Starving For Attention
By Tommy Purvis
The latest round of data from the U.S. Census Bureau—taking into account the social service programs that will be facing draconian cuts from Congress over the Thanksgiving weekend—is harsh evidence that the future is about to get even more bleak for the have-nots of the San Bernardino Valley. Policymakers continue to ignore the plight of their constituents after years of high unemployment rates and a record number of foreclosures. The lines for essential social services at Mary’s Mercy Table in downtown San Bernardino grow longer as hunger peaks and the last hope that remains fades.
“It has been a dubious distinction for San Bernardino to be ranked second in the nation in poverty,” says Marlene Marrow, the public information specialist for the Community Action Partnership of San Bernardino County (CAPSBC). The nonprofit organization is part of a network of 1,100 similar programs across the nation that accepts funds from the more socially-conscious corporations and food stock surplus from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to feed 50,000 persons a month. Other essential social services are provided at 200 locations across San Bernardino County that includes 33 soup kitchens and other facilities that serve one million hot meals a year.
The Daily Meal, a food and cooking website, ranked the San Bernardino-Ontario region as No. 9 on its Top 10 list of communities going hungry. Nearly 31 percent of households in that region are estimated to be dealing with food hardship. The only other California community to make the list was Fresno, ranked No. 5, with 22 percent of its population living below the federal poverty line.
With a poverty rate that competes only with the 8-mile section of Detroit for being the worst in the nation, CAPSBC’s efforts are crucial for the households in the Ontario-San Bernardino region facing food hardship and hunger on a daily basis. There are at least 128,000 children in the region that live in perpetual poverty, with 22,000 of them being homeless. Eighty-five percent of the students in the San Bernardino City Unified School District receive free or reduced-price lunches. Such extreme poverty was evident during an Oct. 29 “Make a Difference Day” at San Bernardino Valley College.
Before seven in the morning, a line of 1,500 people were lined up, eager and thankful to receive their potpourri of “amenities” that the more fortunate among us take for granted. Besides a “hay maze” for children and a face-painting booth, attendees were offered information and programs on how to subsidize their energy and health care costs. There was also assistance for those facing foreclosure and for those in need of low-income housing along with clothing, shoes, hygiene products and haircuts.
Such outreach didn’t include Mary’s Mercy Table’s own efforts that, in September alone, were able to provide 7,228 meals and hand out 1,262 emergency bags of food. The organization also provided 250 showers and a fresh change of clothes to those in need.
In order to raise awareness of the proposed cuts to federal Community Services Block Grants (CSBG)—the bedrock source of funding for the services which CAPSBC and its affiliates provide to the local community—a post card campaign was put into place.
“Congress needs to hear why these services are important to our community, and what will happen to people in the current economic crisis if their ability to access critical services is eliminated,” says Patricia L. Nickols, the chief executive officer of CAPSBC.
Nearly 12,000 post cards were mailed to President Obama in children’s backpacks with an appeal to save the CSBG that stand to lose up to half of their funding.
“We have yet to receive a response from the White House,” says Marrow.