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If we were to take a poll, I have a feeling the percentage of people who desire a positive life for children would be extremely high. It would be a very rare person indeed who suggested that children should fend for themselves, that they can go hungry, that they ought to be left on their own to sink or swim. Such a person would quickly run out of friends.
And yet as a polis - a people organized as a society - we do not live up to that value. Individually we may have a positive attitude toward children, but as a society we are indeed willing to allow children to fend for themselves, to go hungry, to go without healthcare, to be left on their own to sink or swim.
Reinhold Niebuhr, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964 for being of the great ethicists and political theologians of the mid-20th century, wrote in his book “Moral Man and Immoral Society” about how we humans create poleis that are less moral than the individuals in them. As we gather into increasingly larger groups, we become more able to tolerate increasingly immoral systems.
We see the result of this in our hometown. The poverty rate here is roughly 17%. We have schools in which so many students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, everyone gets one. Teachers use their own money to buy shoes and coats and supplies for their students as their families struggle to pay for food, healthcare, transportation, and housing. It’s an unhealthy and unjust system.
Another significant issue of our broken system is diapers for babies. Low-income mothers list a lack of money for diapers to be a major cause of stress, and one in three families struggle to buy diapers for their children, which averages about $1000/year per child. For someone living at the poverty level of $11,770/year, diapers are almost 10% of an annual income; for someone working full-time at a minimum wage job, it’s about 7% of annual income. Families might try to make diapers last longer than is healthy for the baby, or perhaps even go without, which leads to other health issues like urinary tract infections, rashes, and sickness. And often when a child is sick, Mom needs to stay home with them, which means a loss of income that comes with the cost of the medicines needed to fight the sickness. This is part of the trap of poverty that we have turned into an abstract concept, removed from the fact that these are our neighbors, God’s people made in the divine image.
So we are left with a question: do we have the political will to live up to the values we say we hold, such as caring for our children? Can we show Niebuhr that he undersold human nature?
Apart from petitioning your representatives to do more to help eliminate poverty, we offer you a chance to make a small gesture of grace.
Plymouth United Church of Christ is holding a diaper drive this week, Feb. 24-28, to help the Apple Pregnancy Center help low-income families. A gift of a few boxes of diapers can save a family money for food or medicine or other necessities. Please bring disposable children’s diapers to Plymouth UCC (2010 Moholt Dr, between 8:30 am and 12:30 pm), Bed, Bath & Drapery (3475 E Hamilton Avenue, during business hours), or Good Shepherd Senior Apartments (3304 14th Street, during the day). We are asking our whole community to join us in this act of love, to turn our words about caring into a concrete act of loving-kindness for the most vulnerable of our neighbors. We ask for your care and your generosity.