Rethinking Poverty

Welcome This is one of those posts that people will love or hate, but I want to share something that’s been on my mind for a while now. We all get those moments, right?  What I am sharing is from my own personal experiences.  I don’t know every single circumstance people are going through.  I only know what I have been taught and what I have been through myself.  So today I want us to rethink “poverty.”

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Food For Thought  My eighteen years in public education were in schools with a high level of “poverty.”  From a migrant farm community in Arkansas to the inner city to a low-income pocket found in an affluent suburb, I’ve worked with many families and their children that could be labeled “poor.”  I think I was drawn to these areas for my teaching because I could identify with some of their experiences.  Some, but not all.  In my work, I was also immersed in professional development for this particular population.  Ruby Payne has been very popular with educators for her work in studying the patterns of poverty.  Information is always useful and I certainly wanted to grow in my understanding of certain areas I could not personally identify with.

These are the areas where I struggle with the stereotypes I read over and over again in the professional literature I was given at my schools.  I have a personal background in poverty when it comes to socioeconomic status.  Growing up, my family did not have much money, at all.  There were months when my parents struggled to pay the bills.  By struggle, I mean hard choices had to be made.  We were the family that drove the beat up cars and trucks.  We were the family that did back-to-school shopping at the local dollar store.  We were the family that people gave their hand-me-down clothes to.  We were the family that people asked, “Do you have enough?”

The most basic definition of poverty says “the state of being extremely poor.”  In a workshop I attended for teaching kids from poverty, it was stated that you have not experienced true poverty if you have never been hungry or homeless.  I think that’s pretty extreme, especially when another definition of poverty is “a state of being inferior.”  Trust me, I felt pretty inferior going to school in my dad’s beat up pick-up truck, wearing Dollar Store clothes.  But fortunately, we always had a roof over our head, although that roof leaked sometimes, and we were always fed.

One of the biggest themes behind these workshops and books was the mindset you have when living in poverty, trying to help us working in these settings understand better.  I still couldn’t get it.  Why would you perpetuate the cycle?  Why would you not put more importance on education when that can make all the difference in your children’s circumstances?  Why would you continue to choose liquor, cigarettes, and video games over your child’s school supplies or clothes?  Why would you ask for handouts without shame?

My family was poor for different reasons than many of the families I worked with.  My parents did not have college educations.  My dad worked low-paying manual labor type jobs in our rural community and my mom stayed home when my brother and I were little.  Once my brother started kindergarten, she was able to work outside the home at different jobs.  One thing my parents were not, was lazy.  They worked hard for everything they had.  The other factor, which happens to more people than you think, is they had a long string of “bad luck” when it came to medical bills.  My parents were in debt for a very long time because of doctor and hospital bills, not because they over-spent their paychecks.  Again, when you hold the kinds of jobs they had, you often don’t get quality medical insurance, if any, especially during that time in our country.

I’m not sharing this story for a pity party or sympathy.  It’s just we can’t assume the reasons behind someone’s state of poverty.  We cannot assume they are lazy or make bad choices with their money.  My parents, in their situation, never went on government assistance or expected organizations to provide the clothes and school supplies for my brother and me.  My mom just budgeted for it accordingly, putting some back here and there along the way, knowing the time would come soon enough.  My parents never asked for help with holiday gifts, either.  This is where I stopped being able to identify with many of those I served in public education.  My family never felt entitled to anything.  “You get what you work for,” was their philosophy.  If times were lean, there wouldn’t be extra this or that or trips.  I didn’t grow up with the typical love for shopping that most girls seem to acquire which is why now as an adult I don’t love shopping.  But I did grow up learning a lot about priorities and budgets and financial responsibility.  Somewhere along the way, a lot of kids seem to be missing out on these valuable life lessons.

In my years teaching, I was always amazed by how many people expected the school to provide not just their kids supplies, but their shoes, coats, and holiday gifts.  We also sent food home with some kids on a weekly basis.  We even had a family that said, “Keep your groceries, we want a new car.”  Seriously.  It broke my heart to think of a kid going hungry or not having a warm coat, so like many others I volunteered and helped out.  But I still couldn’t help but think of parents not taking responsibility for their own kids.  I would draw on my own childhood and think, if my parents could do it, so can you.

But it’s not my place to judge.  It is my place to serve and be the hands and feet of Jesus to our communities.  I’ve really got to work on this!  It’s hard not to let my opinions slip out now and again, but my family is in a good place, a place where we can share our blessings with others.  Maybe not to the tune of buying them a new car…I can’t even get a new car!  But my family and I will donate and volunteer in the places where we are needed.  Maybe you can too.  The stories may not always be what you think.

Today’s Scriptures  I often need reminders in scripture that helping and serving others for the Lord includes the poor and needy.  In addition to sharing today’s verses, I recommend the article Top Seven Verses About Helping the Poor from The Christian Crier.

Proverbs 22:9  The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.

Proverbs 19:17  Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward them for what they have done.

Deuteronomy 15:7-11  If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.

Today’s Recipe  I recently started becoming a much more frugal cook when our household went to just one steady income.  My mom was always a frugal cook, and she was a great cook and baker.  My parents grew BIG gardens and my mom not only cooked a lot from the summer harvest, but she also canned and froze fruits and vegetables for winter months.  The amount of people should could feed on a small amount of grocery money still amazes me.

This is a great stretch for your garden harvest, but what about meats?  My dad was definitely a meat-and-potatoes kind of man, so there better be some meat on the dinner table.  My mom had to get a little more creative with this part.  Yep, I’m the person in the room that can say, “Yes, as a matter of fact I have eaten rabbit and squirrel.”  Don’t worry, this isn’t a wild game recipe, although I happen to like a lot of that food, too.  I’m talking about how she could heartily feed a family of four with one can of cheap salmon or tuna.  My dad didn’t care much for fish and seafood, but he sure liked my mom’s salmon cakes.  I’m going to share that recipe with you today.  This is truly a Thrifty Thursday meal because the already-frugal canned salmon gets stretched even further with filler like boiled potato, bread crumbs, and egg.  My husband and I still like these salmon cakes for a fast and frugal dinner.  I prepare a side of sriracha mayo to top the cakes.

salmon cakes
Stretch those thrifty grocery dollars with inexpensive canned salmon and a binder-filler of boiled potatoes.


Salmon Cakes (makes 6 cakes)

  • 2 small boiled potatoes
  • 3 strips bacon, fried crisp
  • 3 green onions, sliced thin
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 TBS Dijon mustard
  • 1 14-oz can wild salmon
  • 1/4 cup dried bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil


Prepare potatoes and bacon.  I like to microwave the potatoes while I cook the bacon.  Set the bacon on paper towels to drain.

Place the potatoes in a large bowl and mash slightly.  I use my OXO Good Grips Hand Potato Masher for this.

Crumble the bacon and add to the potatoes.  Add green onion, egg, mayonnaise, mustard, and salmon, mixing well.  Stir in bread crumbs, parmesan, and pepper.

Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Shape salmon mixture into six even patties.  Cook in hot oil, about 4-5 minutes per side, until golden brown.  Cook in batches, if necessary, to avoid crowding the pan.  Remove cooked cakes to paper towel-lined plate.  Serve with tartar sauce or my sriracha mayo.

Sriracha Mayo for Salmon Cakes

Stir together 1/4 cup mayonnaise with 2 tablespoons of sriracha sauce.  Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.