One of the great blessings in my life has been to get to know many of the folks who provide social services to the poor, elderly, hungry and disadvantaged in the Dallas area. Bruce Buchannon is the director of the Stewpot, a ministry of First Presbyterian Church downtown that has grown over the years into one of the most respected and stable agencies providing services to the poor and homeless.
Even though Bruce and I were both doing “outreach” ministry at the time, I got to know Bruce through another unlikely connection: he and I were both members of the Planned Parenthood Religious Advisory Council. Bruce’s church, and he in particular, had been targeted by Operation Rescue at the time, and were being picketed regularly.
We’ve both rotated off that board, and I’ve moved to another position entirely. But Bruce remains there at Stewpot, doing an amazing job each and every day.
James Raglund, columnist for the Dallas Morning News, visited the Stewpot this last week, and today he has filed a disturbing column for the paper. (read the whole thing here) It’s about not only the usual suspects among the poor and hungry, but it’s also about a disturbing new trend. The trend is that folks with paying, full time jobs, cannot make ends meet and are turning to places like the Stewpot for assistance…
Raglund writes about a man named Dana Harper, who works a downtown construction job. Most of the folks who come to Stewpot are homeless. So, even though it’s sometimes a long wait for the food, they have the time to wait. But, Raglund writes
That’s not the case for Dana Harper, who started a construction job in downtown Dallas two weeks ago. He’s on a tight schedule. Mr. Harper works seven days a week, 11 hours a day, and he gets half an hour for lunch.
“Mr. Harper, 44, is among a growing legion of working-class people who, like the homeless, rely on soup kitchens and other handouts to make ends meet.
A national survey released last week found that 36 percent of people eating at soup kitchens or depending on food banks and shelters came from households in which at least one person worked.”
Please read that last sentence carefully again. And if it surprises you, read it again. And if it still surprises you, read this book. Both the book and this story tell an ugly truth: that a man with a full-time, seven-day-a-week job, working 11-hour days, still cannot earn enough to get by. The fact is, the working poor in our country, are not getting by. Their situation is getting worse. In fact, it’s even more severe in Dallas than elsewhere in the country. Raglund cites these statistics:
In North Texas, demand for nutritional services rose 32 percent between 2001 and 2005, compared with a 9 percent rise across the nation.
The Rev. Bruce Buchanan, who runs The Stewpot outreach ministry for First Presbyterian Church in downtown Dallas, said he often sees folks with jobs coming in for a free meal. “It’s been that way for years,” he said.
“When companies were downsizing, cutting people down to 20 hours a week, we began seeing an increase,” he said. “Then we’ve got people making minimum wages, and you can’t afford an apartment in Dallas on minimum wage.”
On an average day, 525 people come to The Stewpot each weekday to grab a meal. “When I came in 1987, the average was 230 to 240 a day,” Mr. Buchanan noted.
But in 2001, before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, “when the tech industry started to go belly up, the numbers started to go up. And it’s been up ever since,” he said.
The record number of people served in one single lunch hour at The Stewpot is 663, he said. That happened on a day like yesterday – a Monday near the end of the month.
It’s an ugly truth of our society. It’s a problem that Republican and Democrat alike have failed to address and have swept under the rug. This is a true Purpleland problem that belongs to all of us.
And it’s not going away.
This week, Mardi Gras returned to New Orleans. But what that city is still most remembered for are the shocking images of something that started, exactly six-months-ago tomorrow. What we remember of New Orleans now are the horrible images of people walking through the water to safety…living in the midst of chaos and filth for three days at the Superdome.
I said at the time, and I’ll say it again, what we saw most clearly that day was not the plight of any ethnic minority group. What we saw that day was the true face of the poor. Day-to-day, you and I don’t see them much, or encounter them much. But they are woven into the fabric of each and every American city. They live check-to-check, and some months they don’t make it.
We don’t seem them most days. They slip into our cities unnoticed, or we just look the other way when we do encounter them.
But, when disasters comes, they get left behind at the Superdome.
And sometimes, even when they have a good job, they still have to eat at the Stewpot.