The headline was startling: “Poverty rose faster in this Sacramento suburb than anywhere else in California.” Sadly, those of us who see the faces of poverty firsthand were not at all surprised by the report last month in The Sacramento Bee.
The estimated jump in the poverty rate in Arden Arcade last year was the largest of any of the nearly 140 California cities examined in the 2016 American Community Report by the U.S. Census.
We have new neighbors who need our help. And we are not as different from each other as we may seem.
Between 2015 and 2016, the report found, poverty in the suburban neighborhood between Carmichael and North Sacramento jumped from 19.9 percent to 27.7 percent, the highest in at least a decade.
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Part of the increase has to do with an influx of refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Russia. They have been housed in the Arden Arcade area by refugee resettlement groups because of its relative affordability.
These refugees have undergone years of vetting in order to arrive in the United States. They are in our country because they aided our military as interpreters and government contract workers.
In many cases, they have received a Special Immigrant Visa. They arrive with their families and not much else, and they are given a six-month time limit to learn our language, find a job and become self-sufficient.
Like others in low-income neighborhoods, these refugees may have a roof over their heads, but they struggle to provide nutritious and healthy food for themselves and their children. To assist them and all the food insecure in the Arden Arcade neighborhood, in fact, River City Food Bank is opening a second food distribution site at the Center at St. Matthew’s located at Edison and Bell Streets.
Owned by the Episcopal Diocese of Northern California, the center also houses wraparound services, including a charter school that offers several levels of English classes, a day care center, and a small clothes closet that are already helping to address the new need.
Recently, I watched two little boys interact with each other in the lobby of River City’s midtown food bank. Both were about 3 years old. One spoke English, the other Arabic.
Their attempt to communicate through language was quickly abandoned, but they worked to find common ground. They jumped up and down to see who could jump higher; they peeked around corners to see who could surprise who faster; they found nonsense syllables combined with silly faces to see who could make the other laugh first. They were so cute and amusing as they unknowingly entertained the entire lobby of adults waiting to receive food.
Seeing them, I was struck by two thoughts. Sadly, the first was that, like them, a quarter of the children in Sacramento County are food insecure. But the second was that they were completely oblivious to their differences. They simply found delight in playing together, as children do.
I think we can learn from those children. We have new neighbors who need our help. And we are not as different from each other as we may seem.
In Arden Arcade, this is a time for individuals, businesses, organized groups and government entities to work together. We can address this new need as neighbors all over the world do, with a friendly hand and sufficient food, safety and security until they get their bearings. This is an opportunity for all of us to think globally and act locally.
Eileen Thomas is executive director of the River City Food Bank in Sacramento. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.