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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

Poverty – “What’s it All About?”

Updated: Feb 24, 2020

Being poor and dealing with the poor is not a new dilemma. The origin of the word “philanthropy” comes from the Greek words philo, or love, and anthropos, which means mankind. Poverty is present in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible and recorded in the Talmud in regard to Jewish law. The Talmud addresses the question of how much a poor man should be given, “Sufficient for his needs in that which he wanteth.” Therefore, if someone is hungry, he should be fed; if he needs clothing, he should be clothed; everyone should be supplied with what he needs. Is it that simple?

Christianity views poverty in a similar way, with a focus on good deeds, loving thy enemy and gaining entry into heaven through charitable deeds. The practice of helping those in need is still very active in many churches, social and fraternal organizations. This action is separate from the state and local welfare system, separation of church and state. Most colonial settlers in America were poor to begin with. Many of them — such as my seventh Great-Grandfather Richard Pettingell, who arrived in Salem Massachusetts in 1629 — came to the New World as indentured servants. Upon arriving in America, one faced incredible hardships and deprivation. Taking care of the poor was an immediate problem. Even with favorable chances of acquiring land or earning a living in groundbreaking ways in the New World, it was almost impossible to escape poverty and the multitude of social skills that followed them from the Old World. Each colony soon had to deal with the task of caring for the poor, the elderly, the blind, the sick, the lame, the mentally disabled, the lazy, and the multi-faceted destitute. Survival depended on communities coming together and supporting one another. If someone needed help, the colonists came together and helped their neighbors. It was a matter of subsistence and it was the only way to do so. This support system was essential to the survival of the entire community through the assistance of individuals. Colonial assemblies soon transformed the need to help the poor, a responsibility of the taxpayers on a local level. Initially, in New England, the town was responsible for their poor and then transitioned to "County Poor Farms." Throughout the years, welfare has slowly become more and more of a burden that is gaining momentum and resources are harder to access. This becomes a tax and budget issue, which rears its ugly head during election campaigns and then funding is juggled around to fit the needs of the current administration. The question that we must ask ourselves and those who are running for political office is, “What can we do to make authentic changes that will address the ever growing issue of poverty?” And then… we need to follow through.


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