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Are Our Neighborhoods Poor?

How do you know who exactly is poor? What is society’s definition of poor and, most importantly, why do people look down on people who are poor? These were tough questions that I had when I first started college at Buffalo State. When I first started asking these questions, I really had no idea where to start. One day as I was passing through one of the buildings, I noticed a sign for a group on campus known as New York State Public Interest Research Group. After class I decided to take a gander down to their main office. When I walked into the room, signs and posters caught my attention all across the walls. These posters were for homelessness and hunger and environmental protection. Here was my chance to finally figure out some of these questions.

As I began working for NYPIRG, I helped in various clothes and food drives. I learned that this group cares about the general public, and that it is fighting for the good of society. As I was working, I still felt that something was missing. I did not feel that my questions were really being answered. Sure, what we were doing was good for the community, but it did not help me to answer my questions. After a few months I decided to start volunteering at a local food pantry in West Seneca. Here was my chance to finally see what people were like when they were poor. As I started volunteering, I had to travel across West Seneca (specifically area code 14224) to deliver food to needy families. Many of these poor people were not “bums” or “lazy,” but rather were hardworking and dedicated people. They were people who did not want the extra help. I saw that these people cared and through their stubbornness often looked down on themselves for collecting food. The kind of poverty that lingers around here is not because of people being lazy, but rather are our veterans, single mothers and fathers working two jobs, and elderly people who are collecting little to no social security. These are people who have been the backbone of our society, and yet they are left with nothing. Some of these people are also adjunct professors who are making little to no money with PhDs.

I was confused by this. I still was curious about these people and how they got by making a living. Later on in 2012 I applied for the director position for the food pantry, and was immediately accepted for the job. Here I was 21 years old running a pantry with over 50 volunteers. The volunteer delivery part was easy compared to working as the director. Working as the director I have had to interview families, and have been responsible for denying and accepting people into our programs. I began to see a side of poverty that was left unknown and quieted by society. We have been responsible for raising money and food for all different people across West Seneca. Fourteen Holy Helpers Food Pantry has served over 1,200 families this past year just in the area code 14224 alone. We have worked with people from all different backgrounds and ethnicities.

The people that I discovered that are really poor are not just the people walking the streets, but are also the people struggling to make that late payment to the gas company to keep their homes heated. The single mothers and fathers raising kids on a single, sometimes double income. These people are our friends, and even relatives. These are people who do not want to be considered poor, do not want handouts, and most importantly want to make an honest living. As a society, we must continue to look out for each other, and we must continue to fight against poverty. What I have learned over the past four years is that poverty is all around us whether we chose to believe it or not. It is a struggling and growing problem not just here in Buffalo, but all across America. My challenge to everyone in Buffalo is to get involved. Use those extra couple hours a week to do something that helps everyone. We spend most of our lives chancing our dreams. Why not help others to also help achieve their dreams too. When everyone in society is working towards a goal, we are strong, we are free, and most importantly we are successfully united as one.

- David Buczek , Fourteen Holy Helpers Pantry Director

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