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Front Page » March 26, 2002 » Opinion » Quick fixes fail to change dependence
Published 4,511 days ago

Quick fixes fail to change dependence


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By NOREEN SPRINGSTEAD
Minuteman Media


"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." � Chinese proverb.

The traditional response offered to people in times of need is to dispense charity. Emergency, in-your-face problems spring us into action because they require solutions with immediate results. For example, we all feel a sense of gratification when we give a hungry person a meal. However, substituting charity for sound public policy is shortsighted and cripples our ability to tackle entrenched problems. Our dependency on charity to solve hunger in the United States shirks our greater responsibility and dumps it onto the backs of workers at food banks, soup kitchens, shelters and pantries. As the demand for emergency food increases, charities are expected to respond in a heroic fashion. But it is unacceptable that millions of people are dependent on emergency sources of food to meet their basic needs.

Our country's response to increased hunger is to start more pantries, kitchens and shelters. In the short-term this band-aid does nothing but create a revolving door. Such emergency responses must be coupled with social investments that break the cycle of dependency and empower people to make their own choices. We can bring about meaningful change through an integrated approach that includes sound public policies, community investments and a common understanding of the intricacies of social problems. A quick fix, like the perpetuation and the institutionalization of an emergency feeding system, will never solve the greater inequities of poverty. To create a more just society we must move from charity to change.

Solutions that empower people are key. Replicating effective ideas, shaping policy based on proven methods, investing in local solutions, and inspiring people to make a difference will greatly impact the scale of the problem.

Charity alone will not solve the problems of hunger and poverty. Instead, we should focus on work that embodies social change.

Powerful examples of community-based organizations that work on community problems exist throughout the world. The power of these organizations is defined by their ability to touch and transform the lives of the people that seek their assistance. Their focus on intrinsic social problems invests in people and builds communities.

Problems like hunger, illiteracy, low skills, lack of day care, lack of health care, poor transportation, soaring housing costs, and poverty, are complex and a quick fix will not get at their root causes.

To achieve change these organizations work with their clients one on one, giving them skills as well as the dignity and respect they need to be self-reliant.

To empower disenfranchised people, these organizations build self-esteem, teach life skills, provide health care, create housing, nurture entrepreneurs, educate, enrich after-school programs and train people for jobs.

The positive results create hope and embody social change, but these organizations and individuals cannot do it alone. These efforts will prove meaningless unless government and the private sector wake up to the reality that in order to bring workers out of poverty, jobs need to pay a living wage.

The current state of the economy provides us with a new opportunity for government, business and individuals to support fundamental social change by helping local organizations so that they can flourish.

A strong government safety net is also crucial to successful change. Alliances between government, industry, and local organizations could spur the widespread replication of the most innovative of these local programs on a national scale, and move thousands of people out of poverty and into meaningful work.

Sept. 11 was a defining moment in our nation's history that had an immediate impact. Since then, there has been a second wave of people who have not lost their lives, but have lost jobs.

Many people are struggling to meet their basic food and housing needs and are in need of the grassroots programs.

Long-term solutions to the problems of hunger and poverty are critical.

Our country has proven that united communities accomplish the extraordinary, and together can build a better world.

Charity is good, but change is better.

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