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March 20, 2013

ANDERSON: Poverty and children: How do we break the cycle?

I remember the first time I felt poor. I was in the fourth grade at McCulloch Elementary School. My classmates had all been invited to a birthday party, but I had not. 

I never forgot that feeling of alienation and rejection. So, from a first-hand experience I can talk about the fact that it hurts to be spared not having to buy a present. I can also talk about wearing homemade dresses, thrift-store and yard-sale clothes, and how it feels to go to bed hungry. 

In this region, according to the United Way statistics, one out of every five children goes to bed hungry. In Jeffersonville, New Albany, Louisville and the surrounding area, our children experience hunger just as a child in any third-world country would. Why? We have food pantries, food stamps, soup kitchens and churches that feed. How could this happen and why would we let it? 

Maybe it’s easy to just list statistics because they are numbers, but every one of those children has a name. Their parents love them as fiercely as you love your children, but they do not have the capacity to furnish the rent, the utilities and the food. 

We have housed some of those kids at the Williams Emergency Shelter as their parents find their way to us. One was 4 months old. His mother was from a small rural community and her son was not getting enough nourishment because he had multiple health problems and mom was too young to know how to care for him properly. In the first two weeks at the shelter, with the help of a local pediatrician and the nurse advocates, the baby had gained 4 pounds. He was happier, well cared for and his mother had learned some parenting skills she wasn’t familiar with when she first came to us. 

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