While difficult to comprehend, poverty is a reality for many individuals, seniors and families in southwest Minnesota. On October 11th, the United Way of Southwest Minnesota hosted a Poverty Simulation, designed to help individuals better understand poverty by stepping into the real-life situations of others struggling with, and living in, poverty. Roles of available community services were played by United Way community partner non-profit organizations and members of the United Way staff.
The event was held at the National Guard Armory in Marshall and was the first simulation conducted by the United Way with plans to continue offering additional simulations in the future. Nearly 50 community leaders, business leaders and school administrators from throughout southwest Minnesota were among some of the first participants. The simulation experience was designed to demonstrate to those who have enough to truly understand the situations that families living in poverty experience every day, the decisions they have to make, and the fears and frustrations they feel.
In the southwest region of the state, 10.5% of the population is living in poverty, according to Minnesota Compass (2015). For example, more than 1,100 students or 46% of Marshall Public School students were enrolled in the Free and Reduced Price Meal Program during the 2016-17 school year. Percentages at nearby schools included similar or higher percentages. Here are just a few examples: Dawson-Boyd (38%), Yellow Medicine East (43%), Westbrook-Walnut Grove (55%) and Lynd (64%). Many more families have incomes above the poverty line, but their incomes are still low enough to qualify for programs like Food Stamps and Medicaid-and paying the bills is an exhausting daily struggle. Local nonprofits and social service organizations continue to see an increase in need. Poverty is a real concern right here in southwest Minnesota and in all of the communities that our local United Way serves. Per the mn.gov website, the official poverty threshold in 2016 was about $24,600 for a family of four.
“The United Way fights for the health, education and financial stability of every person in every community. In southwest Minnesota, we focus on health, education, financial stability, hunger and safety & well-being,” said President & CEO, Marcy Heemeyer. “Through this simulation experience, our hope is that our community will better understand what it means to live in poverty, learn what resources exist locally and further develop and cultivate an environment of empathy and understanding for our friends and neighbors.”
Special thanks to the simulation participants and the volunteers who helped conduct the event.
For more information or to inquire about a future simulation, please call United Way at 507-929-2273 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.