By Anne Eickstadt

ANNE EICKSTADT PHOTO Belvidere Republican
The Poverty Summit brought poverty level issues into sharp focus for participants on Tuesday, April 16 at the Community Building Complex. Here, they stand in line as they seek jobs.


The Boone County Hunger Coalition is a collaborative network of interdisciplinary stakeholders that are committed to ensuring continuity of services, providing a forum for addressing food insecurity, and increasing awareness and providing education on the issue of hunger and food insecurity in our community.

Their mission is to educate the community about hunger and food insecurity and increase access to food resources for our most vulnerable populations: children, families, and seniors.

Members of the Northern Illinois Food Bank addressed the participants both before and after the simulation and assumed many of the roles of resource providers in the community during the exercise. The event was held at the Community Building Complex, 111 w. 1st St.

The Community Action Poverty Simulation breaks down stereotypes by allowing participants to step into the real life situations of others. Poverty is often portrayed as a stand-alone issue – but this simulation allows individuals to walk a month in the shoes of someone who is facing poverty and realize how complex and interconnected issues of poverty really are.

The simulation involves participants who take on the roles of members of up to 26 families, all facing a variety of challenging, but typical, circumstances.

-A single parent with limited resources and no transportation must find a way to get to work and get their child to daycare.

-An elderly person must find a way to pay for both utilities and medication.

-A young adult must care for siblings while their parent is incarcerated.

-An elderly couple must raise their grandchildren and deal with their own health and employment issues.

After the experience, individuals then have the opportunity to discuss what they’ve learned with their peers.

To start the simulation exercise, each family is given a card explaining its unique circumstances. It is then the families’ task to provide food, shelter, and other basic necessities by accessing various community resources during the course of four 15-minute “weeks.”

In addition, about 20 volunteers – preferably people who have experienced poverty – play the roles of resource providers in the community. This allows individuals who have first hand knowledge of poverty bring their perceptions to the exercise.

The Community Action Poverty Simulation is conducted in a large room. Participants are seated in family groups and community resources are located at tables around the perimeter of the room. The facilitator opens the simulation with an orientation to the activity, goes over ground rules, and answers participant questions during the exercise. The activity lasts about three hours. This time frame includes an introduction and briefing by the facilitator, the simulation exercise, and a guided debriefing in which participants and volunteers share their observations and insights from the activity.

During the exercise, one family swiftly moved in with another family to save money. One teen was stuck in Juvenile Detention until his mother could come get him – it took a week until the mother noticed he was missing and she had to wait until Monday to get him released because she needed to get transportation. A baby was left alone at home all week and Family Services had to step in. A couple of families were evicted from their homes.

Child Care cared for children who were never picked up at the end of the day and some parents never paid their bill so their children were not allowed to remain. “Child care is too expensive,” said one family.

Surprisingly, many families did not purchase groceries for one, two, three, and, in one case, even four weeks. Many persons went without medicine so they could pay their mortgage.

No one during this simulation discovered the Food Pantry. Most never found Community Services – a non-governmental assistance program. Many people were frustrated by the length of the lines at Social Services and at the bank.

Others lost time at work because they had to bail their child out of jail. (“I found something on the way to school – someone told me it was a gun.”) (“It’s just black licorice in the shape of a gun – I like black licorice.”)

In real life:

During fiscal year 2018, the Northern Illinois Food Bank – through more than 800 pantries, soup kitchens, and feeding sites – provided nearly 66 million meals to more than half a million people across their 13 county service area.

In Boone County, 3900 residents, or 7.3 percent, are food-insecure. Of that number…

For complete article, pick up the April 25 Belvidere Republican.

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