Tag Archives: Poverty

Checking in on the People Populating Lansing Michigan’s Growing Bread Line

It was 4:15 p.m. yesterday afternoon. Snowflakes were drifting down and there was already a line of 50 people waiting outside the North Lansing Police Precinct gymnasium in the February cold for food. Some of them had already been there more than an hour and the distribution was not set to start for another 90 minutes or so.  On this Friday night, we were not celebrating the bright lights of the gridiron, but instead trying to fulfill the basic needs of the less fortunate.

I had the distinct honor of unloading and distributing food items from the Greater Lansing Food Bank (link to annual report) to some of our neediest fellow citizens through their Food Movers program. For four hours, nine of us from my Unitarian Universalist Church covenant group unloaded trucks, set up tables, distributed food, and helped carry the selected items to the customer’s cars. We were among 25+/- volunteers, of all ages, assisting with a number of tasks from registration, to sorting, to distribution. The experience was both uplifting and quite sobering.

Last month, 73 recipients lined up for food on the third Friday evening of January amidst a snowstorm. Last night, more than 120 were lining the walls of the gymnasium to obtain their permitted allotment of food for the month.  At least 120 kind, hardy, and proud souls, each with their own story of why they were there. Foodstuffs were plentiful, but it would not be enough to supply everyone equally. Sorely lacking, were fresh fruits and vegetables. Meanwhile there was enough bread to open a chain of bakeries and more sweets and soft drinks than a nutritionist would likely recommend.

The first recipients whom I assisted were two neighbors who had arrived outside in line at 3:30 p.m. (distributions began at 6:00 pm). They were about fifth in line. A very sweet pair who enjoyed each other’s friendship and company. They were an absolute delight.

The third person I assisted stood in line for over two hours only to be told at the registration station that she did not qualify for receiving food because she had not registered at least 24 hours in advance. Needless to say, she was unhappy but resigned to the fact that she would have to wait until the March distribution.

If I were to have just one suggestion for improving this program, it would be to never, ever let someone leave empty-handed. Have individual bags of basic necessities held off to the side for such situations. Even though it was not my decision, I still felt heartsick, particularly since she had recently lost her home and had been living in a homeless shelter.

The fourth person I assisted was a very kind and proud older man with a big Russian-style winter hat on his head. He reminded me of the quintessential Norman Rockwell image of a caring and loving grandfather. Quiet, reserved, and resolute, he carefully chose each item for placement in his bags and baskets. He too had a arrived with a neighbor – a young man with special needs.

Next was an older woman and  her daughter. As I carried her basket she daintily gathered up the specific items she wanted. While you had the choice of numerous breads, she only took as many as she needed, leaving the balance of her allowed allotment for others with large families, who might need it more.

Lastly, I assisted a tall gentleman who had brought a plastic laundry basket to carry his food items. As he gathered up his goods, particularly canned vegetables and soups, the basket became so heavy that it took both of us to carry it out to his car in the parking lot.

All the people I assisted throughout the evening were grateful for the food, were extremely pleasant and enjoyable to talk with, and were thankful for our assistance and for the bounty of food that had been donated. Those of us who weekly cruise in and out of out neighborhood grocery store with carts full of goodies would do well to be more thankful for and cognizant of our bountiful blessings too.

I would highly recommend anyone with the time to consider volunteering to help distribute food for your local food bank. You will never take grocery shopping, and the bounty that is available to you, for granted ever again.

Rick Brown

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Filed under Uncategorized, Urban Farming, Urban Poverty

Rust Belt Tops List of Poorest Cities

This shouldn’t surprise anyone, but nevertheless:

#1. Detroit

#2. Cleveland

In chart form, if you prefer--via the Plain Dealer.

In chart form, if you prefer--via the Plain Dealer.

#3. Buffalo

#4. Milwaukee

#5. St. Louis

#6. Miami

#7. Memphis

#8. Cincinnati

#9. Philadelphia

Poverty workers in Cleveland blame the increase on unemployment.

This should send a message to the federal government. If we’re serious about addressing poverty in this country, we need to address the way the economic restructuring has affected Rust Belt cities. Taking tax dollars from the people in these cities and giving it to bankers in New York isn’t much of a solution.


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Filed under Featured, Urban Planning

The New, Suburban, Face of Poverty

Between 2000 and 2008, large metropolitan areas saw their suburban poverty rates grow at twice the rate of inner cities, according to a new report by the Brookings Institution.

For example, in 2008, 23 percent more people were living in poverty outside the city of Cleveland’s borders than inside it. That’s a 44 percent jump since 2000, for a total of 9 percent of the suburban population. Meanwhile the number of poor in the city of Cleveland decreased, WCPN Ideastream reports.

Similar trends were reported in Akron and Youngstown.

Also of note:

-Social service providers are ill equipped to serve the decentralized population of the new suburban poor.

-Sun Belt cities like Miami, Phoenix and Los Angeles, hard hit by the housing crisis, have seen significant increases in poverty over the last two years.



Filed under Featured, sprawl, The Housing Crisis, Urban Poverty

Assignment: Detroit

We’ve written before on this blog that we were encouraged by Time Magazine’s declaration that it intended to devote resources to covering what is happening in Detroit.

Writes Time publisher John Huey,

“we believe that Detroit right now is a great American story. No city has had more influence on the country’s economic and social evolution. Detroit was the birthplace of both the industrial age and the nation’s middle class, and the city’s rise and fall — and struggle to rise again — are a window into the challenges facing all of modern America. From urban planning to the crisis of manufacturing, from the lingering role of race and class in our society to the struggle for better health care and education, it’s all happening at its most extreme in the Motor City.”

Here are some of the journalistic fruits of the pursuit of that story – this Time Cover story, and  this site on Detroit and its importance, which seems pretty comprehensive.

I don’t really like the sound of the question, “How do you survive Detroit?”

And, as one of the commenters points out, some of the stories are cliched by now (i.e. “brain drain”).

Still, it is nice to see such a big layout and obvious dedication of resources to the story.

Thanks to Rust Wire reader Jeff Vines for his suggestion.


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Filed under Good Ideas, Race Relations, U.S. Auto Industry

A Look at “Brick City”


I saw an interesting ad recently, previewing the Sundance Channel documentary Brick City.

The show will focus on Newark, New Jersey (a city that while not in the Rust Belt, has certainly had its share of problems), Mayor Cory Booker, and other city officials and residents, such as the chief of police, a gang member, and a youth counselor.

You can watch a number of clips from the show and read a bit about it on the web site.

We’ve written about Mayor Booker and his efforts to turn the city around on this blog before; he has been the subject of a number of newspaper and magazine articles, as well as a documentary about his campaign, Street Fight.

I enjoyed the documentary, but it mostly focused on politics and the election, so obviously I’m hoping this show goes well beyond that. It airs later this month.

Has anyone else heard anything about this?


Filed under Crime, Featured, Good Ideas, Politics, Race Relations, Urban Poverty

Camilo Jose Vergara: “The Visual Encyclopedia of the American Ghetto”

Photographer Camilo Jose Vergara has been photographing the desperately poor neighborhoods of New York, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles and 16 other cities for more than 30 years.

Harlem, New York

Harlem, New York

The creator of “How the Other Half Lives” maintains a Web site called Invincible Cities, which allows readers to interactively tour Camden, Harlem and Richmond, Calif.

A lot of this poverty and blight looks familiar.

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Filed under Art, Featured