ANNE EICKSTADT PHOTO Belvidere Republican
Volunteer Jennifer McCormick portrays a teacher about to give a test to her classroom of students during the Poverty Simulation. In the distance (on the left) a line of people are applying for jobs.

By Anne Eickstadt


The Boone County Hunger Coalition hosted a Poverty Summit on Friday, Feb. 14 from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the Belvidere South Middle School for educators and community leaders. The Poverty Simulation was conducted to help participants begin to understand what it might be like to be a family living in poverty, trying to survive from month to month.

“This is the third time the Boone County Hunger Coalition is hosting the Poverty Simulation,” said Amanda Mehl, Public Health Administrator. “It’s exciting.”

Participants step into the shoes of these families, when they participated in the event. “We had a presenter from the Northern Illinois Food Bank who discussed their work in Boone County and presented available data for our more vulnerable community members.”

In the afternoon, participants used a simulation kit to role-play the lives of low-income families in the community of ‘Realville.’ Some were Temporary Assistance to Needy Families recipients, some disabled, and others senior citizens on Social Security. Each group received Family Profile sheets and a character to portray from parents to children. Volunteers for the Simulation attended each station – You-Trust-Us Bank, grocery store, Community Action, Payday Advance, pawnbroker, schoolteacher, General Employer, Health Care, Police Officer, and other businesses or organizations.

Participants had the stressful task of providing for basic necessities and shelter on a limited budget for one month, which was simulated by four 15-minute “weeks.” They interacted with human service agencies, grocers, pawnbrokers, bill collectors, job interviewers, police officers, and others.

Although play money was used, it was not a game. It was a simulation that enables participants to look at poverty from a variety of angles, and then to recognize and discuss the potential for change within their local communities. The Poverty Simulation will help community members and business leaders better comprehend the realities of poverty.

Some families were evicted in the course of the simulation. Others found themselves in long lines to be hired or in buying groceries. (Some families did not go shipping for one, two, or three weeks.) Some turned to crime or left their young children at home alone.

“This program helps people understand the complexities and challenges of living in poverty day-to-day,” said Amanda Mehl, Public Health Administrator for the Boone County Health Department. “With a greater awareness of its impact, we can more effectively address the needs in our community. We want to raise awareness in our community leaders and professionals. We want more people to engage with the Boone County Hunger Coalition to understand and help improve food security and poverty in Boone County.”

According to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap 2018, 7.3% people of Boone County residents are food insecure. That equals 3,900 people in our community with an annual food budget shortfall of $1,729,000.00. The Poverty Simulation is designed to sensitize those who frequently interact with economically challenged families as well as to create a broader awareness of poverty among policymakers, community leaders and others.

The Boone County Hunger Coalition has put together a comprehensive Food Security Action Plan outlining the root causes, goals and strategies to ensure a continuity of services, providing a forum for addressing food insecurity, increasing awareness and providing education on the issue of hunger and food insecurity in our community.


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