Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A Day in the Fight against Poverty

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A Day in the Fight against Poverty

Article excerpt

By eight o'clock the coffee pot's full and the early crew is busy bagging bagels and packing food orders for the day's families. The mop leans against the old freezer, evidence we started the day with a puddle on the food pantry floor.

It's just another Monday at the Circle Of Concern, West County's community charity, where families go when they need food, a few dollars toward a utility bill, a holiday basket and toys, or, help navigating government programs.

A young mom comes in: She's just lost her AFDC and food stamps, making her an early victim of welfare reform. She wants to work. And, jobs - many paying $7 or more an hour - are so plentiful our "Job Opportunities" bulletin board spills across the adjacent wall. But these are almost all part-time jobs. Mom might bring home $800 a month. By the time she keeps a reliable car running (employers say "no phone, no car, no job") and pays for child care she wouldn't have enough left for rent and utilities, let alone food. The best we can do is allow mom to come to us more often for food, put her on our list for a donated car (we'll give away five this year) and, when her heat is about to be turned off, give her a hand with her gas bill. Another woman comes in for food but starts talking suicide. Soon it's "how to" do it. A volunteer persuades her to call her doctor. She leaves a message and waits in the lobby. Two families wait to talk about their utility bills. Food collected at a school and toys from a local company's employees fill more empty spaces. Our "professional shopper," a retired butcher, comes back with much-needed meat - hamburger, hot dogs and chicken - for the pantry. A little girl plays with the basket of toys in the corner. A senior citizen asks if she can be put on the "Toy Day" list for "something for my grandson." A family of six with a recently laid-off dad calls to ask if they can be "squeezed in" today. Like most pantries, the Circle requires appointments - 16 slots a day. But sometimes families can't wait for food. We've fed as many as 34 families in a day. This Monday isn't that busy, so they're told to come now. Three-quarters of the families helped by the Circle are "working poor" who have employed or seeking-work adults. But when you cling to the bottom of the economic ladder your fingers get stomped often. Like the laid-off dad, many working people need our help when times are lean. The Circle's board of directors meets in early afternoon. The board room houses the bookkeepers' desk, the executive director and, this day, 12 bags of wrapped presents and a wall of blankets. McDonnell Douglas' board plans a multibillion-dollar merger. At Circle, we discuss a $100 security light and review who's picking up donated bagels. Every month is a struggle, especially after running a deficit last year. …

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