By Deacon Steve Barton
The real effects of the social sin of poverty, and the effects of grace to defeat this sin, are evident in the lives of people and the programs that help relieve their struggles and break social barriers. These people struggle to live on a level of goods that are less than necessary for basic human existence — that includes not just food, shelter and clothing but also health care, education and employment at a fair and just wage.
One person who suffers the impacts of poverty is Chris. He lives in a small two-bedroom apartment with his wife and five children. It gets pretty cramped there, but it’s the best they can get. He and his wife struggle to keep jobs and pay the rent and buy food.
There’s a barrier that he hasn’t been able to get through to break out of poverty. Chris has a prison record, and he hasn’t found an employer who will hire him. He’s paid his dues, he’s been rehabilitated and changed his life — but he can’t find a way around this barrier. He finds odd jobs here and there, but they are not steady and reliable — and sometimes people take advantage of him and don’t actually pay him.
He’d like to take classes at the community college to make him more eligible for a job, but irregular work, dependence on public transportation and lack of money for tuition and books even with student aid are obstacles to education for him.
When he was able to afford a car, he couldn’t afford the on-going insurance. Then he had an accident — and the other driver didn’t have insurance either. His car was not drivable and Chris could not afford the repairs out of his pocket, so now he takes the bus. This is a real challenge when he has to take his children with him somewhere, juggling the bus schedule with them for where he needs to go.
Chris has found some help from Opportunities Community, a program founded by Donna Beegle, author of “See Poverty … Be the Difference.” She herself grew up in generational poverty, and was able to break through the bonds of poverty with much assistance and encouragement. This program provides Chris encouragement to battle the barriers of poverty, and refers him to opportunities such as job training and education. Chris is investigating these opportunities, and said it helps to have someone to talk with when the burdens are heavy, to see that the barriers are not insurmountable.
Another person suffering the impacts of poverty is Marina, a member of Sacred Heart Cathedral parish. She’s a senior who struggles on a fixed income from pension and Social Security benefits. She’s lived in her home a long time, but now she has a serious problem with mobility.
She needs a walker to get around, and getting up and down the steps to the house requires help from someone, and even then it’s a bit of a hazard. She does this at least three times a week to go to treatments and more times for doctor visits, taking a risk every time she goes out and comes back. A wheelchair ramp is what she needed, but she couldn’t afford one and certainly couldn’t build it herself. Fortunately she got assistance to get a ramp so she can now get in and out of her house safely.
Food pantries are another example of how grace works to relieve the impacts of poverty. People living at the poverty level, even with the assistance of the SNAP program (formerly food stamps), struggle to have adequate meals. Using donated food, some that would have been discarded even though it is still safe to eat, pantries are vital support for people in need.
Deacon Dan Huber at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport runs a food pantry in association with Churches United and Riverbend Food Bank. The people who come to the pantry, need the supplemental food regularly to have enough to eat. Treated with dignity and compassion, they express great gratitude for the food.
Besides supplying food pantries, Riverbend Food Bank helps promote social justice on the issues of poverty and hunger. They actively dispel social myths about hunger, raise awareness about the waste of acceptable food, promote the truth about food safety and strive to eliminate the causes of hunger in the Quad Cities area.
While the social sin of poverty has real impacts on people, the grace of God works to relieve this suffering and break the bonds of poverty. The programs that alleviate poverty depend on God’s grace at work in people helping people, being Christ to others — in direct works of charity, standing with and serving people in need, in financial and in-kind contributions, in giving voice for people who are overlooked on the margins and in speaking truth to government leaders.
(Deacon Steve Barton is a deacon at Holy Family Parish in Davenport.)