Signs of poverty increasing in Mobridge
By Katie Zerr
Although the signs of a strong economy are present in the Mobridge area, there are also signs of an increase in the number of families living below the poverty line in this area.
West River South Dakota is home to three of the poorest counties in the nation according to the latest U.S. Census, and that poverty is spreading east into Mobridge.
There are four South Dakota counties in the top 10 with the highest poverty rate in the United States, according to the Census. These are Ziebach County, with the highest rate of 50.1 percent; Todd County, is second with 49.1 percent; Shannon County, is third with 47.3 percent and Corson County is ninth with 40.9 percent.
A four-person family earning less than $22,314 is considered living in poverty.
Nationally, official Census numbers show 22 percent or 15.6 million children live in poverty.
South Dakota has the highest rate of rural poverty in a 10-state region of the Great Plains, according to a report by the Center for Rural Affairs. According to 2010 census data used in the report, 20.6 percent of South Dakotans in rural counties (counties withfewer than 10,000 residents) live in poverty. That’s 44,973 of the state’s 218,821 rural residents. Montana was the next closest state with a rural poverty rate of 17.8 percent.
Poverty spawns dysfunction
Studies have shown that with poverty comes dysfunction in the family.
Whether it is that families are not spending time together because much of the time is spent on making enough money to support the basic needs, or social problems that cause the poverty, dysfunction is found in families living below the poverty line.
Families are generally considered poor if their incomes are insufficient to pay for all their basic daily living needs. Those needs include food, housing, clothing and health care.
When a family’s basic needs are not met, a child’s well being is put at risk. Poverty adversely affects a child’s physical and emotional health, daily living conditions, family stability, educational achievement, future economic earnings, and overall well-being.
Families need material resources to live and nurture their children. Contacts in families of poverty are usually with the one or two adults in the home. There is little connection to the community outside of the home.
According the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, children from homes that experience persistent poverty are more likely to have their cognitive development affected than children in homes with more resources.
Poverty and hunger
An increase in the families living in poverty also increases the need for assistance programs.
Mobridge Ministerial Association’s Thrift Store and Food Bank Manager Donna Hamre said in recent years, the number of families that need the food pantry and weekend backpack services have increased in the last two to three years. The backpack program sends food home with kids on Friday to help them have healthier, full meals over the weekends.
“There are way more people shopping in the store, and more people using the food pantry,” she said. “I expect the number of kids using the backpack program when school starts will increase again this year.”
Hamre said even though federal and state funding has all but ceased, there are more families and elderly in the community who need the assistance. The staff has seen an increase in the number of families with children who are utilizing their programs.
Currently there are 25 families being helped with 110 pounds of food per month. Five individuals receive 55 pounds of food (a box) and 30 seniors are given a box of food.
The sack lunch program provides up to a 1,000 lunches a month.
“Without our help, these families would not have the food to feed their families for the month,” she said. “We are pretty strict and make sure the people we are helping really need it.”
She said the federal government gives $41 per box for the program that helps the elderly poor, but all other programs are based on donations and fundraising efforts. The community is very generous during the holidays, but Hamre said there are times, like right now, that the food shelves at the pantry are nearly empty.
“With the economy the way it is, I don’t see this trend changing,” she said.
Impact on schools
When the lack of resources results in a void in a child’s needs, it has an impact that reaches into the community, especially the schools.
“As a school and community we need to look at helping students prior to them starting school,” said Mobridge-Pollock Superintendent Tim Frederick. “Much of what is taught in school is through language communication. This can be lacking in homes with poverty.”
He said children of poverty might not have the same opportunities for their parents to read to them or introduce them to music or numbers if there is little verbal interaction with children.
“A child’s brain needs security to develop in a positive way. Children need to feel comfortable. That is what is lacking in children of poverty,” he said. “We need to be looking at kids from birth to five years old and looking for solutions to fill those gaps.”
He said children coming from these situations have emotions that are “all over the place.” This can cause disruptions in the classroom.
He said there is a need for the community to understand the impact of poverty on education because it costs more to educate children of poverty.
“It is the reason we have federal funding, but it comes with mandates. Advancing achievement needs to be the priority,” he said. “Reduced classroom size is a focus. Too many children in a classroom doesn’t allow the teachers to recognize the emotional needs of kids or to meet the individual needs of their students.”
By looking at implementing programs that enhance the family dynamic, for example the programs of the Mobridge Youth Organization, Frederick said parents and children become involved in activities outside of the home. The free lunch program and the 21st Century grant, which allows the school district the opportunity to develop a program that keeps the kids engaged in learning and keeps them moving forward in learning during the summer months when there is usually a fall-off in learning, are ways to keep families involved.
Frederick said developing a program with an adult mentorship creates a connection with the community and gets kids involved. By making a connection with adults in leadership positions like coaches, it leads to achievement in kids.
Families in poverty need the opportunity for a good education and resources such as social networks and access to civic institutions. These community resources provide families the opportunity to expand their networks and social connections.
“I think we need to do more than open the door,” said Frederick. “I think we need to reach out to the adults to show them this is for them. We need to get them involved and keep them coming back.”
This is not just is a conversation about Mobridge, he said, but about poverty and educating children of poverty. Statistics show this impact is not just here, but nationwide. With the increase in poverty numbers comes an increase in the needs of children.
Pearl Haux, the food service manager for the Mobridge-Pollock School District said the increase in the numberof students eligible for free or reduced meals has increased year for the past five years, including a 4 percent increase from the 2011-2012 school year.
“I have seen more people struggling to pay their kid’s meal bills during those years,” she said. “The middle class struggles the most. With car payments and house payments, college tuition and health insurance, money just doesn’t go as far as it used to. They don’t qualify for any kind of assistance, so they are struggling.”
Haux said she believes that people who didn’t apply for assistance programs before because of pride have little choice now. She wishes others would take advantage of the food programs offered. The programs are based on regulations that require certain foods to be included.
“Our focus is on making sure these kids get two nutritious meals a day,” she said. “With the new federal regulations calling for more fruits and vegetables and less calories for the federally funded programs, there is more stress on multi-grain, low fat meals.”
Some of the kids in the program have never been exposed to these healthier foods and the hope is that this exposure will help them start healthier eating habits.
“I think our little kids are going to be healthier than we are because we are introducing these things,” said Haux. “Their plates are going to be different than the meat, potatoes, beans and corn we were raised on.”
She said she sees the regulations that require at least one vegetable, one fruit and more whole grains per plate as a challenge to change the way kids eat.
“I want to show them that it is good and good for them,” she said. “Maybe I can help change the obesity trend that is gripping the nation.”
The summer meal program was a success, according to Haux, with 25 to 30 kids being fed at breakfast and up to 100 people being fed at lunchtime.
She said there was an increase in younger children taking advantage of the free meals this year and she expects to see that trend continue.
– Katie Zerr –