"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me ... " (Matt 25: 35-36).
These famous words from the "Judgment of the Nations" in Matthew's Gospel provide a clear focus on what course of action we as individuals and a nation need to take both now and in the future. Jesus made clear that God's priorities center on taking care of those most in need. In the current discussion about governmental priorities, faith makes clear that we create a circle of protection around those living in poverty.
In Lycoming County, poverty is a reality for many children, adults and senior citizens. The U.S. Census Bureau recently reported for 2010 that Lycoming County had 18,874 people of all ages living in poverty (family of four whose income is $22,350 or less). The poverty rate for children under 18 for the county (17.1 percent) was above both the state (13.4 percent) and national (15.3 percent) rates. While the "safety net" of government and charitable local programs exists, the need exceeds the local capacity. Cuts to government programs would have an increased negative impact on individuals and families in our communities.
Anyone volunteering at local food pantries and homeless shelters can witness that poverty is real in our county. Poverty wears many faces. Those living with poverty include parents and new-born infants needing supplemental food for nursing mothers and children. Elderly citizens living alone or as couples who have significant health challenges are common among those who come to food pantries.
During summer months when children are not in school where they might qualify for free breakfast and lunch, parents with limited income are even more challenged to provide a family with adequate food. Recent examples of homeless families include those who have lost a job or whose rent suddenly has jumped to a rate they cannot afford.
Persons with developmental issues who are trying to live independently by taking pickup jobs are among those who use food pantries. In recent years some voices heard at local food pantries state "I never expected to come here. I used to donate to this place; however, I lost my job."
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Faith Matters is a column written by the social concerns committee of the United Churches of Lycoming County. The monthly feature will include local faith-based comment on significant social issues facing us today. Letters reacting to the columns should be brief and clear and may be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed in the columns are those of the writers and the social concerns committee, not necessarily the Sun-Gazette.)
Many myths exist about those experiencing poverty. Many families coming to food pantries include parents who work. The reality is that many jobs in the area are part-time and without benefits. Families often are trying to survive on more than one part-time job. One of the ironies for some workers is that they are employed part-time at food stores such as supermarkets, yet they do not have sufficient resources to buy all the food that they need.
So what is to be done? People of faith need to support by acts of charity and justice those who are experiencing poverty. Charity means contributing to and volunteering at local programs such as food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters. Justice entails letting our elected officials know that when budgets are adopted, a circle of protection must be created around programs that serve those in need whom Jesus identified in his "Judgment of Nations."
- Doyle is a member of Resurrection Catholic Church in Muncy and a retired Pennsylvania College of Technology professor of history.