I have never been involved with poverty stricken people. Sure, I give to charities, I put clothing and household items for pickup outside my door on a nearly weekly basis. But I have never had the experience of being in the world of the chapter 8 impoverished realm. So I volunteered.
Before I go to far...I should explain that this was not a real encounter. It was a simulation set up by the church. Actually, I think it was all the doing of one man. John. He is a teacher at a school where there are a lot of at risk students. They are students who might have a good chance of being homeless, jobless, penniless when they reach adulthood. They may already be from families where there is abuse and neglect going on. You could tell...they were there today for a reason. To experience. Like me.
My job was to act as a gas station owner. The students and interested parties were given a set of role playing instructions. In those instructions they found out what situation their family was in, who was a part of their living arrangement such as children, adults, babies, etc. They were told where to look for a job, daycare, school, bus stop, gas, bank, social services, employment office, there was even a police station and a pawn shop. The Food Mart was the only place they could buy food. Interestingly enough, most of them forgot to buy food. We had some participants say that they hadn't eaten for 3 weeks (pretending).
As the one and a half hour moved along, they became frustrated and weary and so was I. My job was to sell them gas, for a week or for a month at a time. A month was cheaper in the long run, but most of them couldn't afford it on the spot, so they had to pay more. Most were given no credit at the bank. Another part of my job was to cash checks...any kind. Some of them came with their paychecks, and some came with a government check...unfortunately for them, I was allowed to charge them $20-$40 per check cashing. This broke my heart. Some of them told me how they couldn't make ends meet and it was an awful thing for me to do. I was playing a role. I wanted to see how I (a merchant) would feel at the end of the day when taking advantage of the people who just couldn't get a break. I didn't like it. It made me feel greedy and selfish. I didn't like that I could be so mean (in my opinion) to people who had less than me.
Another service I offered was for them to pay for their utilities at my place of business. One of the scenarios was a woman who had a nervous break down. She had an 11 year old son and she couldn't pay for her utilities. She had doctor's appointments, bus rides, rent and a lot of other things to pay for. I don't know if they were one of the families who ended up being evicted but I felt so bad for them. These people just couldn't get ahead. Another gentleman who was pretending to be the father of a family said that when their 10 year old was put in juvenile delinquency he actually felt better that she was getting 3 meals a day and had a place to sleep. He was able to focus better on finding a job etc.
I know that I have a lot to learn about the impoverished community. My eyes were opened today. There is a group of people called Circles at church who has devoted themselves to helping these people network in the community, and help them gain knowledge of how to acclamate themselves to be productive citizens in the community.
Tuesday evening I'm going with a group from Circles to deliver turkeys. I'm so excited to help.
Help Me Thanksgiving Day Prayer
O God, when I have food,
help me to remember the hungry;
When I have work,
help me to remember the jobless;
When I have a home,
help me to remember those who have no home at all;
When I am without pain,
help me to remember those who suffer,
help me to destroy my complacency;
bestir my compassion,
and be concerned enough to help;
By word and deed,
those who cry out for what we take for granted.
-Samuel F. Pugh