Denver Post By Teva Sienicki
Every year around the holidays, nonprofits’ phones light up with people wanting to donate a turkey. The impulse is a nice one. In this season of giving, people consider their good fortune and want to share.
It feels good to give a turkey, or toy, or to participate in a food drive. Those of us working in charities welcome these gifts because the families we serve appreciate the help in creating a more festive holiday.
The trouble is, this ritual symbolizes some core failings in our current approach to poverty. Everyone feels good, but no one stops to think about how we got here. Or how to get out. The next morning, all anyone has to show for the effort is leftovers.
Wouldn’t there be more dignity in this equation if families could just afford to buy their own turkey? If we structured our economic system so that working parents had enough to put food on the table for the holidays and every day?
A seasonal impulse to share is not going to undo the pervasive problem of poverty.
It may help a family or two, but poverty is not an individual problem. Poverty is not the failing or misfortune of one person or one family; it is the failure of wages to keep pace with the cost of living, the result of an unaffordable and under-resourced child care system, the legacy of racial discrimination, and countless systems and policies that create immense challenges for those in the bottom 20 percent.
Since the 1970s, wages have not kept pace with the cost of living in the United States. Inequality has grown and social mobility has decreased. Our systems are woefully inadequate, and while that holiday turkey may help fill a gap in the meantime, we cannot stop there. Poverty isn’t simple or seasonal; our response shouldn’t be either.
Colorado’s recent vote to increase the minimum wage is a start. But even at $12 per hour, the average single parent would need to work more than 80 hours a week just to make rent, put food on the table, and cover basics.
Right now, 190,000 children in Colorado are living in poverty. Without significant changes, you’ll probably be donating a turkey to them and their kids someday.
So go ahead and make that year-end gift, but get involved beyond the holidays. Join the conversation, and invest your time and money in the approaches, organizations, and people trying to actually disrupt the cycle of poverty all year long.
Teva Sienicki is president and CEO of Growing Home.