Monday, April 27, 2020

The Difference

What is the difference between me and my family and the hundreds of people who come out six days a week to gratefully receive food and other needed supplies from the sites operated by Columbia Community Care? As time goes by I have been thinking about this a lot.

Of course, first and foremost comes White Privilege, which has guaranteed that generations of my family, leading up to me, could get decent jobs, a good education, buy houses in safe neighborhoods, and have enough to leave a little for their children. I didn’t get here by myself.

Next, my husband and I have jobs that allow us some stability. We are not “wealthy” by any stretch of the imagination. And yet, at least for now, we continue to be able to work from home and get paid. In this regard, we might as well be wealthy in comparison to so many of our Columbia/HoCo neighbors.

We live in a house we can afford to live in, and we have jobs that pay enough for the basics and a few extras. It is a very small house and we are pretty darned sensible with the extras. But right now that might as well look like the golden ticket compared to those whose service and low wage jobs have evaporated during the pandemic and whose housing takes far too big a bite out of their monthly budget.

I’ve written about this before, but it has come back to the front of my mind as I watch the massive effort put forth by Erika Strauss Chavarria and her team at Columbia Community Care. Why is their work necessary? I would argue that the combination of low wages and high housing costs is a recipe for disaster. Low wages are not specific to our area but the high cost of housing is definitely a local feature.

The work of Columbia Community Care, the Howard County Food Bank, and other such local efforts  is necessary not just because of the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic but, perhaps even more, because of the crazy imbalance our culture perpetuates for the marginalized.

We have all seen plenty of articles recently about the importance of essential workers during this crisis. So many of those people without whose work we cannot survive are the same people whose low wages and high housing costs leave them just barely making it during the best of times. What would happen if we, as a society, chose to honor the dignity of their work by insisting on a living wage, and pushed our elected officials to support affordable housing solutions and fought for them ourselves? What if we were determined to remove the barriers which keep members of our community perpetually behind, perpetually out of balance, and perpetually fearful?

Waxing eloquent about the dignity of work when we are painfully aware of how the grocery worker and the hospital cleaner are keeping us alive is nothing but talk if we quickly forget when things go “back to normal”. We have to do better than that.

In the meantime, Columbia Community Care has just unveiled their new website. I am amazed by their commitment in the face of such great need. Support them if you can. Just don’t forget that their mission, to provide compassionate care for symptoms produced by crisis and chronic poverty, is just a part of the solution. It’s still on all of us to fight the systemic inequities that cause it.

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