LIFT-Evanston opens Poverty Awareness Week with expert panel

Meghan Morris

LIFT-Evanston is hosting its first week-long look at poverty. The group aims to spotlight both local and national poverty through documentary screenings, a panel discussion, community service and other activities.

At a Monday panel about poverty in the Chicagoland area, Northwestern professors Mary Pattillo and Lindsay Chase-Lansdale discussed the causes and effects of poverty as well as its potential solutions.

“We can’t benefit the larger Northwestern community if we, as students, don’t openly discuss issues Evanston residents face,” said LIFT-Evanston student co-director La Donna Smith.

“We wanted students to understand the larger systemic issues of poverty that are relevant not only to people of lower income,” the SESP senior added.

LIFT-Evanston student co-director Caroline Linden, a Weinberg senior, cited the rising Evanston poverty rate as an important indicator that students need to be involved in the greater community. The city’s 2010 poverty rate was 17.3 percent, a “statistically significant” increase from 2009’s 9 percent, according to Heartland Alliance’s Social IMPACT Research Center.

Poverty Awareness Week kicked off Sunday with a food stamp challenge. Ten students, both from LIFT-Evanston and non-LIFT-affiliated, will spend the week living on the monetary equivalent of food stamps, about $5 a day. This program began Sunday and ends Saturday.

On Tuesday, the group will screen the documentary “Waging a Living” and sleep at the Rock to “highlight homelessness,” Linden said. LIFT-Evanston is then partnering with a Hillel student group to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches Wednesday for an Evanston food bank. Students can make sandwiches outside of Kellogg from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sheridan Road.

“The purpose is to talk about hunger, and you get some tangible benefits from the event, too,” said Weinberg sophomore Aaron Levine, who is in charge of public relations for LIFT-Evanston.

The group will screen another documentary and host a discussion about unemployment in the Midwest on Thursday. Lisa Nigro, the founder of Chicago nonprofit Inspiration Corporation, will be the keynote speaker Friday, and the week concludes with the “Food Stamp Challenge Banquet” at noon on Saturday.

Bienen sophomore Madelyn Ross said she decided to attend the panel after she saw a flyer on the NU Evanston campus. She said students can too easily forget about poverty.

“We all can get stuck in our own worlds and not think globally about what’s outside of Northwestern,” Ross said.

Monday’s discussion centered on the causes of poverty, particularly the American economy’s structure as compared to peer countries, as well as potential solutions to decrease poverty levels.

“The screenings and panel are supposed to be informative and make you want to get involved,” Levine said.

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