Between the Lines: We applaud efforts to ease local hunger

Usually, when leaders of communities talk to citizens about the reasons for making an effort to diversify their cities' economies, they'll usually talk about more employment opportunities, and how more employment opportunities mean more jobs, which attract more people, which gives a boost to the community's economy and it's general well-being and quality of life.

The usual economic development pitch – that standard speech we've grown used to hearing from governors, mayors and other officials – usually dwells on purely economic trends, such as the importance of expanding the tax base, or simply offering more job opportunities.

What usually is lacking in those speeches is a consequence that has remained hidden for quite some time, probably because it is very difficult to talk about.

It's easy for a layman to figure out that a lack of economic development or diversity in a community likely will mean that said community will struggle to be prosperous.

What's more difficult to realize is that if you live in such a community, there's a good chance that a good number of your fellow citizens are also living in poverty.

Yes. Poverty. It certainly exists in South Dakota; we all know that. It's a systemic problem that's persisted for years on the Indian reservations in our state.

While our focus has largely been on the struggles in places where poverty is so highly evident, it's been rather easy to miss the fact that poverty also exists all around us. It's here in Clay County, and it's here in Vermillion. At rates that are disturbingly high.

We applaud Steve Howe, the executive director of the Vermillion Chamber of Commerce and Development Company, for not being shy about talking about local poverty while discussing the challenges our county and community faces.

We can't help but believe that his candor about this issue, combined with his drive to push the community forward, made it just a bit easier for Vermillion Now! to be such a success.

Vermillion Now!, in turn, provided the resources for Howe and other local citizens to continue to aggressively seek new opportunities for Vermillion citizens. Our economy is slowly becoming more diverse. We've attracted two new employers this past year, and at the same time, an existing industry has completed an addition to its manufacturing plant.

The Vermillion School District and local industry also teamed up this earlier this year to offer welding classes as the demand for welders continues to grow here.

We also are reminded this week that we must remain looking forward. The accomplishments in Vermillion this past year certainly deserve praise. But there's still work to be done, as that pesky poverty rate still remains high.

The number of children who qualified for free or reduced school lunches in the Vermillion School District this last year was high enough for the community to qualify for a federal program that will offer free meals to all children this summer (see related story). Again, we credit the Vermillion School District for taking the initiative to apply for this program, and provide a site for the meals to be served.

We also have nothing but praise for John Lushbough, one of the driving forces behind Vermillion's Weekend Backpack Program which strives to make sure children are provided food during days when school lunches aren't being served, or for Mary Berglin and the countless hours she serves at the Vermillion Food Pantry, or the numerous volunteers who are generous with their time and resources to make sure that programs like The Welcome Table exist to ease the strain poverty would otherwise bring to many people here.

The relationship between a diverse economy and the level of hunger in a community such as Vermillion may be difficult to fathom. And we know there's no easy fix. Economic diversity, Howe told us, is going to take time.

We're encouraged, however, by one of his other statements.

"We are doing our best," he said.

We can't ask for more than that .

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