WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER • Column
Editor’s Note: Larry Bennett of East Meredith, Brewery Ommegang’s recently retired creative director who is much active in community causes, joins The Freeman’s Journal and Hometown Oneonta in this edition as a regular columnist.
By LARRY BENNETT • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
Last Saturday, Oct. 5, 200 people attended a forum in Oneonta, “Living with Dignity and the Crisis of Poverty in Otsego and Delaware Counties.” Over three hours, a
dozen topics were discussed, but the speakers focused on three important actions we can all take:
1. Help raise awareness of poverty in our counties.
2. Try to understand and respect the dignity to the poor.
3. Personally commit to assisting those in need.
Here’s some of what I learned. One-third of Oneonta (population 14,000) lives in poverty. One sixth of Otsego and Delaware counties (combined population 102,000) live under economic duress.
Single mothers are 38 percent of the poor in Otsego County; they are 54 percent in Delaware County. Take a moment and try to imagine a single mother living in poverty – trying to keep a job while housing, feeding, educating, and looking after the health of her children. Surely this is not a blueprint for success.
I know some think poor people are lazy, alcoholic or drug addicted, people who make bad choices and sponge off others. Sure, a few game the system, but most do not.
Some lost jobs through no fault of their own, or became too ill to work. Some are permanently disabled, or are simply too old to work. Some have mental health issues. Some have simply given up after years of fruitless struggle.
It’s clear that economic stress can lead to poor health, divorce, child abuse, domestic violence, and even suicide, yet being poor also means a loss of human dignity, making everything worse.
Poverty can also lead to seclusion, fear, and anger. The poor become invisible to the rest of us. Communities shun them. Businesses turn them away.
As we go about our own busy lives, it’s too easy to overlook others’ needs for shelter, food, clothing, and health care.
One thing we should try to understand is that poor people are much like us. Except, for them, life may have never gone right, or may have recently gone terribly wrong. We still need to pay attention and respect their human dignity. This is an important step to providing real help.
What about government programs? The truth is they help, but are at best a makeshift bridge to hopefully better times. Federal and state assistance, SNAP benefits, and other programs can keep the bottom from falling out, but they are certainly not a step up the economic ladder. Beyond government – federal, state or local – we as individuals need to step up.
First, resolve to treat all people with respect. Don’t make quick judgements. That young guy in old jeans and dirty sweatshirt, taking tickets in the parking lot, may be a future Congressman like Antonio Delgado. That teenaged girl with hostility, anger issues and no apparent future may be a future college professor, like Dr. Karen Joest. One thing is certain – no one thrives by being disrespected.
There are many tangible ways individuals can help. Many towns have food pantries. Volunteer to staff them or deliver food to people who can’t drive. Many churches offer free meals. Help cook, serve, clean up.
Locally, our schools already provide free meals to 48 percent of Otsego school children and 63 percent of Delaware children. But even then, it helps feed children for only nine months out of 12.
Community centers may offer programs for the poor, the very young, or old. Volunteer to help staff their programs.
Habitat for Humanity has an Oneonta office (607-432-7874) and needs volunteers for management jobs, for construction, for providing lunches, and more.
Finally, consider mentoring a child who needs attention, and be assured you will both benefit. If you understand, respect, and help others all our lives will be better for it. Please give of your time and your heart wherever you can.