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Missouri Poverty Summit

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

LIVE UNITED

By Linda McAnany

United Way of Central Missouri

"I woke up and realized my kids were hungry, I had holes in my floor, and my electric was shut off. I would have run away from home, but I had no car. I couldn't call a cab, because I had no phone." Kimberly knew she had to make a change in her life, but until that cold day in February 2007 she was not willing to address the real problem. "I was just trying to make it through each day."

Kimberly's story is a compelling one. You can learn more about her continuing journey out of poverty by attending the Missouri Poverty Summit scheduled for June 9th. Kimberly is one of the presenters at the one-day event to be held at the Capital Plaza Hotel in Jefferson City. The purpose of this event is to bring together communities from across the State to share strategies and build new networks to end poverty in Missouri.

The goals (some might call them outcomes) of this Summit are simple, aggressive, and achievable over the next ten years:

*A group of 5000 leaders committed to ending poverty exists within Missouri communities.
*A coalition of 50 organizations with a network of advocates established and committed to ending poverty.
*A statewide plan to end poverty embedded and integrated with 50 Missouri communities or organizations.

Organizers are hopeful that business leaders, educators, policy advisors and legislators throughout Missouri will join this effort and that a Poverty Commission will be appointed. This Commission could not only study the growing trends in poverty but also provide ideas for communities to follow to reverse these trends.

Missouri is rich in beauty and prosperity, in education and opportunity, in security and health, in values and vision. Yet, within our richness, lie poverty, hunger, homelessness, fear, and despair. As of March 1st, over one million Missourians participate in the food stamp program. That is one-fifth of our population!

Over 300,000 Missouri families struggle every day to meet their basic food needs. Low income families pay an average of 46% of their income just for housing and energy. Of the 781,842 Missourians who live in poverty; 263,484 of them are children.

For these reasons, Summit organizers have focused their efforts around five issues. They are Hunger, Health, Education, Housing & Energy, and Economic & Family Security. Experts in these areas will provide policy papers for attendees to discuss. The afternoon sessions will include brainstorming opportunities for participants to discuss ideas on to use grass root efforts to solve poverty issues within their communities.

June 9th is just the beginning. Regional follow-up meetings will use the ideas from the Summit to develop local plans in cities throughout the State. It is the Summit's vision: "where individuals are respected, have opportunities to reach their full potential and to participate in thriving, diverse, sustainable communities."

It is a huge task! It will indeed take all of us....community leaders, business and government representatives, advocates, anti-poverty experts, and just plain citizens working together to eliminate poverty in Missouri.

Kimberly is waging her own battle to escape poverty including no longer using her benefit card. This card is used at local stores for benefits such as food stamps. After making a personal commitment to live on a budget and stop using food stamps, she cut it into pieces. "At first, no longer using my EBT card made me feel scared," she said. Without the food stamp allowance, her food budget for a family of four has shrunk from $500 to $200 a month and includes lots of beans, potatoes, and rice. "The plus side," she adds "is that we have lost some weight and I am proud to be able to pay cash to the same tellers that were taking my EBT card."

Let's join this effort by lending our support to this Summit. Reservations are strongly encouraged. For more information, contact Brenda Stegeman at (573) 634-2969 or visit www.communityaction.org.



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