Speakers dispel stereotypes about Cloud County poverty

September 28, 2016 by

Cloud County Resource Center executive director Tonya Merrill works to dispel stereotypes duirng a presentation at the Nazareth Motherhouse this afternoon (Sept. 28).

Cloud County Resource Center executive director Tonya Merrill offers statistics about Cloud County residents who come to the Food Bank during a presentation at the Nazareth Motherhouse this afternoon (Sept. 28).

In just three months as executive director of the Cloud County Resource Center and Food Bank, Tonya Merrill has heard a lot of stereotypes about people in poverty and why some people are unwilling to help.

She shared some of them as part of a presentation this afternoon (Sept. 28) at the Nazareth Motherhouse.

“The government should take care of them,” is one sentiment she says she’s heard. “Or, ‘It’s not my fault they’re poor — why should I care?’ And, ‘Why don’t they just get a job?’”

The problem, she told the audience at the 33rd “working lunch” in the Community Needs Forum series, is that the stereotypes are wrong; the face of poverty in Cloud County has changed — and it’s getting worse.

Merrill, who took over the Resource Center and Food Bank on July 1, shared the microphone Tuesday with Susan LeDuc, who runs the Helping Hands program at Manna House of Prayer, and Sister Christina Brodie, director of the Hands Across Our Community anti-poverty program.

Merrill offered facts to dispel the stereotypes about people in need:

  • Median income across Kansas remains lower today than it was before the recession in 2008 and 2009.
  • Some 1,370 people living in Cloud County (or 14.5 percent) are considered “food insecure,” which is defined as a lack of reliable access to adequate food. Of those, nearly 60 percent live below the poverty level.
  • Another 30 percent or so — some 400 people – live in households where they earn too much to be eligible for any other food program.
  • Last year the Cloud County Food Bank served 1,341 individuals. And Merrill says they are on-track to surpass that this year.
  • Last year, 52 percent of those helped were children. Another 20 percent were senior citizens.

While the numbers are smaller at Helping Hands, which includes a food pantry and also offers other types of emergency assistance, the trend is the same there, LeDuc said. The “new poor” are those who have jobs but work at minimum wage or for limited hours with no benefits and no ability to save for emergencies of any kind.

Sister Christina Brodie says many of the families in the Hands Across Our Community program do not fit the "obvious poor" stereotype. Seated behind her are Susan LeDuc, left, and Tonya Merrill, right.

Sister Christina Brodie says many of the families in the Hands Across Our Community program do not fit the “obvious poor” stereotype. Seated behind her are Susan LeDuc, left, and Tonya Merrill, right.

The federal poverty level stands at $24,250 for a family of four. A full-time employee making minimum wage in Kansas would earn $15,080 for the year. The worker would have to earn more than $11.65 an hour to move above the poverty level.

Brodie, who works “in close conjunction with these two organizations,” said half the families in her program are working — “some with two jobs,” she noted — “but they’re earning minimum wage and trying to take care of two or three or four kids. It’s very hard.”

Merrill agreed. “Today when we’re talking about people who need some help, we’re talking about people who have jobs but only limited hours and no benefits,” she said. “It’s not just the elderly or unemployed or children who may go hungry.”

At the Food Bank, the help offered comes from the grocery shelves that line the back room – and that all too often are empty.

In August, Merrill put out an emergency plea to everyone in Cloud County because the Food Bank’s grocery stocks were so low — and donations for the month ended up being more than 2 tons worth of items. But, she noted, the need grows as the year goes on.

The “always-needed” list is long, for both the Food Bank and Helping Hands:

  • 1-pound sacks of flour
  • 1-pound boxes of sugar
  • Vegetable oil
  • Canned fruits and vegetables
  • Dry cereal
  • Boxed dinners, such as Hamburger Helper or Pasta Sides
  • Canned tuna or chicken
  • Dry pastas, like spaghetti or macaroni
  • Canned soups
  • Kleenex
  • Laundry detergent
  • Paper towels
  • Toilet paper

In addition to donating to the Food Bank, Merrill urged her audience to volunteer at the Food Bank or with other Resource Council programs, or even to help out as a bell-ringer for the Salvation Army this holiday season.

She also encouraged groups and organizations to launch their own food drives, or offer discounts for event admission with the donation of canned goods.

LeDuc said one new way to donate would be on Giving Tuesday, a growing charitable effort that this year is Nov. 27.

“Take all the money you save shopping on Black Friday and give it to the Food Bank on Giving Tuesday,” she suggested.

Also at Tuesday’s lunch, other community groups and organizations offered updates:

  • Cloud County Health Center is offering its Health Fair on Oct. 15 this year, said Rose Koerber, head of the hospital’s social services department. Details and pre-registration forms (needed for some tests) are available at www.cchc.com.
  • The second annual Motherhouse Pumpkin Patch is set for the weekend of Oct. 29 and 30, from 1 to 5 p.m. each day. Organized by the Sisters of St. Joseph Development Office and held on the Motherhouse grounds, the event includes lots of games for kids plus hayrides for the whole family — and pumpkins, of course.
  • The Sisters of St. Joseph Memorial Mass is set for Sunday, Nov. 6, at 11 a.m. in the Sacred Heart Chapel at the Motherhouse. If you have a loved one who has died in the past year and would like to have that person honored in the Mass, call Ambria Gilliland at 243-2113, ext. 1217.
  • Neighborhood Initiatives, an office of the Sisters of St. Joseph, is organizing a Concordia speakers bureau. The idea is to create a list of individuals with a special expertise or experience, who would be willing to talk to students in Concordia schools. If you’d like to be included, or know someone who would be a good addition to the list, contact Kathleen Norman at 243-2113, ext. 1215, or knorman@csjkansas.org.

The Community Needs Forum series grew out of informal meetings between the Sisters of St. Joseph and community leaders in the fall of 2008. The first working lunch was held in January 2009, and the continuing gatherings have identified what participants see as the greatest needs in the community and have established smaller groups to seek solutions.

The working lunches continue to provide an opportunity for updates on projects and a clearinghouse for new ideas.

If you’d like to be on the mailing list to be alerted to the next working lunch, contact Sister Jean Rosemarynoski at 243-2149 or sisterjean@csjkansas.org. You do not have to have taken part previously to join the process now.




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