At a local food pantry, I met an Ohio family who were long-time volunteers. While they were used to collecting canned goods and sorting through boxes of donations for their neighbors in need, they were not used to turning to the food bank for help themselves. Unfortunately, due to economic hard times, this family went from being volunteers at the food banks to recipients of assistance from the food banks.
This holiday season, some Ohio families will share a Thanksgiving meal with new neighbors after losing a home to foreclosure. Others may find themselves beginning new traditions because a parent has lost a job. Some others may not have a warm meal at all.
Scarcity is a fact of life for too many Americans in urban areas, rural communities, small towns, and big cities alike. Today more than 1.7 million Ohioans live in poverty and sixteen percent of Ohio families don’t know where they will get their next meal. One out of every twelve of Ohio’s senior citizens lives in poverty.
Alleviating hunger in America – including hunger for food, work, and a fair shot at providing for loved ones – requires addressing the shortages many working and middle class families face.
Here’s what we can do: as citizens, we can tutor, spend time with an elderly neighbor, and donate items to local food pantries. We can work to improve economic conditions that keep talented students from receiving a college education. As citizens, we can also volunteer at community centers, places of worship, schools, and senior citizen homes to make sure our neighbors have enough to eat during the holiday season and throughout the year.
But private citizens shouldn’t have to go it alone. In Washington, we need to address the rising income inequality that has led to a shrinking middle class and slow economic recovery. That comes down to priorities – do we continue to support extra tax breaks for millionaires or do we invest in resources that create jobs and help Americans who are struggling?
In 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the commencement address at Antioch University in Yellow Springs, Ohio, the alma mater of his wife, Coretta Scott King. On the moral question of confronting poverty, Dr. King said, “There is no deficit in human resources. The deficit is in human will.”
Our nation’s prosperity depends on a strong middle class, and the opportunity for Americans to join the middle class.
And our state’s strength has always been rooted in our residents and their rich spirit of volunteerism and service. As Thanksgiving and the holiday season approaches, Connie and I are grateful for the Ohioans who spend their time working in food pantries and food banks, and in schools, hospitals, and senior centers. Such citizens are making heroic efforts to fight poverty and hunger.
To our servicemembers returning home for the holidays, and to our troops serving overseas, our thoughts and prayers remain with you and your families.
These selfless Americans, like the family who continued to give back in their hour of need, remind us that across Ohio, there is no deficit of will. It reflects the fundamental character of who we are as Americans, and we affirm this each holiday season. Women and men in uniform who continue to serve our nation, families who continue to serve meals to our neighbors, and public servants who work to keep our communities safe prove that we have the will.