, and few things are more stressful than living in poverty. We also know that income affects nutrition, hygiene and access to health care.

Why these children suffer from a lifetime of ill health and resulting poverty isn’t the most pressing question. The most pressing question is: What are we going to do about it?

Ziol-Guest shared some excellent ideas with the news organization Futurity in the excerpt below:

The study points to the importance of policies that increase financial resources available to families with young children, Ziol-Guest says. “Our findings indicate that the incomes of the most economically disadvantaged families should be of greatest concern, particularly during the years when these families have young children.”
Programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and child tax credits could help boost the income of families during that critical period, Ziol-Guest says.

“Targeting these or similar programs to families with very young children may offer the largest benefit for health and well-being in later life and give us more bang for our buck in an era of rapidly rising health care costs.”

A relatively small early investment will pay off for the rest of a person’s life. This is an idea demonstrated by such a large volume of research that it should be accepted as an axiom. Think of the savings in health care costs and the benefits of increased economic production from people unimpaired by ill health.

More importantly, think of the kids. One in five American children lives below the poverty level. Are we really willing to let them walk into a future of life-limiting and life-threatening illness?

Henry David Thoreau said, “Every child begins the world again.” That’s simply not true for poor kids. There will be a few sparkling exceptions that people fond of moralizing about “bootstraps” will point to repeatedly. For most poor kids, however, the world will move along on the same bumpy path it did for their parents and grandparents. The world does not begin again for every child.

But it should.

Follow Joanne Goldblum on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jgoldblum

This article was originally published in The Huffington Post, on December 5, 2012

Start Early to Close the Achievement Gap

By age 3, children in low-income families have smaller vocabularies than middle-class kids of the same age. This “achievement gap” persists throughout school and culminates in lower graduation rates for children growing up in poverty. I’m not offering a magic bullet to close the achievement gap. Complex problems, unfortunately, tend to require complex solutions. But I can think of two key elements to any effort to address the gap: We need to start early and we need to think broadly.

Remember, we’re seeing language deficits by age 3. We also know that those first three years are spent forming trillions of synapses — 90 percent of the brain development we’ll experience in our lifetimes. So the question is: Can a baby living in poverty have the rich experiences that encourage healthy development? We know that great early childhood education helps. Kids who participate in early childhood education are more likely to graduate high school and 2.5 times more likely go on to higher education.

People in my line of work are fond of referring to social programs as “investments.” It’s hard to think of any area were the term is more apt than early childhood. Kids in good early childhood programs achieve higher, contribute more in taxes and require less in public services. One study found that the return on investment in early childhood education is $17 for every $1 spent.

As I said, we need to think broadly and deliver services to poor families where and how they need them. For example, my community reserved some spots in high quality early childhood programs for low-income families, but we found the families that needed them most didn’t know about the program. So we used non-traditional marketing, like lawn signs, to get the word out.

Once families knew about the slots, there were still needs to be met. Most child care programs require parents to supply disposable diapers for their children. The neediest families simply couldn’t afford them. It took an entire non-profit organization to address that.

Hats off to the community in Lafayette, La., that is crafting a broad-based strategy to close the achievement gap, including:

… the creation of health and wellness teams (to) help address issues as they happen, rather than just letting students move through the school system without any intervention.

I believe Lafayette is able to be smart about boosting achievement, because it isn’t getting stuck in the “blame the victim” trap that so often accompanies discussions about poverty. In an interview with The Advertiser, United Way of Acadiana Executive Director Margaret Trahan said: “The stereotype that poor parents don’t care, I know, is a myth.” The Advertiser reports, “She said many parents in poverty struggle with multiple jobs, odd shifts, problems getting adequate childcare and a lack of reliable transportation.”

Every family faces challenges. In poor communities, those challenges form a long and daunting list. If we want kids of all income levels to succeed, we need to find ways to scratch things off that list.

Follow Joanne Goldblum on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jgoldblum

 

This article was first published in The Huffington Post on November 27, 2012.

Living in a Diaper Desert

new study by Rice University researchers finds that children who grow up in poor neighborhoods are more likely to be obese. The link between poverty and obesity has shown up in many studies. What’s different about this research is that the neighborhood itself, rather than the family’s economic status, is singled out. Author Justin Denney, a Rice sociologist, explains:

We know there are characteristics specific to families and individual children that are associated with obesity. Those relationships are pretty well understood at this point, but less well understood are community influences, such as the social and demographic characteristics of the places people live. Neighborhood poverty is associated with childhood obesity above and beyond the poverty status of the child’s family and other individual and family characteristics. This tells us there is something about the community that is also influencing childhood obesity.

In poor neighborhoods, residents pay higher prices for lower quality food. Here’s an interesting exercise: Go to Google Maps and type in the zip code of the poorest neighborhood in your area. Then use the “search nearby” function to look for supermarkets. You’ll find convenience stores, delis and so on. My guess is that you won’t find many places to buy broccoli. Certainly, you won’t see the kind of competition that spurs the supermarket price wars that can lead to great sales on products like chicken breasts and bags of apples in suburban neighborhoods. That’s why many urban areas are referred to as “food deserts.”

There are some admirable programs, such as urban farmer’s markets, under way to bring healthy food to poor neighborhoods. We also need to start thinking about “diaper deserts.”

Many parents buy their diapers at warehouse clubs, where they are most affordable. But to get that good deal, they need a car, a nearby warehouse club, money for the membership, space to store a case of diapers and enough cash (or credit) to be able to buy in bulk.

The next best deal on diapers is found in supermarkets. Again, parents need a few things to take advantage of supermarket prices: a car and/or a nearby supermarket and enough cash (or credit) to be able to buy in diapers in the packages generally sold in these markets.

Parents who have none of these resources buy their diapers in convenience stores within walking distance of their homes. The packages are small — sometimes as few as six in a box — and the per-diaper price is the highest of any option you’ll find.

People often say to me: Why don’t these families choose reusable cloth diapers? Because renters typically don’t have washing machines, and many laundromats don’t allow people to wash diapers. Even if a family is lucky enough to have a facility in their neighborhood where they can wash diapers, imagine the logistics. A pregnant mom was recently thrown off a city bus because the smell of her baby’s soiled diaper offended the driver. How would people react to a parent carrying a sack of dirty diapers? Add to that the difficulty of managing a child (or children) on public transportation.

So there you have it — a diaper desert. That’s why so many struggling families report choosing between paying the electric bill, buying food or purchasing enough diapers to change their babies whenever they are wet.

Much attention has been focused on changing food deserts for the sake of the nation’s health, as it should be. Let’s not forget, though, that good food is not the only thing a child needs. No community will be a healthy place for a child to grow up until all a baby’s basic needs are accessible and affordable.

Follow Joanne Goldblum on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jgoldblum

This article was first published in the Huffington Post on November 15, 2012.

Stress and the Cuddle Deficiency

Hugs are free. As a mother of three, I gave them away with abandon — until my kids reached the age where they made rules about public displays of affection. Can economic hardship get in the way of something as basic as a mother-child snuggle?

Nick Kristof had a great column about ways that parents can help kids succeed, even while growing up in poverty. He cites a series of studies that show kids of affectionate, supportive parents do better in school and in life.

As I said, hugs are free. But a dad who just rode three buses to put in a job application, only to be told the position is filled, might not be in a cuddly mood. A mother suffering with a toothache because she can’t afford to go to the dentist is less likely to take a child in her lap and read aloud. As Kristof explains:

Children in poor households grow up under constant stress, disproportionately raised by young, single mothers also under tremendous stress, and the result may be brain architecture that makes it harder for the children to thrive at school or succeed in the work force.

There was also an NIH report released in August arguing that the stress of poverty affects kids’ ability to learn:

The stresses of poverty — such as crowded conditions, financial worry, and lack of adequate child care — lead to impaired learning ability in children from impoverished backgrounds, according to a theory by a researcher funded by the National Institutes of Health. The theory is based on several years of studies matching stress hormone levels to behavioral and school readiness test results in young children from impoverished backgrounds.

It comes as no surprise that it’s stressful to be poor. What most of us don’t realize is how that stress pervades every area of a family’s life together. Most parents want to do what’s best for their kids. But the more stress a family is under, the harder it is to be a model parent all the time. Make no mistake: Many low-income parents do an outstanding job. But they to did it while coping with calls from creditors, winter jackets that have grown too small and neighborhoods where there’s no safe place to play.

There’s a school of thought that we should help the poor — but not too much. We fear that too much support will create dependency. A friend who worked in a soup kitchen was amazed at how often people would ask, “Do you think the people who eat there really need it?” She always answered, “Oh, not at all. They come for the ambiance.”

We want to cut low-income families off any kind of public assistance as quickly as possible, whether they’re in a job that will allow them to pay for good daycare or not. We want to make sure there’s no television in that subsidized apartment, even though entertainment is at a premium when the playground is unsafe and a trip to the movies is an unthinkable luxury. We don’t want them to starve, but we don’t want things to be too easy. At some level, our policies feed this chronic stress.

We love rags-to-riches stories of people who grew up in poverty and achieved great things. These stories are so compelling because they are the exception, not the rule. What social workers have known forever is now backed up by science: The extreme stress of growing up in poverty can put a kid on track for a lifetime of poverty.

It doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve seen firsthand how simply providing clean diapers for low-income families comes as a huge relief to parents. There are a thousand “little things” that can trip up a poor family. The weight of all those little things can get in the way of what more fortunate families take for granted: rolling around in a leaf pile together, giggling over cups of cocoa on a snow day, a big hug after blowing out all the candles. These are little things, too, but they have an enormous effect that can last a lifetime.

Follow Joanne Goldblum on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jgoldblum

This article was first published in The Huffington Post, on November 2. 2012.

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.

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.

In Honor of Food Revolution Day

Tomorrow, May 19, is Food Revolution Day.  The basic premise is to stand up for healthy food and to share information, talents and resources and to highlight the world’s food issues.  Jamie Oliver, formerly known as the Naked Chef, now on a one-man crusade to bring healthy food to school children, is the mobilizing force behind Food Revolution Day.  But as Dr Bill Frist, the former U.S. Senator from Tennessee, notes in this thoughtful article from last February, access to healthy food is often one of the basic necessities not available to children in poverty.  More than 23 million people live in “food deserts”, which the USDA defines as any census district where at least 20 percent of the inhabitants are below the poverty line and 33 percent live over a mile from the nearest supermarket (or in rural areas, more than 10 miles).  As  Scientific America notes, there is a troubling correlation between food deserts and areas of increased incidents of diabetes and obesity. In the richest nation in the world, our children should not be without the basic necessities that will allow them to grow strong and healthy–healthy food, hygiene products like soap and diapers, and sound shelter.

Part of the problem may be that many people do not fully understand poverty in the country.  A recent poll by the Salvation Army found that most Americans do not know the poverty level, and misunderstand their neighbors in need. Surveying just over 1,000 individuals, the results revealed that while the public is sympathetic to the poverty crisis, it at times misunderstands the reasons why so many live in poverty. Indeed, the report found  that the farther removed from poverty a person is, the less common he or she believes poverty is in society.  The report also found that a majority of people believe that assistance to families in need can help set up children for success in escaping poverty, many Americans are unsure of what they can do to help others – and whether or not their assistance will actually help.

The truth is, assistance does help.  As Mark Shriver observes in this article, early intervention and early education programs can improve children’s academic success, lower obesity rates, and improve their indicators for success in life.   And private assistance helps as well.  As illustrated in this  documentary, a gift of something as elemental as diapers can help teenaged parents finish their studies, preparing them for the workforce and a life of economic self-sufficiency.  Donations to food banks can help ensure people receive the food they need to feed their families nutritious meals. And donations to diaper banks can help families ensure that their children are clean and dry.  In honor of Food Revolution Day, embrace the idea that access to basic necessities like good food and clean diapers can make a difference, and donate generously to your local food bank and diaper bank.

%d bloggers like this: