Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Local minister sees more and more families living in poverty

As the number of people living in poverty has increased in recent years, local ministers like Phil Foster have seen more and more people turning to churches and food pantries for help.

“It’s tough,” Foster said. Five years ago, the poverty problem was bad in Athens County, but it wasn’t as bad as it is now, he said. Even just five or 10 months ago, the poverty problem wasn’t this dire, he added. Foster is the minister at the New Life Assembly of God church in Athens. In August, his church held a food giveaway day for the community. The church provided free boxes of food, along with free shoes and other items, beginning at 10 a.m. on a Saturday.

“At 8:30, people were lined up,” Foster said. When his church volunteers arrived at 8:30 a.m. and saw the line of people, they got things ready to go and opened up the doors as quickly as possible. The church had food boxes, free shoes and a few other items to give away, and Foster was happy that so many people received assistance.

“We’ll probably do this again,” Foster said. The August giveaway was made possible by an individual living in Texas who saw the Dateline NBC special report on poverty in America this summer. The report focused on Athens County, and this individual was so moved by it that he wanted to do something to help people in Athens County. Foster explained that the individual contacted his church through Facebook, and then made a donation that made the food giveaway possible.

The church has done other food and clothing giveaways in the past, including several times when church members took boxes of food out to local apartment complexes. In past years, it was difficult at times to find people who would accept the food boxes. When the church members took food boxes out to apartment complexes this year, though, they had no problem finding people to take the food. In addition, the church members could have given out many more food boxes if they were available, Foster said.

The church also receives many more calls for assistance now that it received in past years, Foster added. People all across the country are facing economic hardships, but Foster said that the national recession has been especially difficult on the people in Appalachia.

“There are 10 times more challenges here than other places I have been,” Foster said, adding that he has lived and worked around the country. Many people may think that those who are living in poverty should just get a job and make more money, but sometimes that is not possible, he said.

“It’s not always that simple,” Foster said. Athens County and southeast Ohio do not have enough jobs for the people who need them. In addition, many people work in low-paying jobs and are still living in poverty. It is also difficult for many people to move away from southeast Ohio, as their families live here and it can be expensive to move. These family ties are often a critical support system for the poor.

It’s a nearly impossible situation for people to be in, and Foster and his church do what they can to help people in need. He wishes his church could do more, and his church will try to do more to help, Foster said.