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'Silent, forgotten poor': Holiday drive to help low-income elderly women in southwestern North Dakota

To help support women living in poverty, Women Empowering Women is working to hold a holiday drive from now through Dec. 10.

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People can now donate monetary gestures to Women Empowering Women for its holiday drive that helps benefit low-income elderly women. The holiday drive will be held through Dec. 10, 2021. (Dickinson Press File Photo)
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Poverty among women in Stark County increased with the preliminary 2020 census. It is estimated that more than 250 women in Dickinson and 374 women in Stark County over the age of 65 are living in poverty. It is estimated that more than 125 women over the age of 75 in Dickinson are living in “extremely low income limits,” which is less than 30% of the median family income for Stark County.

As a way to help those low-income elderly women, Women Empowering Women in Dickinson is hosting a holiday drive from now until Dec. 10, with only monetary donations or gift cards being requested. Gift cards range from Walmart, grocery stores, gas cards, public transportation tickets and prepaid credit cards.

For Women Empowering Women President Ray Ann Kilen, this holiday drive is a way to highlight an underserved demographic who are sometimes known as the “silent, forgotten poor,” in which many of them are living on a total monthly income less than an average 30-year-old woman’s car expense.

“I think that unless we work with this population of elderly financial fragile women — and men — or if we have personal relationships (parents, family, neighbors) with them — we just have no idea and they are overlooked,” Kilen said. “A few years ago, we published a report on the Status of Women and Children in Stark County, which covers a lot of data in areas such as poverty, healthcare, childcare, etc., as it relates to women in our area. This report was provided to community leaders, including elected officials. Our hope was to highlight conditions overall that are impacting women and children. But we don’t know what type of information is out there beyond our holiday drive. I know there are a lot of efforts to support children, tweens, pets, families and persons with disabilities in our community at the holidays especially, but not much for this need. Unfortunately, there are so many needs.”

According to the Living Wage Calculator , the average living wage for one adult and no children in Stark County is $13.68 per hour or $28,454 annually. The poverty wage for one adult and no children in Stark County is estimated at $6.13 per hour or $12,750 annually — less than two times the amount for an average livable wage in Stark County.

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“I think why this has become so important to all of us is that we recognize how scary it must be to be barely getting by when we’re older — and no longer able to go out and generate income to help meet our needs,” Kilen said. “We know there are women (and men) in this community who are very old and live on $400-500 a month social security checks. They participate in programs to help for heating or food, but at the end of the day what does that really afford?”

Food prices have been on the rise in 2021. The Consumer Price Index for food released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service on Oct. 25, showed a year over year increase of 4.6%. However, the biggest rise is coming from the meat, poultry and fish category that has spiked 10.4% more than in 2020.

“I thought about how hard it must be to not be able to afford to purchase holiday meal ingredients for yourself — or to host your family/friends. So it’s gotten more expensive to buy food and everything else is more expensive, so any possible money you thought might be left over to help is needed in other areas,” Kilen remarked. “We think about how sad it is to need to ask for cleaning supplies and basic personal care items. We hope that each person we support can use a bit of their gift to buy something special for themselves and that it brings them joy. Or that maybe it helps them afford a small gift for those they love — because we know the importance of giving is to your heart.”

This is the third year Women Empowering Women have hosted this holiday drive, Kilen said, noting that it was happenstance how this charity event came to be.

“We happened across this need quite accidentally. We included Stark County Social Services Home and Community Based Services for the Elderly as a recipient of support at our first Be The Light event. There we hosted different programs that serve women in the community and guests were able to meet them and bring either cash or items needed for their programs. In advance, we published a list of items needed for each participating agency... As a group we were saddened to hear that the elderly women in our community were asking for things like shampoo or cleaning supplies because that is what they needed and they couldn’t afford these items on their budgets,” she said, adding, “The following year, we decided to host a holiday drive to help at the holidays — knowing that holidays bring additional stress to every budget — let alone those who are financially fragile. We also felt it was important to remind the community of their needs.”

Kilen continued, “Personally, I love hearing back how much it mattered to those who we were able to touch. The people who work with this population are so appreciative of the help as they see first-hand the struggles. And the notes from donors who are excited that we have provided a vehicle of support for this vulnerable population.”

Though the southwestern North Dakota population is known for its generosity throughout the holiday season, sometimes it can be easy to forget about this demographic, Kilen added.

“I think these are people who are not out in the community so much — they may be more homebound or, especially since COVID, choose to be more homebound. They are no longer working so we don’t see them in the workplace, they may be in our churches but that doesn’t mean we ‘see’ them and understand their vulnerability,” she said. “They are a proud generation and asking for help is difficult. Those who serve them — for example the churches, or social services, or other service agencies are bound by confidentiality so can’t really share their story.

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“I encourage people to donate to whatever cause calls their heart. We hope that this may be one of them. We know there are so many needs and we are honored to be a vehicle to reach them.”

Checks can be mailed to 5 Patterson Lake Drive, Dickinson, N.D., 58601. For additional information on this holiday drive or Women Empowering Women, email info@wewnetwork.org or Facebook message the organization through its direct page.

Related Topics: EVENTSDICKINSONSTARK COUNTY
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