The Herald Bulletin

November 16, 2013

Tim Kean: Self-sufficiency is a moving target

The Herald Bulletin

---- — I think I’m independent, my wife calls it stubbornness. I haven’t been very good about asking for help when I probably should have.

My lower back lets me know this often. The condition didn’t develop from sitting in a chair. I believe everyone should do what they can for themselves for as long as they can.

When someone needs help, I am ready and willing to help as long as it’s necessary and stop as soon as it isn’t. That pivotal point is figuring out when it’s OK to stop. We’re usually capable of much more than we think we are.

Having to struggle is part of life and I have learned some valuable lessons in the process. But, there’s difference between struggling and slowly drowning.

Having to miss meals and not having enough food to feed your kids is not struggling, it’s slowly drowning. Hungry kids and hungry seniors in our community is disgraceful.

I’ve heard many ask why people in poverty behave the way they do. It’s about living and surviving in the moment. Many times we have seen those short-term decisions result in long term consequences. I wish I could say that it’s never happened to me, but I wouldn’t be honest. It’s amazing how a steady job with some income will help you wash away some short-term bad decisions.

People in generational poverty really know no different way to live, no desire to change, or have no idea of where to start. Roughly around 10 percent of clients will visit a food pantry every time it’s open during the year. Having seen that firsthand for a number of years, some in our society are unemployable and probably always will be.

I’ve been surprised many times that some can make it to the pantry on their own. They’re in survival mode, generational poverty. Living in deep poverty is about survival today, not yesterday and certainly not tomorrow. Am I going to be able to feed my family tonight? Will we be able to stay warm tonight? Will we be safe? If we can just get through this day, maybe something will be better tomorrow, (hope). In reality, what’s going to be different about tomorrow? More than likely, not much.

But tomorrow seems too far away to worry over.

Did you know that the average client visits a food pantry only three times a year? If you don’t believe that, you will if you do the math. Most who visit a food pantry are in situational poverty. People in situational poverty are under water and holding their breath scrambling to climb back up so they can breathe again, no matter how meager the existence. The idea of upward mobility to a better life is mostly unbelievable, (maybe someone else could make it, but probably not me).

There are those who do make it, so it can be done. There’s the dilemma, when should the help stop and the self-sufficiency take over?

Tim Kean is executive director of Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana. His column appears the third Sunday of each month. He can be reached at