As I type this, I am also celebrating my birthday. I love birthdays. Every year of life is a gift and worthy of a slice of cake and a few candles. But cake and candles don’t come free of charge. At least not mine. With each year there are more wrinkles, an additional ache or pain, and a few more truths revealed.
So, what has been revealed to me this past 365 days? There is a growing chasm between those of us who live well and the 11% of Iowa’s population who don’t. Many people fail to see poverty, while others refuse to believe it. This lack of understanding leads to unfair prejudices and stereotypes about people who live in poverty.
Poverty is not a one size fits all malady. There are several types of poverty, all of which lead to food insecurity.
Situational Poverty occurs when someone loses their income due to a life event, such as a job layoff or a catastrophic illness. They probably grew up in a stable environment, are surrounded by people who are educated and able to earn a living wage, attended school, have health care, and will be able to recover from this setback. They see poverty as bad luck rather than internalizing it as their own fault.
Working Class Poverty occurs when someone makes a steady income but one which covers just the basics. In our daily life, we count on many of these workers. Commonly, they live paycheck to paycheck, do not own property, lack health care insurance, and have nothing saved for retirement. They can’t afford to educate their children and view poverty as a personal deficiency.
Generational Poverty is when working class poverty extends into future generations. Usually, the family has never owned a home or land, family members do not know anyone who benefited from education, they do not know anyone who moved up or was respected in a job, the household moves around a lot and high family illiteracy is likely. For this group, poverty is viewed as shameful and despair becomes a way of life.
Having just one person who cares, encourages, or acts as a mentor in the life of a young person can disrupt the poverty cycle. Often that comes in the form of an educator. Today, Food Bank of Iowa supports 100 school pantries. School administrators provide the space and manpower, Food Bank of Iowa delivers nutritious food to the school free of charge. And a compassionate educator hands the food to students and parents, along with a good dose of encouragement.
I recently visited the elementary school pantry in Wapello, Iowa. A committed team of educators, led by a passionate principal, agreed to host a new pantry this year. Wapello doesn’t have a grocery store and for many residents who can’t afford to own a car, hunger would otherwise be a reality. 40 families are served each month. These families and their kids know someone cares.
Thank you for helping us (and hundreds of caring schoolteachers) help others.
Chief Executive Officer
Food Bank of Iowa