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New Poverty Numbers Show Missourians Still Facing an Uphill Battle

Photo: children eating at school program   Courtesy of frac.org
Photo: children eating at school program Courtesy of frac.org
September 24, 2012

FORSYTH, Mo. - Missourians aren't making much headway in digging themselves out of the recession. New figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show nearly 16 percent of Missourians living in poverty in 2011, about the same as the year before. That total includes more than 300,000 children.

In the Ozarks, where a lot of jobs are tourism-related, it's particularly tough during the off-season, says Charity Stillings. She serves around 100 meals a day to children at a Boys and Girls Club after-school program in Forsyth.

"Our numbers are constantly growing. We're near capacity for our facility."

Stillings says many parents run between two jobs to make ends meet, and she hopes serving their children nutritional snacks and suppers will help give the families a little of the support they need during these hard times.

Megan Connell runs a program called Gift of Hope, which sends nutritional food home with children every weekend. She says they used to average about 500 children a week, but now it's up to 750. She says historically they served a lot of children with single mothers, but now she's hearing from some frustrated fathers as well.

"Head-of-household males calling and asking for assistance and going, 'I don't know what to do. I cannot put food on my table for my kids and my wife.'"

While the poverty numbers show great need, Christine Woody, chapter coordinator with the Missouri Association for Social Welfare, says some after-school nutrition programs are underutilized. In some cases, she says, it's because the family has slipped out of the middle class for the first time, and parents don't know how to get into the program. Or, in other cases, they feel ashamed. But Woody has a message for them.

"This help is out there and it's available for their families at the time, and it's not going to be used forever, but it's just a way to get them through the hard times."

Missouri's 15.8 percent poverty rate is close to the national average, which has remained unchanged for the last two years. Mississippi had the highest poverty rate at just over 22 percent, and New Hampshire had the lowest at just under nine percent.

More information is at frac.org.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - MO