At the Table

Eula Hall is expecting 1,500 for Christmas dinner. Founder of the Mud Creek Clinic, Eula raised $5,000 to purchase 25 hams, 40 turkeys plus toys for the kids. She organized her friends and volunteers to start cooking a day early and fill take-home bags with fruit, nuts and candy stretching the dinner into area homes.

Mud Creek Clinic serves the residents of Floyd County, Kentucky, where the poverty rate hovers around 30 percent, with more than acute medical care. Eula represents one women with a vision of service to the poor. She worries about her neighbors living in drafty homes and seniors struggling between buying food or medicine. Nothing touches her heart more than children, so she responds.

Last year the U.S. Catholic bishops issued a pastoral message addressing poverty: A Place at the Table: A Catholic Recommitment to Overcome Poverty and to Respect the Dignity of All God’s Children. They noted in a land of opulence and billionaires one out of six children still grows up in poverty. And, if all 34 million Americans below the poverty line lived in one area, that region would be the second populous state in the U.S., larger than the population of Texas but slightly smaller than California’s.

The bishops chose the fitting image of a table, because people sit at a table to eat and they gather around a table to make decisions. People in poverty lack sufficient material goods for a dignified life, plus they are denied participation in deciding their own destiny. Overcoming poverty means fundamentally giving people a place at the table for eating and decision making.

Following through with their image, the bishops say this table rests on the efforts of four institutions, or legs, to overcome poverty: 1) families and individuals, 2) community and religious institutions, 3) the private sector and 4) government. Too often in the past addressing poverty focused on one leg to the neglect of the others.

Eula Hall and other generous hearts sprinkled throughout society will always care for the vulnerable at hand. Catholic Charities, the Red Cross and institutions like Mud Creek Clinic will serve clients as their means allow. The other two legs of the table, however, may need some adjusting.

The private sector continues to offer cheap consumer goods in part by paying low wages. The working poor — those who rise each morning, go to work and draw a meager paycheck — comprise 6.4 million workers. The national minimum wage of $5.15, set in 1997, cannot keep a family out of poverty, yet work should not leave people poor. What is needed is a national commitment to a living wage.

Finally, government over the last 20 years has shrunk social programs designed especially to serve the poor. James Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, says, “Hunger was a problem we came much closer to solving in the 1970s. Food stamps were more available, wages at the bottom were higher and there was less inequality.” The current trend to reduce the scale and power of government leaves the poor with an unsure safety net.

Overcoming poverty ultimately means critically examining the global economy and government’s legitimate social role. Four legs make a secure table.

Eula runs a food pantry at the Mud Creek Clinic serving about 100 families each month. She has an account at the clinic pharmacy for anyone unable to pay the $12 charge per prescription. Each week she divides the profits from the pop machine between the two.

For more information about Eula and her mission write the Mud Creek Clinic, P.O. Box 129, Grethel, Ky. 41361.

Fr. Rausch is a Glenmary priest who lives, writes and organizes in Appalachia.

(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)

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