As a volunteer preparing income taxes for low income people, serving lunches a few times a year at the Benton Harbor Soup Kitchen, or helping elderly folks carry a bag of groceries upstairs from my church's basement food bank in Benton Township, I have had my eyes opened wide as to the variety of poor people. There are young or old, men and women, veterans, hard working (some work more than one part time, low paying jobs.) Some are disabled.
I have met highly intelligent poor people. One of my favorite tax clients at the EITC Coalition is a fellow who is writing a book while working as a janitor at a church. Other folks are learning disabled, receive SSI, and may work menial jobs because it provides them dignity and respect.
On occasion, one of my fellow volunteers will wonder out loud: Do some of these people "scam" the system? Are they simply here to "get a hand out?" Are they just "lazy?" (That is like asking: "Do all rich people cheat on their taxes?" In my estimation, these stereotypes pigeon hole people. It seems to me, the truth is much more varied.)
Please allow me to introduce you to a young African American man who I met about a year ago at my church's food bank. In a brief conversation, the young man told me he drives several times a week to a truck driving job in the Chicago area. He was one of 84 families present that day:
Nearly end of the month
the benefit and other funds are running low
so 84 families wait in pews
to be called by number
to the church basement
for a meager bag of groceries
to help them be less hungry
for the next week or so.
(Don't they have names?
Or do we have to give them numbers?)
different stories each.
Some old and finding it difficult to maneuver the stairs.
Some with little babies strapped to their breasts.
A dad with his three year old
waiting patiently just as he waits
for a truck driving job with benefits to open locally
so that he can spend more time with a little girl
and less time commuting six hours daily,
four times a week.
(Me screaming inside,
Don't tell me that all poor people are lazy!)
His little girl's smile
is all the blessing I need today.
But then I look up and see