Our Opinion: Poverty will be major topic in September; let’s talk about it in new terms

Prepare to hear a lot this month about the area’s poor.

With the United Way of Wyoming Valley’s annual fundraising campaign, in support of its budding “Poverty to Possibility” movement, set to begin Wednesday, and a papal visit planned for Sept. 26 and 27 in Philadelphia, September will be bookended by high-profile activities calling attention to the plight of Pennsylvania residents living on little.

In between, the Commission on Economic Opportunity – operator of our region’s largest food bank – will observe Hunger Action Month with a series of fundraising events, including a food truck rally on Sept. 24 at the River Common in Wilkes-Barre.

Unless cold of heart or short of cash, you probably will contribute to one or more of these charitable causes, or perhaps drop extra dollars in a collection plate. (Pope Francis has that kind of appeal, even outside the Catholic Church.)

By all means, give what you can. But an outpouring of donations won’t do much good in the long run unless it’s also accompanied by frank conversation – and new attitudes and behaviors – regarding the social ills that have been long taken for granted.

Consider, for instance, homelessness. Do you consider it acceptable for a few of the Wyoming Valley’s homeless men and women to die each year because they failed to adequately connect with shelters and services? Or is homelessness a condition that can be eliminated here? (Our editorial regarding the lack of a permanent men’s shelter in the Wyoming Valley appeared in Monday’s edition.)

To reduce hunger, are canned food drives necessary for stocking the shelves of local food banks? Or is it more effective to strictly donate money to a project such as the Commission on Economic Opportunity’s virtual food drive, which has greater buying power and can therefore acquire even more fresh fruits, vegetables and meats?

For that matter, does providing a down-and-out person with free groceries or a no-cost meal solve an immediate problem but create a long-term dependency? And, if so, what are the consequences?

These are tough, and uncomfortable, questions. Especially for well-intentioned people whose actions are rooted in religious upbringing and kindness.

However, if we want to wipe out poverty and the troubles it spawns, we will need to embrace new strategies in the 21st century – while also dropping some of our long-held habits and mindsets.

Among the first steps: Don’t take for granted these seemingly insurmountable problems. As Pope Francis has suggested, many of us have grown accustomed to poverty as a necessary byproduct of a capitalist society that rejects things – and people – considered of little or no value. “If a computer breaks, it is a tragedy; but poverty,” he said, “the needs and dramas of so many people end up being considered normal.”

Rethink poverty.

And consider it conquerable.