From the Desk of CEO Judy Halper: June 2019
Pay attention to the less observed side of summer
It’s finally beginning to genuinely feel like summer around here. When I drive to work in the morning, I’m dodging kids on bicycles instead of orange school buses. The chatter around the water cooler is baseball, instead of teeth-chattering cold! I see flowers from gardens in the office instead of staff typing away on their computers with gloved hands. You get the picture.
The less observed side of summer, however, is the struggle many families have to make ends meet. Each year at JFCS, we receive more applications for camp scholarships than the previous year. At the PRISM Food Shelf, located in our building, there is always an increase in the number of people shopping for essentials, now that kids are home for three meals (and snacks) each day. You don’t have to look hard to see that summer isn’t all about fun for lots of people in our community—it is a challenge, too.
I just attended a day-long summit on poverty. We discussed economic hardship in broader terms than we used to do. There is the issue of young people who graduate from college with large student loan debts and an increasingly competitive job market. For many young people, this means they’ll end up unemployed or under-employed—in a difficult position either way to re-pay student loans while paying for living expenses and saving for retirement.
There are also the older members of our community who, despite having saved all their lives for retirement, are finding they’ve outlived their resources while also outliving their life expectancies. These folks often feel guilty about asking for help because they worry they are taking precious resources away from children and “families who need it more.” On top of this are issues of affordable housing, anxiety and insecurity, and sometimes addiction too.
Poverty is real and is sadly increasing. We need to move from thinking in terms of providing a safety net to providing sustainability and health. We need to transform systems of oppression that discriminate based on who a person is to opportunities that benefit individuals and, ultimately, communities. We need to be more observant in seeing the struggles that exist right in front of us at our schools, in our neighborhoods, and in our workplaces. Most families who use food shelves are those with two incomes, but are not making enough for a family of four to get by. In fact, many American families have less than $400 saved for emergencies.
Let’s get out those sunglasses and be safe from the sun’s glare this summer, but let’s also open our eyes wide to the many ways we can assist those who are in need, and figure out ways to create sustainable and healthy opportunities for everyone.