Addressing suburban poverty in Naperville, Lehigh Valley

Two recent stories show the increase in suburban poverty is being addressed in Naperville, Illinois and Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania:

From modest beginnings, Naperville’s Loaves & Fishes food pantry has gone from serving eight families in 1984 to helping feed 18,564 last year and greatly expanding its range of services…

In addition to the 4,606 households served last year, Loaves & Fishes also provides job search assistance, public aid, and skill classes in computers, finances, nutrition and the English language…

“There’s poverty everywhere and people in peril,” said State Sen. Michael Connelly, a Naperville resident and volunteer. “Loaves & Fishes provides that safety net as people transition to another stage of their lives, thanks to that spirit of volunteerism here in Naperville.”

And in Pennsylvania:

But amid its McMansions, backyard pools and pristine parks lies a different Parkland, one that has long been hidden but is emerging, family by family, into view. It’s the Parkland of the poor…

Over the past five years, the district has seen a dramatic rise in the number of students living in poverty. A total of 1,605 students — about one in five — qualified this school year for free or reduced-price lunches, the benchmark for determining the level of low-income students in schools. That number could fill more than half the district’s eight elementary schools…

Parkland, East Penn, Salisbury Township and other districts have tackled the trend with new and enhanced programs designed to provide basic necessities — toothbrushes, bookbags, food — and supply the extra academic, emotional and social support that may be lacking at home…

In the Lehigh Valley, where the median household income is about $55,000, the biggest poverty spikes have been seen in traditionally wealthier suburban schools, where free and reduced-price lunch eligibility has jumped by 70 percent or more in a number of districts over the past six years.

Numerous suburban communities are facing such issues and trying to figure out how to address them. At the moment, many suburbs don’t have the kind of social structures or social services to serve larger populations. At the least, schools have to tackle the issue even if wealthier suburbs think poverty is an issue for other places to handle.

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