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An Anti-Poverty Thanksgiving | The Nation

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Greg Kaufmann

Poverty in America: people, politics and policy.

An Anti-Poverty Thanksgiving

The hardest thing about the poverty beat is this: getting to know men, women and children who are working to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and knowing the consequences to their lives if those obstacles prove too great. I also meet people in low-income communities, NGOs, think tanks, universities, and government who are completely devoted to the eradication of poverty. They engender hope. I checked in with some of them this week and asked what they are thinking about this Thanksgiving. Here is what they had to say:

Sister Simone Campbell, executive director, NETWORK:

On Monday I was in Louisiana sharing stories from Nuns on the Bus with teachers and those who work in various support roles in schools. One woman told me that she has been doing the same support job for thirteen years in a school district, not had a raise for seven years and is currently making $17,000. She has had to take extra jobs to support her family and at times uses a food bank and other services to even get by. While she loves working with the children, it is a daily struggle for her and her family. She is in the bottom 20 percent of our nation for income, yet she is doing some of the most important work helping to form the new generation. This Thanksgiving, I am keenly aware of so many in our rich nation who are struggling to put food on their families’ tables. We are better than this. My prayer is that the 100 percent will come together, and exercise our responsibility for each other, being “We the People” forming a more perfect union.

Sheila Crowley, president & CEO, National Low Income Housing Coalition:

The night after President Obama’s re-election, I left my office near the White House and walked to the closest Metro station. There were fifteen people in the covered entranceway to the station, getting ready to bed down for the night, just like they do most every night. Although I may have felt that the outcome of the election boded well for progressive causes, it did not change the reality that too many people in our country have nowhere to live. I will know that change has come when people are not sleeping outside on concrete in November two blocks from the White House.

Sara Palmer, single mother, SNAP recipient, graduate student, research assistant and food service worker:

I’m thinking of the 10 million single mothers here in the United States who often do the work of two. We work hard, we struggle to provide for our children—what they deserve—and with luck and opportunity we are able. Please be thankful for your families, your networks of support, and the opportunities (and luck) that you have been given.… I know that I am.

Lisalyn Jacobs, vice president for government relations, Legal Momentum:

am thankful, as I read reports about the “freebies” allegedly received by women, minorities and youth, that we will remain on course for the next four years and hopefully come closer to ensuring that everyone—whether single moms, returning vets, unemployed workers, survivors of domestic or sexual violence, those recovering from the ravages of Hurricane Sandy, or those who are doing okay and thankful for that—feels like there is a real and enduring safety net to buoy them during the rough spots. I remain troubled, having checked in with many congressional offices over the last week, that too many of our elected leaders plan to default to gridlock and business as usual rather than turning their attention to removing obstacles, and seeking genuine bipartisan consensus and compromise.

Ralph da Costa Nunez, president & CEO, Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness:

Just this past week I visited four homeless family shelters in New York City. The shelters were full of young children who had a sparkle of hope and dreams in their eyes. They told me how they wanted to be a doctor, a nurse, truck driver, a policeman. After doing this work for thirty-six years, sometimes it feels like we’re moving in circles. But their faces remind me of the reason we have to keep working to reduce poverty and homelessness in America.

Jodie Levin-Epstein, deputy director, Center for Law and Social Policy:

It’s easy to get depressed by the implications of the deficit and the other profound challenges that we face today like creating millions of good jobs; but what’s exhilarating is the work each and every day of groups like the Retail Action Project, Restaurant Opportunities Center United, National Healthy Nail and Beauty Salon Alliance, Caring Across Generations, Warehouse Workers for Justice and Young Invincibles. I am thankful for the creativity, smarts and gumption of these and other groups; being impressed is a solid antidote to getting depressed.

Jessica Bartholow, legislative advocate, Western Center on Law and Poverty:

I traveled this weekend to see my only sister in northern Pennsylvania where she lives with her husband. This year, like millions of Americans, they had turned for the first time to food stamps because they couldn’t find work. I talked to my sister about this experience. She said it was hard: “We still went hungry, and it was never enough to buy healthy foods. It was embarrassing to shop with food stamps, even with the [EBT] card.” Things are better for them now. My brother-in-law has found work and they are able to pay down bills and buy what they need at the grocery store. As we ate breakfast in their small kitchen booth in the camper trailer that is their home, we exchanged stories and laughter with the kind of levity that comes with time and distance from hard times. This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful fewer Americans are hungry due to the food stamp program, but I’d rather that they didn’t need them at all.

Peter Edelman, professor of law, Georgetown University Law Center:

I went to the Children’s Defense Fund Beat the Odds benefit last week and participated in honoring five young women who have beaten the toughest odds and are now on their way to college with the scholarships awarded them by CDF. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. We can’t ever forget the big difference that helping people one by one makes in reducing poverty. We are frustrated sometimes by not making bigger strides in changing the big picture—and we have to succeed there to make the numbers in poverty move down a lot—but we also have to keep on doing the small things that change lives one by one. They add up to a big number.

The United States should be doing more to help low-income American families put food on the table this Thanksgiving. Check out Greg Kaufmann on “The Choice to End Poverty.”

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