Liberty students need to answer the call to help alleviate Lynchburg poverty rate
Lynchburg has the highest poverty rate out of any city in Virginia.
There is a good chance you did not know that, and an even better chance that, in two minutes, you will finish reading this column, put the paper down and go about your day. You may ask your friend, “Hey did you know Lynchburg has the highest poverty rate in the state?”
That is it, though. That will likely be the extent of your fight against poverty.
But a poverty rate of 24.8 percent, a number revealed by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, cannot be ignored. It cannot be swept under the rug. It first needs to be acknowledged, and then it must be fought head-on through a collaboration of the local government and the people of Lynchburg.
Another big problem, though, is that we as college students may not consider ourselves to be Lynchburg residents, and we do not think we can make much of a difference in our four years here.
A 24.8 percent poverty rate, though, means that—hypothetically—if you walk by four people in downtown Lynchburg, you will likely pass by someone in poverty. If you walk around the city for an hour, it is almost certain you will encounter someone impoverished.
With poverty that widespread, the impact one person or student can make is tremendous—there is no reason to believe that you cannot contribute. Because just as Lynchburg has seen the rise of its residents in poverty, it has also seen a rise in programs and nonprofits created to help raise households out of impoverished conditions.
Fighting poverty can be as easy as volunteering at those organizations—Lynchburg Daily Bread, Lynchburg Grows and the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, for starters. This past year, the City of Lynchburg introduced a “Poverty to Progress” initiative that seeks to create a volunteer network to help those who cannot make ends meet, and getting involved with that is as easy as Googling when the next meeting is (Oct. 5 at E.C. Glass High School, for those too lazy to Google).
Alleviating poverty will become a lot easier, too, if we as a community stop stigmatizing the impoverished. One does not need to beg on the street to be in poverty. There are single mothers who work for minimum wage, unskilled laborers who got laid off and widows who just had their mortgage foreclosed who do not know where to turn for help.
These people do not hold big signs reading, “I am in poverty.” It is up to you and me to get connected with the churches and organizations of this city that can connect us with those in poverty so that we are able to assist them in ways we are skilled and able to.
I say all of this not to guilt or shame you, but rather to bring about awareness. Liberty University continually stresses the idea of service, but I believe we as a student body have a tendency to look outwards in our service. We believe we need to travel to a third-world country to make a difference when there are nearly 20,000 people right here Lynchburg who are in need.
And do not misquote me. It is not Liberty’s job, nor the job of the church, to eradicate poverty altogether. Poverty will always exist, and it is through an increase of jobs and skilled labor in an area that will make the most difference in stopping poverty at its roots.
But for those who are struggling, it is our job as the largest Christian university in the country to help alleviate the pain and hardships that they regularly face. We as an institution should not look at this problem as a plague or curse, but rather as a great opportunity to be the hands and feet of Christ in our community.
Through capitalizing on this opportunity, Liberty students can create positive change for our neighbors: the people we walk by, talk to
and interact with on a day-to-day basis. The people we were taught to love in Sunday school, the people who need our help—right here, right now.