By Marissa Christie / President and CEO of United Way of Bucks County
Local philanthropist will match donations $1 for $1, up to $6,500, to help meet goal of BKO effort.
We have a problem. Bucks County — like the rest of the country — is leaving people behind. And they may not be who you think.
As income inequality grows, more middle class families find themselves coming up short. Alissa Quart, author of the book “Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America” and executive editor of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, explains that the cost of basic necessities — food, housing, child care, health care — are growing faster than middle class incomes.
The American Dream is that our children will do better than we did; that they will get an education, that they will work hard, and then they will prosper. Right now, the American reality is that more and more households struggle to make ends meet. They are at serious risk of falling out of the middle class.
Last September, a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer asked me if I was surprised by the latest U.S. Census American Community Survey findings in Bucks County. While poverty declined nationwide, poverty in Bucks County increased. While median household incomes grew 1.9 percent nationwide, median household incomes in Bucks County dropped 7.8 percent.
I was not surprised. Every day, we at United Way of Bucks County — along with our nonprofit partners — work with families trying with their best to hold onto the American Dream. The truth is that without an occasional hand-up, many will lose their grip.
Hunger in Bucks County is just one symptom of the middle class squeeze. Sixteen percent of all children in our community are food insecure. Their next meal is not a guarantee. To put that in context, imagine a classroom of 25 children. Now, imagine four going home to empty cupboards and refrigerators.
Hunger interferes with their learning and makes them more likely to act out in school. Even Merriam Webster now recognizes the term “hangry,” a concise way of describing irritability due to hunger. It’s very real for kids (and plenty of adults I know).
Hunger also increases kids’ risk of lung, esophageal, stomach, colorectal, and prostate cancers.
What you need to know is that these kids is that many are “middle class.” Every two years, the Hunger Nutrition Coalition of Bucks County looks at who is using our local food pantries. It may surprise you to know that the majority are employed. The majority do not receive SNAP benefits, also known as food stamps. Most have a child living in their home.
What does the future look for kids when both their education and health are compromised by food insecurity? What happens to their American Dream?
Our annual Bucks Knocks Out Hunger campaign helps these kids, along with their families, and thousands of older residents countywide. We provide 125,000 healthy meals, fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy and more. We even offer free local farmers markets for those in need.
We work with the Bucks County Opportunity Council, Rolling Harvest Food Rescue, Philabundance and Saint Mary Medical Center. Together, we keep costs extremely low and keep access to healthy foods and good nutrition high.
But this year, Bucks Knocks Out Hunger is struggling. For the first time in six years, we may not reach our goal. With just about two weeks left (the campaign closes July 23), we are still $13,000 away from the $80,000 we need to serve our community this year.
Fortunately, we have a chance. This week, local philanthropist (and serious hunger-fighter) Al Brown of Doylestown pledged a $1 for $1 match, up to $6,500. For every $1 you give to BKO Hunger, Al will give $1, too. If our community gives half of what we need, Al will give the other half.
I have no idea if enough people will take action to close this gap, but I pray that they do.
I am middle class. My husband and I have two small children. We do our best, but we also know that in a crisis, our modest savings would only carry us so far.
For me, and for Al Brown, Bucks Knocks Out Hunger is not about helping “them.” It’s about helping people like us.
Donations are accepted online at www.uwbucks.org/bkohunger or by mailing a check (note BKO Hunger on the memo line) to United Way, 413 Hood Blvd., Fairless Hills, PA 19030. Bucks Knocks Out Hunger ends July 23.