Poverty, Do You Think About It?

Poverty. Do you think about it?

By Stuart Harper, Executive Director of the Buffalo City Mission

With an estimated 30.3% of its population living below the poverty line, the City of Buffalo holds tight in its position as the third poorest large city in the United States, behind only Detroit, MI and Cleveland, OH. The percentage of Buffalo’s population living in poverty has increased by 1.6% since 2007.[1]

Unless you have lived in poverty, it’s hard to understand what it’s really like. I come into contact with poverty-stricken people every day through my role as Executive Director of the Buffalo City Mission. Even so, I don’t truly know what it’s like to be poor because I have never experienced it for myself. Often we hear about poverty in the impersonal form of statistics:  Buffalo is the 3rd poorest city in America, 42% of Buffalo’s children live in poverty, 1/3 of Buffalo’s adult population lives below the poverty line.[2] The numbers are true, but the individual men and women coming to our doors who have no place to live or have little to no food at home, are poignantly truer. Let’s zoom in and view poverty through the eyes of a single person.

 Cynthia, a single mother, works hard to take care of her family but still lives below the poverty line. Cynthia depends on food stamps each month to buy groceries and tries hard to ensure her family is able to eat nutritionally balanced meals. Immediately after she gets her stamps, Cynthia rushes out to the supermarket to buy fruits and vegetables, both fresh and frozen, as well as meats and dairy products. Like many of the low-income parents in the area, Cynthia knows it is wise to buy these types of products with her food stamps because she is sometimes able to supplement her grocery shopping with a monthly trip to her local food pantry where she is given mainly non-perishable items like pasta, rice, and canned goods. Usually this prudent use of her resources meets the basic monthly needs of her family. However, one month when Cynthia had gotten behind on her utility bill due to her son falling sick and requiring medicine, she awoke one morning to find her power had been cut. With a sinking feeling in her stomach, Cynthia knew the refrigerator would be off and subsequently the food inside would go bad. What could she do? She tried calling the utility company and the Department of Social Services to see if anyone could help her get her power back on. By the time the power was restored about six days later, the family had lost a month’s supply of meat, cheese, milk, and other perishable items with no resources to replenish them.[3] Her children would suffer. The worst part of it is, Cynthia’s story is not unique. In Buffalo alone there are thousands of stories like this one or even worse.

Spending time among the men and women who come to the Mission, I see a different America than the one I know. I am filled with an immense sense of gratitude for all the things with which I have been blessed, but that’s not all. I also feel a great sense of responsibility. My dad always called our good fortune “the luck of the draw,” but I call it God’s design for the following reason. I know the Lord put me in the position I am in today, to do the things I am doing because He knows that if I use the gifts He gave me, I can achieve God’s change among the people I touch. We are all blessed with gifts that God wants us to share. Each of us has to find out what those gifts are. Whether you are gifted in music, art, design, architecture, sales, marketing, politics, leadership, childcare, nursing, parenting, or any other area, the Lord blessed you with gifts to share with others. This is a great time of year to reach out and touch someone with your gifts. Be blessed.


[1] Data provided by the Western NY Homeless Alliance and data is from the American Community Survey at the Census Bureau and reflect 2008 numbers.

[2] All stats from ProjectHomlessConnectBuffalo.org

[3]Stories of people living in poverty from www.ccrcda.org/