Last week’s poverty rate numbers were shocking—in one of the wealthiest countries in the world one in seven families fall below the poverty line. With large numbers of people living in poverty comes a crucial need for antipoverty services. Faith groups, long a source of support for the poor, are being forced to bridge the ever-widening gap between that need and what the government is providing to families trying to get back on their feet. What they’re finding is that while compassion and charity are expanding, so are the ranks of those in need, and that it will take a sustained government response in addition to private charity to comprehensively tackle poverty.
Across the country, houses of worship are doing their best to keep food banks full, provide shelter, offer emotional and spiritual support, and advocate for more equitable policies. Many faith groups have combined forces in their communities due to the increased need. Members of local churches in Mississippi have united to form an interdenominational effort: the Interfaith Food Pantry, which is served by more than 15 local Catholic, evangelical, and Protestant churches.
Faith groups are also finding creative ways to meet the physical as well as emotional needs of struggling local families. In Dallas, Texas, Interfaith Housing offers transitional apartments and services to homeless families in the area. “Heart, Head and Hands,” Interfaith Housing’s afterschool program, has put together a creative curriculum focusing on arts and crafts for the children of the homeless families. The program is tailored to the specific emotional needs of these children, and the youths are given a sense of belonging in addition to transitional housing.
Realizing that justice as well as charity is needed to help the poor, many local and national faith organizations have come together to form the coalition Fighting Poverty with Faith. This October it will begin a month-long mobilization across the country to advocate for policies that provide basic needs fulfillment for the poor and for policies that will help low-income people move toward self-sufficiency. Like CAP Action’s Half in Ten campaign, Fighting Poverty with Faith is calling for a national goal to cut the U.S. poverty rate in half over the next ten years.
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