Organizations give impoverished citizens confidence

Winter White

Poverty. The word conjures up pictures of dirty alleys in overgrown cities, the homeless on the street, children running around an apartment barefoot and women standing in line at the grocery store with worried looks on their faces.

This is an abstract idea that in reality, is much closer to home and affects many of Jasper County’s residents everyday.

“As has always been the case, the problems of the nation are very often magnified by the poor,” said John Stockdale, president of the board of directors of the Economic Security Corporation on the seriousness of poverty. “One of the ironies of our business is that when times are tough and budgets have to be cut, our clients need our help the most.”

Debbie Markman, program director for the Economic Security Corporation, said the majority of those on assistance in the area are “working poor,” which means they have jobs but are not making enough to pay their bills and be self-sufficient.

“The average family size (of ESC’s clients) is 2.67,” Markman said. “And just over 50 percent are living in a two-parent household.”

This means that in the majority of families, the parents are still together and having a responsible number of children.

Markman said the government mandates income limits on the amount of money a client can make annually.

“We don’t let them make enough to live on, approximately $19,000 for a family of three,” Markman said. “For an individual, the poverty level drops to $11,225 a year.”

This contributes to a circular pattern. An individual on assistance, who should be promoted and no longer meets income qualifications, would then have to choose between the promotion and giving up state benefits.

While both the ESC and the Red Cross offer programs to give hand-ups to those in need, the ESC is more concerned with the everyday needs of the community, housing, women’s health, weatherization and Head Start. The Red Cross functions primarily in times of tragedy.

In the event of a disaster, the Red Cross provides immediate shelter, food and health needs to meet basic human needs.

In 2003, the American Red Cross responded to more than 70,000 disasters nationwide. The majority were fires, and of those fires, the majority were single, uninsured families renting their homes. Nearly 70 percent of single-family fire emergency clients were uninsured. In Jasper County, 46 percent of fire clients were under age 19, and 52 percent made less than $15,000 per year.

Kobi Waterford, executive director for the Joplin Red Cross, said there is a strong need for volunteers.

“There’s a spot for everyone, and people willing to do it are treasures,” Waterford said.

There are four areas of need satisfied by the Red Cross: mass core, logistics, form service and mental health services. Waterford said she would also like to see some involvement with Missouri Southern students

“Volunteering looks good on a résumé,” she said. “There’s scholarship money available and a personal satisfaction that comes from being able to help. We even have a high school student who is currently sitting on our board of governors.”

For information on doing volunteer work, contact Waterford with the American Red Cross at 624-4411, or Markman with the Economic Security Corporation at 781-0352.