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Take poverty personally

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

{safe_alt_text} ROBIN DOUSSARD

As you hide the presents you bought at the after-Thanksgiving sales, plan your holiday meals or sit together with your family inside a warm house, please remember this: There are 141,000 children in Oregon who live in poverty, with more than one-third of those under age 4.

Despite full-time work, the percentage of families with children who are poor continues to grow. Falling wages and rising gas, food and health-care prices mean that 615,000 Oregonians – fully 12% of the state’s population — have fallen into poverty. Poverty for a family of four means an annual household income of  $20,650 a year, or less.

Salem Mayor Janet Taylor knows something about dire statistics. A staggering 63% of the children in the Salem/Keizer area live below the poverty line.  

Taylor helped spearhead the successful effort to win $56 million to build the Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, made possible by the $1.5 billion the late McDonald’s heiress Joan Kroc left to the Salvation Army. The center will be located in Salem’s Northgate neighborhood, which has the highest-density poor population in Oregon.

Kroc’s mission for her money was simple: relieve the suffering of the poor, communicate dignity, be a beacon of hope.

The indomitable Taylor is one of this year’s recipients of the Oregon Philanthropy Awards. As always, the awards show that the spirit of generosity flows through large companies, such as Bank of America with its Neighborhood Excellence program, to youngsters like 13-year-old Katelyn Tomac Sullivan, who started her own nonprofit and has helped raise $35,000 for cancer research.

This is the season to honor those magnificent people who help make good things happen. It is also the season to help those who need it.

Take the profiles of these philanthropy champions as a challenge. It can be easy to forget, if you are lucky enough not to worry about your own children going hungry, cold or without a doctor, those 141,000 children. If you live in Salem,  for instance, chances are very good they go to school with your children. Perhaps you even know of a family who could use some help.

Take this poverty personally. Oregonians in mid-December will get a check in the mail from the state, a kicker tax rebate. On average, every Oregonian can expect $612. You might be fortunate enough to get more.

Why not take that windfall and give it to those 141,000 children who will not have a warm house or presents this season? Imagine the impact if even half the households getting a refund turned around and gave it to the many nonprofits that help children throughout the state.

You do not need to be a billionaire to be a beacon of hope.


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