Citizens to Regroup in Battle Against Poverty

Apr 25, 2012

COMMERCE - Poverty: the state or condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support; condition of being poor.

And as a high number of local citizens continue to struggle to meet living essentials, a large contingent is again exploring ways they can help.

An organization formed more than three years ago to curb poverty in Commerce hopes to reorganize efforts as part of a Thursday meeting. The local alliance of ministers is asking interesting citizens to attend the 6 p.m. event at First Presbyterian Church at 1216 Monroe Street.

Commerce resident Wyman Williams has been invited to present on the subject. He was part of the original group of advocates for starting EPIC, or Eliminating Poverty in Commerce.  The idea was to mobilize the community into action to break the cycle of generational poverty in town.

“We had leadership changes among several of the entities that were initially involved and it ceased to be a continuing discussion. And recently there’s a new group of leaders that want to be informed about what happened; why, how and what resulted and what we may do for the future,” Williams said.  

Two things that exist from the early stages of EPIC include support of the Communities in Schools Program at Commerce ISD and the Commerce Community Garden, which remains viable, according to Williams.

Former pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Commerce Lisa Greenwood Wolcott was also part of the initial effort to create EPIC.

In a 2009 interview with the East Texan, she said “[Poverty] robs people of their ability to fully participate in society, but also it impacts the city's ability to grow and flourish and unfortunately perpetuates itself for generations."

One way you can portray poverty in Commerce, as Williams notes, is through the large amount of public school students who are qualified for free or reduced price lunches.

He added, “You have those who are in need of assistance that ask for help through our local food bank; those that come to churches and ask for financial assistance for emergencies. And those are continuous.”

The First Presbyterian Church of Commerce, which houses the Commerce Food Pantry, opens its doors to distribute goods to needy families each Thursday. They recently served 39 families within the one hour pick-up time, exceeding normal totals. And lately the pantry has struggled to keep their shelves fully stocked.

Williams says in EPIC’s initial stages, they encouraged participants to read the book The Last Dropout: Stop the Epidemic, by Bill Milliken, of which they purchased 50 and dispersed throughout the community.  

Milliken is the founder of the national effort Communities in Schools, which seeks community volunteers to tutor and/or mentor students. Concerned adults and non-family members are brought in to meet with students in a structured environment to encourage them in their academics.

Thursday’s meeting is “A reorganization of something that has existed and has been set aside as far as regular meeting and further investigation and development of new programs,” said Williams. “And that’s what several people hope will come from this meeting is starting, with the new group of people, informing them as to what got us to action in 2008 and 2009. What resulted from it.”