On behalf of the Sisters of St. Francis, I encourage you to join the United Way at the Hunger Luncheon on Nov 8.
The moral test of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable members. The poor have the most urgent moral claim on the conscience of the nation. We are called to look at public policy decisions in terms of how they affect the poor.
In Clinton County alone, 7 percent of our neighbors live below the poverty level. Sixty-eight percent of families with a female head of household and children under the age of 5 live below the poverty level. Seventeen percent under the age of 18 and 7 percent over the age of 65 live below the poverty level. A little over 3 percent of our neighbors are considered homeless – the highest percent in the entire state of Iowa. It is time we end this!
The Food Bank of Iowa states that, “Getting adequate nutrition is an issue for more than 14 percent of Iowa households. One in six children in Iowa are classified as “food insecure,” a term that can mean anything from not having a consistent supply of food to a lack of nutritious food or a lack of knowledge or tools for food preparation.”
The poorest are also often marginalized from society — giving them little representation or voice in public and political debates. That is why we are compelled to care for our sisters and brothers who struggle to break the cycle of poverty, by advocating to bring changes at the state, federal and global level. We continue to work to eliminate the root causes of poverty in order to eliminate need both home and abroad.
In the US, there were nearly 6.7 million more poor people in 2012 than in 2008. Poverty is worse than in 2008, median income is down, and people are slipping out of the middle class. More than one-third of our nation is near poor, one lay-off or crisis away from poverty. Some programs are working to reduce poverty. Nearly 4 million people rose out of poverty because of food stamps in 2012, of whom 1.67 million were children. Unemployment benefits also keep people out of poverty; if there were no unemployment benefits, 1.7 million more people would have been poor.
More than 16 million children are poor — they are still the age group suffering the most poverty. And there are more than 7.1 million children living in extreme poverty — below $9,142 for a three-person family. Yet 57,000 fewer children will receive Head Start this fall than the year before, a federal program that promotes the school readiness of children ages birth to five from low-income families by enhancing their cognitive, social and emotional development. Head Start, which increases a child’s school readiness, could be just the program needed to get future generations out of poverty.
As desolate a picture as this paints, we can each do our part to help. Give to United Way to support the programs that provide services to those living in poverty. Attend this luncheon with proceeds going to our area food pantries. Join the Sisters of St. Francis and speak up — be the voice for those who have lost theirs. Join with us to create a world that provides respect and dignity for all of God’s creatures.
Sister Anne Martin Phelan,
Sister Anne Martin Phelan is president of the Sisters of St. Francis in Clinton.