“When you’re drowning, you don’t say ‘I would be incredibly pleased if someone would have the foresight to notice me drowning and come and help me,’ you just scream.”

-John Lennon

Close your eyes and put yourself in the shoes of a person in your community experiencing poverty for a day.

OK, that would be nearly impossible to do and read this column at the same time. So, try holding your breath while you read this article. Count to 3; one, two, three, take a deep breath and hold!

Your shoes are worn, wet from the rain and ill-fitting. You do not have another pair to change into, but need to get yourself and your children to the bus stop which is 4 blocks from your apartment. You need to get your children to daycare so you can go on to attend your community college classes.

You are a single parent. Your children are healthy… On the way to the bus stop, however, one of them suddenly complains of a headache, sore throat, hot red rash on their trunk, and has a fever. You must return home and miss your final exam. You cannot afford a computer at home. You do not have a car to take your child to Urgent Care. Your cupboards are bare because it is the end of the month. You had planned to go to the local food bank on your way home from school to get the food you needed to get you through the next 3 days. You moved to this community to attend the local community college to get your degree as a Registered Nurse. You have always believed in the American Dream; if you worked hard enough, you would be rewarded financially and respected in your community. You work on weekends at a minimum wage job, and will not be able to work this weekend because you have no resources for childcare. Therefore, you do not have enough money to cover your monthly expenses. You will have to compromise on food or utilities.

You can breathe now! How does poverty feel? Like holding your breath for a long time?

“My name is Thomas. I visited the Food Share with a group from my school this fall. We got to help bag up rice and then we went on a tour of the warehouse and saw the new kitchen being built. I was happy to see all the food. My family gets food boxes sometimes and it really helps us. I didn’t want to tell my friends that because I was embarrassed. I hope to get to volunteer again so I can help others.” —Comment left by student on tour of MPFS.

For the future of our communities, educate yourself and your professional organizations about what the experience of poverty really is. Ask questions, suspend judgement and support the children and families who are in so much need.

Lori Beamer is Executive Director of CoActive Connections. CAC is a new non-profit in Salem. They serve Marion, Polk and Yamhill Counties facilitating poverty awareness trainings for organizations serving people experiencing poverty. She can be reached at lori@coactiveconnections.net, or call 503.990.7501.

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