Editor’s Note: To read more about Miles for Merry Miracles assisting local youth, and to read a column on poverty by opinion editor Christy Avery, see today’s print edition of The Bagpiper.
Teresa Hebert is the Miles for Merry Miracles coordinator. She frequently works with various charities and organizations centered around poverty and education.
B: The holidays can be a challenging time for those in need. What do you think are some of the struggles they face, and why do you think poverty is such an issue?”
TH: “Kids who come back from Christmas, they see all of their friends who have gotten this or gotten that. They feel thankful for shoes and clothes, but all these other kids have gotten Xboxes and tickets to the nicest concerts in town…. A lot of people, especially this time of year, feel like they have to compete… but we forget that the greatest gift is the gift of giving. I don’t remember 90 percent of the gifts I got, but I remember how I felt.”
B: What differences have you observed, if any, in the way poverty affects children versus adults?
TH: “Kids in poverty, they often don’t know it. And I’m happy to know that they don’t know it. But I remember, six years ago, a mom—she had maybe four kids—I asked her, “What would you like for Christmas?” She wanted an umbrella and blue eye makeup. It made me sad that was all she wanted. She could’ve asked for anything.”
B: For those who aren’t in need, what can they do to give back?
TH: “All they have to do is look. It’s easy to find volunteer opportunities. JustServe.org will match you up with someone who is looking for volunteers. There’s so many who are yearning to do more, but just aren’t being challenged. Like at Highland Hills, there have been 7th graders who, when we gave them a sheet and said “you need two hours of service” end up volunteering for 200 hours. It’s the three Ts: time, talent, treasures. Use those. You have a lot to give.”
B: Should volunteering come with an incentive?
TH: “While I would I initially say there shouldn’t be an incentive, there are so many destructions going on, that sometimes you just need something to push you over the edge. Over the past 40 years, the poverty rate in our nation hasn’t changed much at all. Why is it staying around 12 percent for 40 years when there are so many organizations out there trying to help? We have CEOs in our nation that are making 300 million dollars a year, but we have a food charity that could change the world making 85,000 dollars a year. What is wrong with that picture?
I’ve found that once we get kids to our events, they have fun and they’re willing to do it the next time without an incentive. Because if they’re doing good, they can’t be doing bad.”
B: What does M4MM do? How do they help the community?
TH: “The history is in 2008, during the housing crisis, a lot of people lost their homes. My son who started the organization… he realized that to know his community, he had to be out in his community.
“It’s a youth-serving, youth-led organization that partners with other youth organizations like Salvation Army, MyClub, and Kentucky Refugee Ministries.M4MM works to provide them children in poverty with toys, shoes, clothing, coats, and food, especially during the two weeks they’re out of school during the holidays.”
B: Describe how our local area is being helped this holiday season
TH: “There are amazing churches and organizations like Hope Southern Indiana, Shop with a Cop, and families and kids that are willing to give up a little bit of their Christmas so they can help other kids. We probably have 35 sponsors willing to invest in M4MM and our youth leaders to make Christmas magical for the kids who may not get a Christmas.”
B: Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
TH: “I would say the best way to minimize poverty is through education and a healthy lifestyle. Not doing drugs, smoking, not having sex when you’re young, being in a healthy relationship. Live, learn, give, earn. Being in a strong family is a central unit to society. And also, to not spend more than you have, don’t get yourself into debt and don’t have a bunch of credit.”
Tabitha Lopp is a stay-at-home mother of four living in Southern Indiana. Lopp offered to give her thoughts on the topic of poverty from personal experience.
B: What is your day-to-day life like during the holidays?
TL: “I’m a mother of four and it’s really hard, because you see everybody doing Christmas shopping, and you hear about everybody doing Black Friday, and everybody’s getting gifts… for us, it’s a little hard because we don’t get to do that extra. If it weren’t for the fact of the Angel Tree and things like that, you know, our children may not have anything under the tree… Christmas is supposed to be a joyous time, it’s supposed to be happy, and it’s really hard and stressful rather than happy for us.”
B: Do you think there are misconceptions around how the cycle of poverty begins for people?
TL: “At times, yes. I feel like a lot of your maybe higher-class [people] and things like that look at poverty as laziness, really. They look at it like, how is it that they can make it to where they’re at, but yet, we’re down here ‘not doing anything.’ I think that sometimes instead of people being more humble about it, they are more judgemental, honestly. And really, it makes it hard for people who are in poverty to ask for help or to reach out or things like that because they fear the judgement… I’ve only done the Angel Tree for the past two years, and even for me, it’s hard to go in there because I don’t want them to think I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing. But in this day and age it’s hard to make ends meet.”
B: Do you feel that wealthy or otherwise privileged families spend too much at Christmas? Do you feel like there’s an over-commercialization?
TL: “Honestly, I think if they’re happy and if they’re able to do that, then that’s their own personal thing. It’s not for me to say… If they’re able to do that, that’s absolutely wonderful.”
B: Do you think there’s a stigma that comes along with being poor? If so, what and why?
TL: “I definitely think that wealthier people don’t quite understand. They’re not as accepting. And I do think, as we said earlier, that they do look at it a lot as us being lazy and not giving our full potential and things, when sometimes that’s really not the case. I’m not gonna say always, because I’m sure there are people in poverty, who, it’s on their own behalf. But there’s a lot of times too, just like in my situation, my husband does work, but even with him working, I’m a stay-at-home mom of four kids, so his paycheck that he gets doesn’t always make ends meet. It’s enough to kind of get us by as far as bills and things, but when it comes to the holidays… trying to keep up with bills plus doing holiday shopping and things, it makes it hard. So yes, I do think there’s a lot judgment, and I think they don’t quite understand unless they’ve been there.”
B: What do you wish that others knew or that you could tell them?
TL: “I wish that, people who are in poverty, knew that it is okay to ask for help. It is okay to struggle. All the way down to when I was a child, I have dealt with this kind of thing. It is okay to ask for help. I think that, people that are more wealthy, I think they need to understand more and instead of passing judgment be more compassionate about it. I feel like if you are wealthy and have the means to help people then you should, and it doesn’t even have to be nothing major.”
B: Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
TL: “I just know that for us, it’s supposed to be a happy, wonderful time, and a lot of that gets taken from us in poverty due to the fact of all the stress and the worry and things. And while they’re [people not in poverty] are enjoying their families and all of the above, there’s a lot of people who don’t have that… who may not have gifts come. I just wish that there was more compassion in the world.”