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Fighting Poverty in America: How the Average Person Can Help

Updated on July 11, 2013

While many people do agree that there are a large number of people suffering in third world countries, they often turn a blind eye those suffering on our own soil. Sadly, poverty in America is a real and serious problem that many people choose to ignore. However, pretending a problem doesn’t exist does not make it go away. All it does is prevent the problem from getting fixed.

The fact of the matter is that one out of every six Americans lives in poverty, which is a number that hasn’t occurred since the 1960s, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Another shocking fact is that there are currently more than one million U.S. public school students who are considered homeless while 57 percent of students are living in homes that are considered either low-income or impoverished. Therefore, poverty in America does exist. Instead of ignoring this fact, people should be asking themselves what they can do to help.

Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t take a wealthy person to help fight poverty in America (or worldwide, for that matter). While wealth certainly does help, the average middle-class person has the ability to deeply impact the poor too. So, what are the ways that you and I can help this growing problem in America?

Education

Getting educated is the first step in solving the poverty in America crisis. And yes, it is a crisis. Did you know that there are roughly 100 million Americans currently registered for at least one welfare program? Additionally, it has recently been reported that there are currently 47.49 million people enrolled in food stamps. If that doesn’t suggest that this is a crisis, then what does?

In order to fix the problem, it’s important to understand the cause of America's poverty. For example, is it possible to fix a car that won’t start before finding the root of the problem? One wouldn’t want to replace the transmission only to find that the car wouldn’t start due to a bad battery, right? The same is true for fighting poverty. In order for the problem to be solved, we have to understand what is causing the problem. And, the only way to do that is to get educated.

There are a number of things contributing to America’s poverty level including lack of jobs, low minimum wage, lack of affordable housing, poor public transportation, poor public education and a host of other factors. The truth is that poverty in America is a complex issue and one that can’t be solved overnight. However, getting educated puts us one step closer to fixing it.

Local Involvement

One of the quickest and most effective ways for helping the poor is to start at the local level. Get involved in the local programs designed to help the community’s impoverished citizens. For instance, donating money, providing professional services and volunteering personal time are all great ways to get involved in this local battle.

Organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, Toys for Tots, Big Brother/Big Sister Programs, American Red Cross, etc. are all excellent places to volunteer. However, most communities have local food banks, child advocacy groups, women’s shelters, homeless shelters and other organizations that are often in desperate need of volunteers as well.

For those with specific skills, volunteering their time to help teach these skills is another fulfilling way to help the poor in local communities. A few examples include: reading, writing, foreign language, resume preparation, basic computer skills, etc. Many doctors, psychologists and attorneys also donate their time and services to help those in need as well.

Regardless of how a person chooses to do so, getting involved on the local level is probably the fastest way to help the poor. It’s also one of the most rewarding as volunteers are often able to make personal connections with the people they are helping. While these volunteers may only impact a small number of the poverty stricken in America, getting involved on the local level is where it all starts.

Vote

The great thing about America is that its citizens have the freedom to vote for the changes they want. This includes economic changes. How can citizens make economic changes by voting? By researching the candidates running for local, state and national offices and voting for the people with matching views regarding taxes, minimum wage, welfare, government assistance programs and other key issues that directly impact the low-income and impoverished people of America. Not only should citizens exercise their right to vote during elections, but it’s also just as important to get out and vote on individual issues that come up from time to time.

Donate

It addition to getting educated, local involvement and voting, making donations to the various charities and organizations that help the poor is another way the average American can help the less fortunate. While monetary donations allow the organizations to use the funds in the areas most needed, there are other types of donations that help tremendously. Food, clothing, baby items, toys, furniture and toiletry items are generally always welcomed.

Adopt a Family

Adopting a family is another excellent way for the middle-class (and upper classes) to help those in need. While this is normally done around the holidays, helping families in need can be done at any time. Those who choose to adopt a family, generally provide basic needs such as food, school supplies and clothing for children, toiletry items, Christmas gifts, etc. Some people even go so far as paying a bill for six months to a year for the families they adopt. For example, if the family has lived in their home long enough, their electric bill can be averaged and paid in advance. If the electric bill isn’t an option, perhaps their utilities (water, trash and sewage) are?

Adopting a family is another very rewarding way for people to give back to their communities. New friendships are made while the community is being strengthened from within. And, the cool thing is that many of families who have been adopted by others in the past go on to adopt other families in need once they are back on their feet. Therefore, this is one form of helping that has the ability to keep on giving.

Unexpected Gifts

Helping the poor doesn’t always have to be an organized event. It is something that can be done at any time through unexpected gifts. For example, every large city has homeless people who stand on the street corner asking for money. Giving a five or ten-dollar bill is just one type of unexpected gift that can be given and instantly help someone in need.

It’s safe to say that the majority of people know someone in need. Look for ways to meet one (or more) of these needs. Maybe Christmas is coming and they have toys on layaway at a nearby department store. Many stores have “Layaway Secret Santa” programs allowing people to come and pay someone's layaway bill…even complete strangers. What a cool (and unexpected) way to help someone in need!

Other unexpected gift suggestions include purchasing a Thanksgiving/Christmas turkey for a family in need, buying a tank of gas for a down-on-his luck stranger at the convenient store, mowing the yard of a nearby widow every other week, mailing cash in an unmarked envelope to a struggling family, and the list goes on. The fact of the matter is that no one knows how much another person is struggling and while these unexpected gifts may be small to us, they may make a huge difference to the people receiving them.

How Will You Help the Poor in Your Community?

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While poverty in America will never go away, there isn’t a reason why it shouldn’t be reduced. If everyone would work together, one small step at a time, then the growing numbers should stall and eventually decrease. While the government is working to help the problem, it’s one that has to be addressed on the local level first. So, what are you going to do to help?

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    • profile image

      Klevi M Fusha 3 years ago

      You know what would actually help? Completely changing this economical system. It has obviously failed miserably.

    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 3 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Excellent Hub, Andrea. Poverty is a crushing problem and needs to be dealt with on many levels as you outlined. The 2008 financial meltdown increased this level exponentially making this even more critical.

    • Goodpal profile image

      Goodpal 3 years ago

      Thanks Andrea, for a wonderful hub.

      This is really a thoughtful hub clearly reflecting the compassion of the author for other's sufferings. The poverty from the US, or anywhere else for that matter, will simply vanish if people start holding such thoughtfulness and become compassionate. Living aside the material prosperity acquired through use of technology, the world today is highly poor in love and compassion for others. Today money and money-makers rule the world; not the principles of justice, cooperation and sharing.

      The biggest problem today is that the life has become totally isolationist and money-centric and moral values and virtues have been reduced to the status of irrelevance. When money becomes god, its worshippers can only be greedy and selfish. Let me quote the ancient Chinese philosopher, Confucius:

      "In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of."

      I really admired your suggestions to "adopt a family" and "unexpected gifts" because, I guess, they can come only from a really pure heart.

      Look forward to more such pieces from you in the future.

    • Chuck Bluestein profile image

      Chuck Bluestein 3 years ago from Morristown, AZ, USA

      Money is something that is limited. The cause of poverty is the rich want to get richer at the expense of the poor. There are articles about the vanishing middle class. It used to be OK for a company CEO to make 100 times what the others make. Now they need to make 1,000 times what the others make.

      Also the people getting into politics are doing it to make more money for themselves. So they help the laws to favor themselves. The owners of Walmart are among the richest in the world and have much more money than they will ever need. Their employees are struggling just to buy enough food.

      Did you ever hear of the French revolution. The poor got tired of the rich taking all of their money. Most of the people in government are only interested in getting richer. There are a few exceptions like Senator Bernie Sanders, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein.

    • Andrea K Clark profile image
      Author

      Andrea K Clark 3 years ago

      Chuck,

      I agree with you on this. However, the article was written with the intent to raise awareness for how the everyday people, like you and I, can help the poor. I'm not wealthy and probably won't ever be, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't do my part to help. And, while some government officials are in it for the money, like you said, there are also some who are there because they have a genuine interest in helping. The only thing I can do on that end (other than running for office) is to vote for the candidates that I feel share my thoughts/opinions/convictions on the matter. While I can't fix the problem, I can find ways to help on an individual level and even though it may only be one person here and one person there that I am helping, I am still making a positive difference in their lives. That is the point of the article - getting the average person to ask, "What can I do to help someone in need."

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