July 30, 2014

Elyria
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Oberlin College kicks off hunger awareness week

OBERLIN — Worrying about their grades, college loans and social life, some Oberlin College students are insulated from the community around them, say organizers of this week’s homelessness and hunger prevention week at the college.

“Students have a habit of sort of forming their own little bubble at Oberlin,” freshman and event co-organizer Sarah Katz said. “Everyone is motivated to get out and do things, but they’re caught in this weird transition between ‘I have so much schoolwork’ and then ‘There is so much going on.’ ”

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The weeklong events are designed to harness the long tradition of Oberlin students community service and social activism by increasing awareness of poverty in America and Lorain County. A record 49.1 million Americans, about one in six, are living in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That includes about 14.4 percent of Lorain County residents. A record number of Americans were using food stamps in July, about 45.1 million, including 1.75 million Ohioans.

A new study by the Brookings Institute, a nonpartisan Washington, D.C., think tank, found that Elyria and Lorain had at least an 8 percentage point increase in the growth of poverty-stricken neighborhoods, over the last decade. The study crunched census numbers.

Katz is one of about 320 members of Ohio Public Interest Research Group, the state branch of the national consumer watchdog. The group is running the events for the first time this year in conjunction with Family Promise of Lorain County.

Family Promise, a nondenominational group formed in 2008, has a day-center on Middle Avenue in Elyria that provides counseling, computers and a plan for getting a job and home for homeless families. Participants must have at least one child for whom they are caring. At night, participants are fed and housed by a rotating group of 14 area congregations, according to Cindi Manning, Family Promise board president.

The organizations teamed up as a way to better connect students with the community.

“Oberlin College is kind of a privileged school,” event co-organizer and Oberlin freshman Mahalia Wells said. “If you look outside of it, it’s not the same so we want to have people at least know what’s going on in the community.”

The events, which will include a speech by a formerly homeless man at 8 p.m. today at Wilder 101, come as poverty continues to surge throughout the country and county. Second Harvest of North Central Ohio, a food bank that serves Crawford, Erie, Huron and Lorain counties, served about 59,500 people in September, according to Juliana Chase-Morefield, Second Harvest executive director. That’s an approximately 58.6 percent increase from September 2008.

Chase-Morefield, whose group had a recruitment booth at Oberlin on Sunday, said austerity programs promoted by state and congressional Republicans and the Obama administration to reduce the deficit have made it harder for Second Harvest to serve the needy. Chase-Morefield said she finds it frustrating that some politicians whose tax cutting for corporations and the wealthy helped run up the nation’s approximately
$1.4 trillion deficit are now using it as justification for cutting the social safety net.

“I meet people who are senior citizens who are living off of $600 a month,” she said in a phone interview after the event. “To cut their food stamp benefits or to cut the little bit of help that they get, it just seems a little cruel.”

Manning said she tries not to get discouraged despite witnessing the hardships of her clients and their children.

“We’ve got to help these parents get the jobs and the stability that they need to get back into housing and stay in housing,” she said. “It’s all about the kids. They deserve every opportunity and every chance we can give them.”

Empty stomachs

The week’s Kick Out Hunger and Homelessness events at Oberlin College are part of National Homeless and Hunger Awareness Week and come at a time of increasing poverty in the U.S. and Lorain County.

  • 15.2: percentage of Ohioans living in poverty.
  • 58.6 percent: increase in people served by the Second Harvest Food Bank in September compared with September 2008.
  • 1.75 million: Ohioans using food stamps in July.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.