Dec 11, 2009

Holidays can be tough for many families

The holiday season can be a very hard time for families who are struggling to get by, as Christmas presents and special dinners often result in more bills that they can’t afford to pay.

Local organizations such as the Friends and Neighbors Community Choice Food Center in Lottridge are stepping in to help these families, though, and are trying to bring them some holiday cheer.

On Wednesday, Nov. 25, the Lottridge center held a special Thanksgiving free meal along with its food box distribution. More than 150 people enjoyed the Thanksgiving lunch, and more than 50 families were able to pick up food boxes at the pantry that day.

Coolville residents Valerie Magill and Jason Simms were among those at the center for the Thanksgiving meal. Magill also volunteered to work at the food pantry for the day.

“I like helping people,” Magill said. She formerly worked as a nurse, but had to stop working in that field after she sustained a serious back injury.

“I have been off of work for a year,” she said. Her back has gotten better, but her doctor does not want her to go back to the type of work she used to do because it would most likely cause another injury. She also has other health problems relating to her battle with cancer four years ago and other health issues.

Currently, she receives Ohio Works First cash assistance and volunteers at the food pantry for the work hours she has to complete in order to receive the assistance.

Simms, meanwhile, has his own serious health problems stemming from a car accident that he was in when he was 10 years old. He was in a coma for 10 days after the accident, and his brain stem was injured. He has had health problems ever since the accident, and is unable to work.

Magill and Simms have four kids between them, and they survive on the monthly income of $455 she receives in cash assistance and $700 he receives from Social Security.

“We struggle to get by,” Magill said. They pay $510 per month in rent, and have very little money to pay all of their expenses.

“My self-esteem, it’s been down,” Magill added. She would like to work a full-time job again and has been looking for work. Her car needs repaired, though, and the Athens County Job and Family Services Prevention, Retention and Contingency (PRC) program that used to pay for car repairs for people who needed their vehicles for work is no longer operating. That program was eliminated earlier this year due to cuts in state funding.

Magill and Simms are not sure how they will pay for Christmas presents for the children or pay for other holiday and winter expenses. But they are thankful for everything they do have and for the programs such as the one at Lottridge that provide assistance. They are also hopeful that things will improve for them soon.

A few more comments from people at the Thanksgiving lunch at the Lottridge Community Center

Gordon Bolin often attends the Wednesday lunches at the center, as he enjoys the meal and the chance to visit with neighbors.

His wife works and he receives Social Security, and they are able pay their bills each month. Money is tight, though, as their income is not great and they also help to support family members living overseas. Bolin grows food for his family in his garden every year, and he also shares much of his produce with others at the weekly meals in Lottridge.

Linda Congrove and her husband live in Trimble, but drive over to Lottridge each week to volunteer. She helps prepare and serve the free lunch, while he helps out at the food pantry.

“Some of the people here, it might be the only meal they get all week, other than opening a can of beans,” Congrove said. Some people at the meals are just lonely and need someone to talk to, she added. Congrove likes to volunteer at the center because everyone is always friendly, and she knows that a lot of people are facing hard times and need a little help.

Lisa Roberts, director of the Friends and Neighbors Community Choice Food Center, said that the food pantry sees more and more people who need help every week. She also runs food pantries in Torch and Racine, and said those sites are also seeing an increase in numbers.

At Racine, for example, the average number of people served over the last few months has climbed to about 100 families each week. The holidays and the cold weather will cause that number to continue to increase, Roberts said. The week before Thanksgiving, for example, the Racine center served 165 families.

In order to keep up with the increase in demand, the Friends and Neighbors Community Choice Food Center is looking for donations to help these families in need. The center is also looking for donations of Christmas presents that will be handed out to low-income families to give to their children this year.

For more information on the Friends and Neighbors Community Choice Food Center or to donate gifts to the center, call 740-667-0684.

Dec 8, 2009

Why is "Welfare" a dirty word?

Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines the word “welfare” as a noun as the state of doing well, especially in respect to good fortune, happiness, well-being, or prosperity.

“Welfare” is defined as an adjective as: (1) of, relating to, or concerned with welfare and especially with improvement of the welfare of disadvantaged social groups, and (2) receiving public welfare benefits.

Being concerned about improving someone’s welfare, especially a child’s or that of someone who is disabled or elderly would seem to be a good public policy. So why then do our elected officials avoid characterizing any attempt to improve someone’s “good fortune, happiness, well-being, or prosperity” as “welfare”? Why is it that “welfare” is so despised in the context of improving the welfare of disadvantaged social groups?

Is it fear? Fear seems to be behind many attempts to stereotype groups of people. Aren't we stereotyping poor people when we demonize all of them as cheats or undeserving? Do we stereotype poor people so that we can dehumanize and ignore them? Are we afraid of the 6.3 million children living in extreme poverty in the United States?

Is it selfishness? The federal government uses tax dollars to provide a subsidy of $250 billion per year to those employed people still lucky enough to receive employer-subsidized health insurance. The federal government also uses an additional $80 billion tax dollars per year to provide subsidies to homeowners who deduct mortgage interest. According to Webster’s, these benefits are “welfare.” These welfare benefits alone, and there are many others, amount to 20 times the welfare subsidy provided to the poorest families among us.

Are we afraid that we might have to share? At some point, it was decided that it was good public policy to provide more than $320 billion per year in welfare benefits to employed people with subsidized health insurance who own homes with mortgages up to $1 million dollars, in order to improve their “good fortune, happiness, well-being, or prosperity.” Wouldn't it also be good public policy to improve the welfare of those less fortunate?

We must acknowledge that “welfare” is not a dirty word, and that it is provided in many forms to many different recipients. We need to refocus our assistance toward the poorest of the poor first.

By Gregg Oakley
Athens County Job and Family Services Deputy Director

Dec 2, 2009

Job Fair for Veterans held in Athens

A large crowd of veterans and their spouses turned out for a recent Job, Career and Information Fair in Athens. Veterans at the event talked about how the country's economic problems have hurt their jobs and led to layoffs, and discussed how hard it can be to find work today. Click here to read more about the Job Fair and a few of the veterans who attended.