1 in 7 Americans in Poverty: How You Can Help Your Neighbors

The results of the latest Census report are devastating: one in seven Americans live in poverty. Here are some ways you can help your own community.

The US Census Bureau has just released its new report—and the results are more shocking than expected. As of 2009, one in every seven Americans was living in poverty, defined as a family of four living on less than $21,954 a year. Meanwhile, foreclosures are still on the rise, up 25 percent in the last year.

Maybe you’re one of the millions of Americans just scraping by. But, if you are lucky enough to have time and resources to share, here are a few small ways that you can help your neighbors. It won’t change the world, but if you can make a difference in one person’s life, you’ve done enough.

Organize a food or clothing drive. Coordinate your drive with a non-profit group like United Way, which can provide you with tips on how to pull off a successful donation drive. As the weather gets colder, encourage friends and co-workers to cast off old sweaters, coats, and blankets, so they can be given to the people who need them most.

Volunteer at a local food pantry or community center. Most communities offer services to those who’ve fallen on hard times—you’ll often find them at churches, community centers, and food pantries. If you have some time to spare, volunteer to collect and sort food donations, or to help out with a free childcare program. For opportunities within your area, check out Idealist.org.

Know a family in crisis? Be there for them. When you’re already pushing hard to make ends meet, a crisis like a major health condition can devastate a family. If you know someone headed for disaster, find out what they need, whether it’s food, help with childcare, money for mortgage payments, or simply moral support. With their permission, rally your local community, school, or church to help them get back on their feed.

Donate to groups that help your local community. You may receive requests to donate a few dollars to panhandlers every time you go down the street, but your money will do more good if you give it to an organization dedicated to helping people get off the streets and receive the services they need. Make a contribution to your local homeless shelter, your local chapter of Feeding America or United Way, or another group that’s doing good for the people where you live.

Make a microfinance loan to help an American entrepreneur. Since the credit crunch, millions of hard workers have been prevented from obtaining credit to start or manage their independent businesses. You can help by providing a micro-donation or loan (anywhere from $10 to $50) to help fund a struggling business. Kiva, Grameen America, and ACCION USA all provide services to connect lenders and borrowers. By loaning or donating just a few dollars, you could help keep a small business alive.

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