Hinton Rural Life Center Poverty Simulation

Real Stories

Posted 03/20/14

Real Stories from Real People. This one is from Clay County, told by a participant in a poverty simulation.

When you’re in jail, you can’t really help your family; I know I had let my wife down. I looked down at the job application in my hands, I need to be getting a job, not sitting in jail, but I know – and so does my wife – that there is no way we can afford an additional $350 in court fees on top of every other bill we owe. I’m just glad I already paid rent for the month so at least I know she’s safe. The judge tapped his gavel and dismissed me to go off with the Baliff. My wife was already elsewhere, trying to negotiate to keep the lights on.

Though the crowd I could see my wife at a church mission, I saw my neighbors wheeling and dealing at the pawn shop, my friend at the clinic talking about bills, and some others at social services, trying to keep a roof over their head and food on the table. It seemed like an uphill battle for all of us to feel “normal” – like we could take a breath -with or without our minimum wage jobs. I paused for a moment and let a feeling of overwhelm wash over me – I’d never be able to help my wife with the bills or other mounting problems if I’m sitting in jail.

At the mercy of the court and with some time on my hands, I could take in the whole scene. I pondered my situation for a moment, I was in a poverty simulation. I was going to leave this place a free person, hop in my own car (with gas in it), check messages on my phone, check my email, and still easily make it home from my job in time to prepare a meal for my kids from my fridge full of food. Within just a few hours, I would effortlessly flit from one modern day convenience to the next without much thought to the resources it takes to get my lifestyle in order.

This poverty simulation is set up so that we may understand how difficult a day, week and month can be when you are missing a few key resources – like a job, good health, transportation, technology or a clean record.

From my vantage point in jail, I witnessed the stress of this simulation as a dozen or so people were running around frantically trying to get their life in order, randomly they visited a bank, a grocer, social services, a convenience store, a court, a homeless shelter, a school, a daycare, a clinic, a minimum wage work place, and a pawn shop. Before one could move, you had to get a permit to walk, buy a bus pass or gas up – or risk arrest. If you wanted to keep your kids, you had to be sure you fed them and got them to school as well as paying your bills. A roaming police officer kept things peaceful, but sometimes on edge – somehow they didn’t notice the drug dealer/loan shark bothering everyone constantly (nor did we report the problem). Everyone started with very limited resources and “good” jobs with sustaining paychecks were not to be found. This poverty simulation was pretty comprehensive.

A month in the simulation was only an hour in real time. Our group discussed the simulation after our hour was up. Most agreed that there was not enough time to do what you needed to keep your family together and pay your bills – especially without key resources, resources many of us take for granted in our everyday lives. When crises got worse and worse in the simulation, forces seemed to pull families apart – similar to reality. Often family members are sent in opposite directions to figure out something with little more than their street savvy skills as a resource.

Fortunately, there were many kind hearts along the way, even if they weren’t always obvious or immediately trustworthy. Food pantries and charitable organizations could really help us through the tough times, we just needed someone to listen and have empathy. This simulation went a long way in building empathy for those in need. Poverty is never about one issue that needs fixing, it is about a variety of issues that need attention at once. Experiencing the simulation and pretending to take on the stress of extreme poverty makes one less likely to make a snap decision about how easy it would be to fix a complex situation. Together, a room full of us gained a new appreciation of the term, “working poor”. Together we can open our hearts to be there for our neighbors in need

Together We Can Solve Hunger

Real Stories from Real People. This one is from Buncombe County.

From Desperation to Independence

March 2014

Two cans of corn and a bottle of tomato juice, that’s what she had to get through the worst storm Western North Carolina had seen in years. In quiet desperation, she returned to the outreach worker.

Sal* was at the end of her resources. She was behind on rent and on the verge of eviction, she did not drive in order to conserve her gas for job interviews only. She’d used her once a month allotment of food from the local pantry. She knew well how to manage a very tight budget and stretch what she had, but never before had it taken so long to find work. Never before had she been this hungry.

She’d applied for food stamps and qualified, but there was a snag and Sal needed help. She walked over a mile in the cold to get to the pantry; she walked to town every day to check – again – to see if any work was available. After some time on the phone, the MANNA food stamp outreach worker had no solid answers, just some suggestions. As always, Sal thanked everyone politely and continued her job search, walking door to door, filling out applications and trying to expand her network.

Fast forward two weeks and Sal was in front of the outreach worker once again. This time she was smiling. “The food stamps are going ok?”, the worker asked her hopefully.

“Yes! They’re going fine now, thanks again, but I have some news, I won’t be needing them for long, I start a new job on Thursday!” Sal was beaming.

She described the job fair she’d gone to the week before and how she had to take the bus, then walk the additional miles. She’d been invited back for three interviews and was given her choice of positions. Sal is and always has been a good worker, she is just one of the many in WNC who have struggled to be included in the recovering economy. Her new job is service oriented and it is a town away, so she may still have to use her keen budgeting skills, but she is optimistic that her days in survival mode are behind her.

Sal is very thankful for the people who helped her through her very tough times – the pantry workers, MANNA’s food, the outreach worker, the food stamp program. She also credits God and the power of prayer. Sal is determined to make an impression with her new employer and to become indispensable.

Sal is back on track to the independent, self-sufficient life she wants to live. We at MANNA FoodBank are glad to be a part of the network that made her return possible.
*Name has been changed.

Together We Can Solve Hunger

In Those Shoes
Real Stories from Real People. This one is from Madison County, told in her own words.

February 2014

We were a middle class family – just normal. My mom worked and we never wanted for food.

I never even knew about food stamps when I was a kid. I never knew they existed. I didn’t know anybody on them – or I might have known them, but I didn’t know they were on food stamps. We lived in a small town.

When I got out of high school, I was just going to get a job and work, ‘cause that’s what my mom did. So I did that. I’ve worked all my life – until I had my daughter. Then I was able to stay home because my husband was making enough money.

Then my husband became disabled. We had to move, downsize and make things simpler – we had too many bills. I was planning to go back to work…and that’s when I found out I had breast cancer and everything just…changed.

We took a loss, but we were able to sell the house before we lost it, but things were getting worse and worse. We were really struggling week to week, day to day. I called the American Cancer Society and they suggested that I go in to the Madison County DSS to find out about the resources and programs there.

It was very traumatic for me to go in and put myself out there like that – I was crying – but the ladies there were really nice, they understood. Still, it was hard.

At first it was hard with the little card – you use it and you feel like people are looking at you. But you know what? I’ve given a lot over the years, and I deserve to ask for a little bit of help. I don’t mind it now. I think if you need the help, you should be able to ask for it.

I never thought I’d be in a place that I thought I’d have to ask for help. I had to do what I had to do to feed my family.

One thing that’s hard is fresh fruits and vegetables. They’re very expensive. I was told while going to chemo to eat A LOT of fruits and vegetables. That’s the hardest part – to find decent ones that don’t cost a lot of money.

When you’re trying to save money, things that aren’t good for you are the cheapest things to buy – and that’s really what you shouldn’t be eating, but you have to eat some of that stuff sometimes.

I wish produce was a lot cheaper. This year we’re going to start a garden.

I know a lot of people look down on people with food stamps, or they have a certain idea of what kind of people are on food stamps, so I wanted to share my story. A lot of people in America are having to get food stamps. I see children out there that are hungry. Don’t look at them with pity or look down on these people, they need help. It’s a matter of life and death for some people. Once you’re in those shoes, you realize what people are going through and what they need to get through everyday life.

They need food.

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