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Crossing the Line


November 29, 2017

There are lots of lines in my line of business. The line between the haves and have nots. The line between classes. The line between just surviving and really living. The poverty line.

I recently attended a screening of The Line, a powerful documentary about poverty in America. One thing about poverty in America — it’s not what you think. This film documents the stories of everyday Americans with goals, with children, who are working hard just to survive in this, our land of plenty. Millions of people struggle in America, but more and more are finding themselves slipping below the poverty line.

I found myself deeply moved by the faces of poverty shown in the film. One was a single dad in the suburbs who was laid off from his work almost a decade ago and is now a regular at the local food pantry. He’s college educated with three kids, and struggles with how to provide for his kids — not only their physical well-being, but preserving their dignity and self-worth and ensuring that they get an education.

Another profile was of a fisherman in coastal Louisiana, trying to make a living after the BP oil spill and Hurricane Katrina devastated the natural resources of the area. His family has made a living off the land for generations, but he can barely pull in enough shrimp, crabs, and fish to feed himself. At the end of the film, an epilogue told viewers after filming that his boat had been destroyed by Hurricane Harvey and he didn’t know what the future held for him.

A third story was about a woman whose family had battled poverty for decades. She has worked her entire life to ensure that her son can cross over the poverty line. The epilogue on her said that her son had received a full scholarship to attend college, and so they are both hopeful about the future.

The generational poverty depicted in the third story is most often what people think of when they think about who lives in poverty. But the fact is, in 2017 in America, the first two stories are becoming more and more common. People who have never lived below the line, who’ve worked their entire adult lives, are slipping downward into poverty.

Because poverty and hunger are linked, I was asked to participate in a panel discussion after the screening to represent the needs of seniors who are hungry or food insecure. The first question from the audience was about what our clients look like. I responded that they should think about the individuals shown in the film and add 40 years to their age. That’s who our Meals on Wheels recipients are.

An increasing number of seniors are coming to us seeking services who never thought they would be in a position where they needed help.  And the truth is that more and more of our clients are like the first two people in The Line, and fewer like the third person.  We caution our Meals on Wheels delivery volunteers against making judgements about our meal recipients based upon where they live, the clothes they wear, or a car sitting in their driveway.  We assess our clients to ensure that they are needy and that the service is appropriate.

The Line reinforced to me that you just never know what the guy you pass on the street, or the person you’re delivering a meal to, is facing.  And it reinforced my determination to serve all seniors in need, even those whose needs might not be visible, and to keep seeking the support necessary to meet their growing needs.

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