Washington, D.C. — Washington is considered by many to be the world’s most powerful city, yet for the 25% of young people living in poverty in the District of Columbia, it is also one of the worst places to grow up. So asserts Joe Harris, Anacostia Community Outreach Center’s (ACOC) Executive Director—and he should know. Both Joe and ACOC were recently featured in an international BBC expose which boldly highlights the effects of the extreme poverty faced by many residents of our nation’s capital (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-25927024). And to illuminate that fact, BBC North America correspondent Rajini Vaidyanathan visited ACOC and the Langston Terrace Dwelling neighborhood we serve to get a closer look at the deplorable conditions in which some our families live—just blocks from Capitol Hill.
During her visit, Vaidyanathan visited Thomasina Reed and her son James, who are residents of the Langston Terrace Dwellings. James is an ACOC Summer Camp and after-school program student, and his mother is an active community member and ACOC volunteer. As a single parent, Thomasina relies on food from ACOC’s Food Pantry to provide for James, but realizes even that is sometimes not enough. With less than $100 a month on which to survive, she has struggled to feed her son. “I have to make sure, nutrition-wise, he has to be able to get a meal”, said Reed, also a breast cancer survivor. The bleak conditions of their apartment home are even starker: mold on the walls, exposed piping and unfinished repairs. The family also lacks central heat, and has had to use the oven to warm the apartment over this bitterly cold winter season. Vaidyanathan asked ACOC Executive Director Joe Harris to explain how District residents can begin to emerge from these conditions. “Education. The key to getting out of poverty is education. So I think the real issue is an emphasis on education, beginning with our early childhood, but also to adults.”
This is an issue faced by far too many District families, many of whom must survive month-to-month on only one income. According to DC Hunger Solutions, “Facts on Hunger in DC”, 2012, of the city’s 43 full-service grocery stores, only two are located in Ward 4, four in Ward 7, and 3 in Ward 8. Not only are the neighborhoods we serve some of the city’s most impoverished, but also the most underserved. For over 20 years, ACOC has been on the front line of helping underserved residents with food from our Food Pantry. Did you know that each month, ACOC hands out approximately 180 bags of groceries that go to feed over 250 children and families? Each bag of groceries contains frozen meats and fresh vegetables, and canned and dry good rations intended to feed a family of 4 for a week–that’s 911 meals per month.
ACOC is also on the front line of combatting poverty in DC, and this story only highlights the tremendous need for the programs and services we provide. Since 1981, the core of our mission has been to provide the resources residents need to end cycles of poverty, and we are poised to grow and continue these much needed programs and services for all residents of Washington DC for years to come! To learn more about ACOC, what we do, and how you can help us work toward our mission, please visit our website at anacostiaoutreach.org.