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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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December 11, 2006

Reaching out to suburban poor


For the first time, more poor live in suburbs than cities, the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. reported this week.

The report had some interesting findings:

• In 1999 large cities and their suburbs had nearly equal numbers of poor individuals, but by 2005 the suburban poor outnumbered their city counterparts by at least 1 million.
• Poverty rates rose significantly in Midwestern and Southern metropolitan areas, but remained steady in the West and Northeast.
• In cities and suburbs where overall poverty rates rose from 1999 to 2005, child poverty rates rose faster.

The news struck me. I, myself, am a suburbanite. I live in the Midwest, a few blocks away from Naperville, Ill., recently named the second “best place to live” by Money Magazine, and ranked the third “kid-friendliest” city in the nation by Population Connection. With all of those accolades, it’s easy to forget that my neighbors, and likely some of my children’s friends and classmates, are struggling day to day.

While the report surprised me, I wasn’t completely taken aback by it. Just over a month ago, our church, Our Saviour’s Lutheran, Naperville, hosted a one-day free health clinic for the elderly, uninsured, jobless, homeless – anyone in need. The clinic provided free physicals and screenings, dental exams, clothing, haircuts, manicures, food, and even free family portraits.

About 650 individuals from the surrounding area came that day. I don’t know who was more blessed – the families and individuals served, or the volunteers who worked hard to make the day a success. It was gratifying to see people leave with a smile, armed with bags of food, clothing and other necessities to sustain them for a while. And even though some of those supplies likely have been depleted by now, hopefully clients will long remember the love of Christ shown to them that day.

Whether living in the suburbs, inner city neighborhoods or in rural America, opportunities abound to help others. If hosting a free clinic interests you or your congregation, contact Touched Twice United, which describes itself as a “Christ-centered, faith-based organization that strives to bring peace and healing to the community.” Our congregation did, and we are planning a clinic for next year. As the Brookings Institution report confirms, needs will continue.

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