Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Wednesday is the Day for Faith In Action

It's Wednesday, which means it's the day I work at Bristol Faith in Action. Last week I had the pleasure of taking with me, when I went in, a box full of jars of peanut butter and another box full of crackers, courtesy of my friend C, who lives in Washington, D.C., and has real conviction about helping the hungry. I was especially pleased about the crackers and peanut butter last week, because our little food pantry had been down to one jar of peanut butter and 2 sleeves of saltines, and then, it being the last part of the month, we got a ton of requests for food.

Bristol has a large emergency food pantry, and as much as possible we refer our clients there. The food pantry proper will give them more food than we can, and also gives perishables--bread, milk, eggs--that we can't. (We give out crackers with our peanut butter because crackers are shelf-stable.) But people can only go to the food pantry once a month; sometimes they need to come to us, too. Or sometimes they can walk to our office, but not to the food pantry.

The end of the month is always worse because food stamps usually renew at the beginning of the month.

I've been thinking a lot lately about how poverty compounds poverty. I worked a day once at the Remote Access Medical Clinic when it was held in Bristol. RAM clinics offer dental and vision care as well as medical care. I was doing the initial vision screening, with an eye chart, and I was astonished by the number of people who seemed barely able to enunciate. "Aaahh," they'd said, "Bah."  Sometimes I couldn't tell whether or not they were readying the chart correctly. Then I noticed cotton sticking out of one man's mouth.

People were coming through vision screening after they'd been seen by the dentists. Many of them had had multiple teeth removed. The dentists could do fillings, but teeth can decay past the point of being filled.

Later in the day I was working at a different station. I spoke with a young man, early 20s. He'd had eight teeth removed that morning, and he was jubilant about it, because they'd been hurting him, and because at home the dentist charged $100 per tooth for extractions. This man had a job, but it didn't reach to $800 to have teeth removed.

That was shocking--not that he didn't have $800, but that he needed eight teeth pulled. And yet. He came from the coalfields. I can imagine that if you lived an hour's drive from the nearest dentist, and didn't have a reliable car or gas money, let alone money to pay the dentist, you wouldn't get your teeth checked on a regular basis. You wouldn't get cavities filled.

I've got a mouthful of fillings, plus two crowns covering molars whose fillings cracked with age. I've always brushed my teeth conscientiously. I've always been able to go to the dentist.

In recent days I've read stories on the internet about a man in Detroit who mostly walks 10 miles each way to his factory job. Some people thought it must be a fake story, or an exaggeration. Why wouldn't he get a bicycle? Why wouldn't he buy a car? Other commentators pointed out that Detroit is a mess, cars get stolen so regularly there that car insurance costs about $10,000 a year. (The man reportedly makes $10/hr, or about $20,000 a year.) Apparently the man takes public transportation--buses--when he can, and bicycles aren't allowed on Detroit's buses.

Once in awhile at Faith in Action we find problems that can be fixed, completely, with a quick infusion of cash. But mostly poverty is a web, tangled and difficult. I don't have answers. I wish I did.