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Poverty simulation teaches life lessons at GCC

By Billie Owens


Submitted photos and press release:

Employment rates, government benefit program statistics, healthcare costs and starvation statistics are everywhere. While more than 14 percent of the population in New York State is living in poverty, the Global Education Committee (GEC) at Genesee Community College is doing more than facing the facts.

In the College's nearly full William W. Stuart Forum last week, the GEC hosted a very real simulation called "Disrupting Poverty" for students in Christine Belongia's Teacher Education and Adolescent Development classes, Karen Wicka's Criminal Justice classes and Kari Heidemann's and James Myers' Human Services classes.

The simulation was designed by Missouri's Community Action Poverty Simulation and facilitated by Juanita Henry, director of the Genesee Region Teacher Center and Pat Mullikin, director of the Tri-County Teacher Center.

"The simulation is not a game," Belongia, professor of Teacher Education and Humanities at GCC said. "It's an educational experience designed to heighten awareness, foster empathy and challenge assumptions surrounding issues of poverty."

The poverty simulation positions several different family units, being role-played by GCC's students, in the middle of a community typical of Genesee, Livingston, Orleans or Wyoming counties.

During the one-hour simulation, each of the family units must manage expenses, attend meetings and appointments, and struggle to meet the overwhelming needs of their family for one month, played out in a series of four 15-minute weeks. Each family unit is given detailed lists of bills that must be paid, restricted income statements and limited sources with the task of making hard choices to survive living in poverty.

As in any community, there are resources and organizations available to the simulated family units that they can choose to visit -- if they can afford transportation which was represented by having a paper "pass" bus ticket, cab voucher, or gas money for a friend or driver, all making the simulation even more realistic. More than a dozen different resources were represented in the simulation by role-playing GCC students.

At one desk, a bank offering loans and cashing checks; at another, a child care center with daycare expenses; and another with an employer offering jobs with specific shifts available. In addition, as in the real world, other desks held pawn shops, healthcare offices, pay-day advance agencies who charge high interest rates, and or course, homeless shelters and other resources for the severely destitute.

Throughout the simulation, students in the family units had to work together to plan and cover expenses, including food and shelter.

"If we buy these groceries today, how will we pay for daycare next week," one student asked his family unit. "My paycheck plus your Social Security check is only enough to cover rent and electricity this month."

The students in the family unit then researched their family situation and visited various organizations and resources to find ways to make ends meet.

"This simulation is powerful for our students," said Karen Kovach-Allen, Ph.D., dean of Human Communications & Behavior at GCC. "Some of them live in poverty in the real world and this simulation is practice for knowing what resources are available and what choices they have.

"For others, the simulation offers a unique glance into the lives of those living in poverty and perhaps leaves them with a little perspective, and an appreciation for what others might be going through."

This is the first time GCC students, faculty and staff have had a simulation experience on campus. The program is part of this year's Global Education, "Food and Cultural Identity" theme.

Beyond activities such as this, the Adult Educational Opportunity Center (AEOC) at GCC works to address issues of food insecurity on campus every day offering a variety of classes and raising awareness of available resources, including GCC's Food Pantry available to students year round.



More than 6,600 people in Genesee County considered food insecure

By Howard B. Owens

Press release:

While there are slightly fewer food insecure people in the Rochester area, those who struggle to put food on the table are finding it less affordable to feed themselves and their families, according to a report released Thursday.

Foodlink, the regional food bank, announced the release of Map the Meal Gap 2017, the latest report by Feeding America® on food insecurity and the cost of food at both the county and congressional district level.

The overall food insecurity rate in Foodlink’s 10-county service area dipped slightly from 12.5 to 12.4 percent in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available. Child food insecurity showed marked improvement by decreasing from 20.9 to 19.4 percent. The study also finds, however, that people currently facing hunger are likely falling further behind as they continue to struggle to buy enough food to meet their needs. Food-insecure individuals in the Rochester area now face a food budget shortfall of $514.25 per person each year, up from $492.92 last year, and $402.72 in 2009.

Foodlink serves the counties of Allegany, Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Orleans, Seneca, Wayne, Wyoming, and Yates. Food insecurity ranged from a low of 10 percent of the population in Ontario County up to 13.2 percent in Monroe County. Overall, 156,530 people, including 52,780 children, are considered food insecure in Foodlink’s 10-county service area. The national food insecurity rate is 13.4 percent.

“While it’s encouraging to see numbers improve in some areas, we know there is plenty of work to be done to assist the more than 150,000 people in our region still struggling to put food on the table,” said Foodlink Executive Director Julia Tedesco. “Our mission is to end hunger. We will continue to serve this community until everyone has reliable access to healthy food.”

Food insecurity is defined as a household’s limited or uncertain access to adequate nutritious food. It is assessed in the annual Current Population Survey (CPS) and represented in USDA food-security reports.

Using data from the CPS, the study finds that nationally, on average, food-secure individuals report spending $2.94 per person, per meal. This is a slight increase from the average of $2.89 as reported in Map the Meal Gap 2016. Locally, that number rose from $2.79 to $2.87 based on Nielsen data that factors in the local cost of food and assigns a “cost-of-food index” to each county. That index rose in 8 of the 10 counties in Foodlink’s service area.

The report also shows that 32 percent of the food insecure population in Foodlink’s 10-county service area has a household income higher than the threshold to qualify for SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps.

“That is particularly troublesome,” Tedesco said. “We all know the benefits of federal nutrition assistance programs such as SNAP, and knowing that one-third of our food insecure clients cannot access these vital programs is alarming.”

Map the Meal Gap 2017 uses data from the federal Department of Agriculture, Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics. The study is supported by founding sponsor The Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Conagra Brands Foundation, and Nielsen.

Foodlink is one of 200 food banks in the Feeding America network that collectively provides food assistance to 46 million Americans struggling with hunger. Last year, Foodlink distributed more than 19 million pounds of food, including more than 5.7 million pounds of fresh produce. It supports approximately 500 member agencies across 10 counties and offers dozens of innovative food access and nutrition education programs.

“It is disheartening to realize that millions of hardworking, low-income Americans are finding it increasingly difficult to feed themselves and their families at the same time that our economy is showing many signs of improvement, including a substantial decline in the number of people who are unemployed,” said Diana Aviv, CEO of Feeding America.

“This study underscores the need for strong federal nutrition programs as well of the importance of charitable food assistance programs, especially the food pantries and meal programs served by the Feeding America network of food banks.”

A summary of the findings, an interactive map of the United States, and the full report are available at

2017 Map the Meal Gap report for Foodlink’s 10-county service area:

(Chart reflects data from 2015)


Food insecurity rate

Estimated # of food insecure individuals

Child food insecurity rate

Estimated # of food insecure children
























































'Poverty Simulation' Oct. 3 where YOU make choices on a shoestring budget, RSVP by Sept. 24

By Billie Owens

Press release:

Community Action of Orleans & Genesee will hold a free "Poverty Simulation" the afternoon of Friday, Oct. 3 at the Batavia First United Methodist Church, located at 8221 Lewiston Road (Route 63) in Batavia. It will take place from 1 to 3:30 p.m.

Space is limited. Please RSVP by Wednesday, Sept. 24, by contacting Nathan Varland, director of Housing and Support Services at 589-5605 or e-mail:   [email protected]

Citizens, decision makers and leaders are urged to attend.

(This is a separate event from the organization's Poverty Awareness Dinner at Batavia Downs, also on Oct. 3, in the evening.)

How would you face a month in poverty? Could you survive?

Well over 44 million Americans, 15 million of whom are children under the age of 18, live in poverty every day. In Genesee and Orleans counties alone, more than 12,700 people (including more than 4,000 children) live below the poverty line.

There are many more who have incomes above the poverty line, but their incomes are still low enough to qualify for programs like Food Stamps and Medicaid. Since the economic downturn, full-time employment is harder to find and the use of emergency food pantries has increased.

It is difficult for those of us who have enough to truly understand the situations that families living in poverty experience every day – the decisions they have to make, and the fears and frustrations they feel.

We are eager to enhance our community conversation about poverty as we begin our 50th year. We are inviting you to "walk a mile" in the shoes of those facing poverty by participating in a Community Action Poverty Simulation.

The Simulation provides participants with the opportunity to assume the role of a low-income family member living on a limited budget. The experience is divided into four 15-minute sessions, each representing one week in which you must provide for your family and maintain your home.

As one participant commented, "This poverty simulation dramatically demonstrates how much time and energy many families have to give just to survive from day to day. It quickly dispels the myth that people would do fine if they would only go out and get a job!"

Don't feed the animals!

By Bea McManis

A recent article in the Batavia Daily News telling about an upcoming fundraiser and awareness program gave some very disturbing statistics about Genesee County.  7114 people live below the poverty level.  6259 receive food stamps.  40% of our children qualify for free or reduced lunches.  6000 residents were helped by the food pantry.  Over 9000 meals were served by Stephen's table.  The numbers are alarming.  What I found more alarming was the one comment to the article, "Don't feed the animals.  They become dependent.".  That statement made me physically ill.  Have we, as a society, become that callous?  

Conversations with Calliope- Fall Fling

By Joseph Langen

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(Fall Fling)

JOE: Good morning Calliope.
CALLIOPE: Good morning Joe. How are you today?
JOE: Feeling productive.
CALLIOPE: Tell me more.
JOE: I finished my current column about the Fall Fling.
CALLIOPE: Which is?
JOE: A community event hosted by City Church in Batavia. They had booths providing information to needy people on services available in the community. They also gave away an enormous amount of food, clothing and household goods donated by businesses, agencies and individuals.
CALLIOPE: Sounds like quite an experience.
JOE: I found it heartwarming. I have become somewhat cynical about how much people even notice struggles their neighbors endure.
CALLIOPE: That's a nice feeling.
JOE: It helped restore my faith in humanity and caring for fellow members of our human community.
CALLIOPE: Do you think selfishness is on the wane.
JOE: I don't think so. But at least there are corporations and individuals who do care. At least there is hope.
CALLIOPE: So now what?
JOE: It's time to keep reminding people of their struggling neighbors and to do what they can. Talk with you tomorrow.


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