Can’t Stop the Giving

Now that the season of giving is officially over, we are approaching the harshest time of year, when underprivileged, poor and homeless fellow Americans need our help the most. The average high [temperature] across the United States in January is 42° F and the average low is 27°, [making it[ the coldest month of the year. In February, the average high moves to 44° and the average low is 28°. […] Using New York […] as the example, the cost of heating oil jumps in the winter, with [the] January [2014] cost per gallon [at] $4.13 and February’s cost [at] $4.34. […]

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a family of four is considered living in poverty if their annual income is under $23,850. The current […] U.S. […] poverty rate is 14.5%, [amounting to] 45.3 million people living in poverty. […] The poverty rate for children is 19.9%; for people ages 18 [to] 34, it is 13.6%, and for those over 65, the rate is 9.5%.

We can’t rely on our government to take care of the poor—or can we? The New American just reported that 65% of our children live in households [participating] in at least one or more of these government aid programs: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program […]; the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC); Medicaid; [or] the National School Lunch Program. The “War on Poverty,” which was part of the “Great Society” plan of President Johnson, […] celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2014. Our government has spent $22 trillion over these 50 years to support this war.

So does the U.S. welfare system actually hamper dignity while claiming to grant it? We continue to hear stories of recipients abusing the social safety net designed to help those who truly need our help. Do some of these programs trap people into the poverty they are trying to escape? Our government programs address complex social problems with a one-size-fits-all solution. Local nonprofit organizations and local governments have a better vantage point to identify and address the true poverty issues in their communities, [making them] more invested in the success of the families and individuals living [there].

[N]ow that the holidays are over, we are back to focusing on ourselves. Whether it is finding a gym to get back in shape or a diet to lose the holiday pounds, our attention naturally shifts away from those who need our help 365 days a year. [Fortunately], there are several nonprofit organizations that don’t give up after the holidays. […] One of my favorites is One Warm Coat. This nonprofit organization started [in 1992] with a Thanksgiving weekend coat drive, [and, since] then, they have organized thousands of groups across America that collect coats to give to those in need. […] Another favorite is Operation Warm, which started in 2002 and [relies on] organizations like [local] Rotary [clubs] and firefighters to distribute over 300,000 coats to impoverished children annually.

Each of these caring organizations began way before the recession, survived the recession and continues to serve the underprivileged as the country recovers. The Salvation Army [is] the second largest charity in the country, receiving $2.08 billion in donations annually. The largest charity is The United Way, who took in $3.87 billion [within its] network of over 1,300 units across the country. […]

With the impasse in Washington, [D.C.], which looks like it will be getting even worse in 2015, we cannot rely on our government to pick up the slack to take care of those Americans who truly need our help. Gas prices are going down, giving all of us more discretionary income to spend. The holidays are over, […] and now it is time […] to step up and begin to funnel [that] extra gas money back into our local communities to help our neighbors pull themselves out of poverty. We, as citizens, need to create a new grassroots effort—our own local “War on Poverty.” Having 45.3 million people living in poverty is not what any of our forefathers envisioned, and it is not the country we want to leave to our children.

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