Buck Mountain, an Episcopal mission in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, is doing its part to address the cycle of poverty. Its members are committed to sharing what they have learned in their part of Virginia with other churches across the Diocese.
The small congregation runs two food pantries. One is located at the church and is open twice a month; the other, which is open weekly, is located at the Blue Ridge School. Through these pantries, the church helps feed hundreds of people.
In the foothills north of Charlottesville, nearly 30 percent of children are eligible to receive free or reduced school lunches. Though that may not be a particularly large percentage, it is too high when we consider God’s call for us to feed the hungry and care for the poor. In other parts of our Diocese, including portions of the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula, more than 60 percent of school-age children qualify for assistance. In the city of Richmond, the percentage is more than 97 percent.
Fortunately, many churches across our Diocese offer food-assistance ministries that include food banks and soup kitchens. But these important resources address only one part of the cycle of poverty. There’s much more to be done.
A 2010 study by Virginia’s Poverty Reduction Task Force found that impoverished people often remain in poverty due to such factors as a lack of access to education, employment and proper health care. Not only do children born into this cycle have an increased chance of remaining in poverty, but females born into it have an increased chance of becoming pregnant while in their teens. Statistics regarding teenage pregnancy and poverty are important because, according to the task force study, families headed by women have a 60 percent chance of being in poverty. In fact, “the ‘typical’ or modal Virginian below the poverty line is a white female head of household, age 25 to 34, with less than a high school education, with children, who works.”
The members and staff of Buck Mountain work to address the cycle of poverty in a variety of ways. For example, through the Blue Ridge School, they work to expose younger generations to the problems of poverty and to equip them to make a difference. Students participate in the food pantry ministry, which helps them to see the realities facing the people they encounter. Many of the students are shocked when they realize that a food pantry customer may be unable to read or write. Those realizations and encounters allow for a teaching moment. Students learn how the inability to read or write can prevent someone from filling out forms necessary to gain employment or government assistance — a reality that most of us who live in privilege cannot fathom. It is that lack of awareness that may sometimes prevent us from going beyond feeding the hungry to helping to lift them out of poverty.
“We are attempting to educate the boys and to immerse them into social issues,” says Anne Scupholme, deacon at Buck Mountain. “We are teaching them advocacy.”
To change the cycle of poverty, we must go beyond the immediate needs to the core reasons for why people live in poverty.
The people of Buck Mountain have learned a few lessons about how to begin breaking the cycle of poverty — lessons we can all take to heart and put into motion. We can begin effecting change by:
- Understanding social demographics about our church’s community.
- Learning to pick up the signs of illiteracy at our church’s thrift shop or food bank.
- Conducting an informal health survey of the people we serve.
- Taking our ministry to those in need, rather than providing services solely at the church.
- Supplying books to local families to keep children reading during summer break.
- Finding attorneys to provide free legal advice.
- Offering assistance in filling out important forms.
- Advocating on behalf of the needy in our community to elected officials.
- Focusing on ministries outside the church like mentoring school-aged children, providing snacks at the local school and offering literacy programs for adults.
- Accompanying food-pantry clients to the local thrift store or offering a clothes’ closet in conjunction with your church’s food pantry.
Changing the world begins with informing ourselves about the realities facing the thousands of people living in poverty. Only when we educate ourselves and work together, can we bring about change.
By: Aisha Huertas Michel, Multicultural Officer, Diocese of Virginia