Johnson County has a reputation that many residents of the metro area could confirm without skipping a beat: privileged, well-off, and oblivious to the world outside the cozy bubble of suburbia.
These generalizations are not entirely unfounded, as Johnson County continues to lead the Kansas City metro area in median household income at $73,733, according to data collected by the United States Census Bureau.
With such a generous figure of wealth, it may come as a surprise to hear that poverty not only exists in this area, but it’s on the rise. In fact, from 2000 to 2010, numbers from United Community Services of Johnson County show the poverty rate rose 134 percent — the largest increase in poverty among neighboring suburban counties.
It’s easy to believe poverty couldn’t possibly be an issue when cruising around campus and immediately surrounding areas. But it’s these generalizations that make it even more difficult for those living in Johnson County to seek help when they need it, or to even find assistance when they do seek it out.
The resources are available if you know where to look, but often times this information does not make it to the young adult demographic. Jokes about ramen noodles and ketchup sandwiches run rampant about the college lifestyle, but for many in the metro, including our own students, it isn’t a joke. It’s a reality.
In November 2011, members of the student association Students In Free Enterprise (SIFE) addressed this need on campus by establishing a food pantry in OCB 272. The pantry is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and is available to any student, no questions asked. In addition to food items, personal care and baby items are also accepted for donation at the pantry.
With such a great resource available to students, how many have actually been taking advantage of it? Representatives of the pantry have estimated about ten students visit each week. This number seems small, but the reason is most likely due to lack of promotion rather than a lack of need.
With so much wealth in this county it’s hard to imagine an excuse for poverty here, but poverty and hunger are not going away. That much is apparent. Instead of pulling the North Face hoodies over their eyes or hiding their heads in oversized Coach bags like cartoon ostriches, citizens should face the facts.
How can we help? We can start by sharing our abundance with those who must wonder if they’ll have enough money for textbooks after buying diapers and food for their toddler. Or ponder, once again, heading to the dollar menu instead of the kitchen for dinner after a long day in class.
Even if we have no goods to give, we can give the gift of our time and compassion by volunteering to staff the food pantry, or actively make rounds to gather donations. But perhaps the most important and easiest way to help is by simply spreading the word of the college food pantry and dispelling the Johnson County daydream.