Toledo-area residents in need conflicted about public aid

3/4/2012
BY KATE GIAMMARISE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Roderick Wright packs up the food he has gathered from the Feed Your Neighbor program at Augsburg Lutheran Church in West Toledo.
Roderick Wright packs up the food he has gathered from the Feed Your Neighbor program at Augsburg Lutheran Church in West Toledo.

The basement of Augsburg Lutheran Church in West Toledo is bustling on a recent Friday morning.

The walls are lined with tables stacked with food — bags of pasta, bread, Corn Flakes. The center of the room is filled with rows of hard chairs — and people who have had to make hard choices.

This church basement seems a long way from the campaign trail and recent statements Republican presidential candidates have made concerning the poor and poverty programs such as food stamps that they’d cut.

But if you want to talk to people about the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor, it’s not a bad place to start.

Even among people in need, views surrounding poverty and public assistance are complex and sometimes conflicting.

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“I do agree [that] whoever gets assistance should get a drug screen,” said one woman, who asked only to be identified by her first name, Kathy, referring to recent proposals in a number of states that would drug test some or all assistance applicants. She said she believes that is only fair, since she had to be drug tested as an employee in a previous job.

Steve Drake, Feed Your Neighbor worker, helps Tammie Huth select food at Augsburg Lutheran Church. Ms. Huth said she thinks politicians’ comments denigrating people in need of assistance are absurd. Perhaps, she added, those politicians think low-income people don’t vote.
Steve Drake, Feed Your Neighbor worker, helps Tammie Huth select food at Augsburg Lutheran Church. Ms. Huth said she thinks politicians’ comments denigrating people in need of assistance are absurd. Perhaps, she added, those politicians think low-income people don’t vote.

Still, Kathy said she does believe the government should play a role in providing aid such as food stamps and believes many who are poor have been unfairly stereotyped. “It’s not like every person in here is lazy,” she said. “I never thought I’d be in a position where I needed help. I’m sure there’s others in a similar situation.”

Kathy worked at the same company for more than 20 years before she was laid off in September when her job was outsourced.

Debra Collins, 51, who was waiting to use the pantry, added, “I think people really need [assistance such as food stamps]. But then, you do have people that do abuse them. But if you didn’t have them, people would really suffer.”

And when it comes to the GOP candidates campaigning for president and their plans for reducing the cost of poverty programs, the poor at the food pantry at Augsburg Lutheran Church are united.

“In other words, they’re for the rich,” said Mary Wright, 61, of the candidates’ positions. Ms. Wright, who was using the pantry, said she does not receive any public assistance, but added, “I think it should be there for those that need it.”

Added Tammie Huth, 46, “I think their comments are absurd. If you’re in politics, you can’t downgrade people that are poor.” She said perhaps candidates denigrate programs such as food stamps because they believe low-income people don’t vote.

Contact Kate Giammarise at: kgiammarise@theblade.com or 419-724-6091.