February 9, 2018

Our Works of Charity / David Bethuram

Our moral obligation to change the future for our children and families

David BethuramWhen you woke up this morning, it’s unlikely you had to choose whether to buy groceries for your empty pantry or pay your rent. You probably didn’t worry that your power might be turned off.

But for more than 900,000 people in Indiana, they did just that. Nearly 1 million people in our state live on less than $24,600—the federal poverty level for a family of four. If the family’s income is based on a single minimum-wage earner, that total is only $12,060.

Just to cover the basics of rent, utilities, insurance, transportation, food and necessities, $2,000 a month doesn’t stretch very far. If anything goes wrong, the family is instantly underwater—with no savings and nowhere to turn.

Poverty is a world most of us can’t imagine. We say we care about “the poor”—and mean it—but who exactly do we care about? Perhaps the disabled veteran in a wheelchair at the local food pantry? The senior on a fixed income? The recently laid-off dad? The single mom with young children?

At Catholic Charities and the Church as a whole, the poor have names. They also have joys, sorrows, strengths and challenges. They are Ellen and Joe, Joan and Bob, LaKeasha and Mohammed. Their faces reflect every ethnicity, race and nationality, and they tell a thousand different stories.

Please consider how we might find ways to make a difference in the lives of the people we call “the poor.”

1) Recognize that a great divide between rich and poor is bad for individuals—and bad for our country. People with no income cannot put dollars back into the economy. Without education, without hope, without resources, they cannot help us enact change or stem the tide of growing resentment between people living at the extremes.

2) Advocate for systems, policies and programs that help break the cycle of poverty. Many of us gladly donate groceries during the holidays and perhaps even volunteer our time to nonprofits. Sadly, what is often missing are people who will speak in support of programs that ensure poor families are able to see doctors and dentists, receive early-childhood education, are provided sufficient food and safe housing, and are receiving adequate job training that moves families from struggling to stable.

3) Get to know someone living in poverty. It’s easy to keep “the poor” at arm’s length. Volunteer for an organization that introduces you to some of the people who lost their jobs this year, who struggle with health issues, or who are trying to turn their lives around.

4) Realize the poor are your neighbors. It’s easy to miss the families sleeping in their cars or waiting in line at the food pantries. It’s easy to forget that the people in need might attend your church, be your child’s school friend or be the friendly person at the retail counter.

5) Help us close the gap. Please support programs that help young children learn to read and have books in their homes. Support programs that teach people how to find and keep jobs—and how to connect to resources. Support programs that offer scholarships to low-income students, that mentor young people and that help change the future of the next generation.

Collaboratively, this great state has enough resources, know-how, love and compassion to bring those on the margins fully into our communities. If we can help Indiana come together to fulfill this moral obligation, we will lead the nation. More importantly, we will completely change the future of more than 170,000 children. Imagine that.

(David Bethuram is executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities. E-mail him at dbethuram@archindy.org.)

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