Oakland gears up for the 7th Annual Walk to End Poverty
on May 16, 2012
On the morning of Saturday, May 19, Oaklanders will gather at Lake Merritt and walk around the water in solidarity with their neighbors who struggle every day to make ends meet. This will be the 7th Annual Walk to End Poverty, which is hosted by the Alameda County-Oakland Community Action Partnership (AC-OCAP), and is one of many initiatives in Oakland and nearby communities that the partnership is spearheading to combat hunger, staggering unemployment rates, and homelessness.
“Imagine an Alameda County where every woman, man and child no longer struggles to meet life’s basic necessities of food, shelter and clothing,” says Estelle Clemons, manager of AC-OCAP. “The goal of the Walk to End Poverty is to encourage participants to take a stand against poverty and the horrible effects it is having on our families who live within our communities.”
The partnership is centered in Oakland, and has an 18-member board (each district is represented). It was established in 1971, as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society’s War on Poverty,” and since then has been assisting low-income residents of the area with things like tax preparation and finding healthy, affordable food. “We believe that to root out poverty, you have to have a comprehensive set of programs,” says Monique Rivera, who represents District 5 (Fruitvale) on the AC-OPAC board. “You have to address food, health and livelihood all at once.”
May is National Community Action month, and all over California, events like this walk are being organized to raise awareness and educate people on some of these effects. The event is purely to spread knowledge and allow people to show their concern by showing up—there’s no charge to walk, and participants don’t need to collect sponsors. The simply must show up, and walk.
Registration for the walk begins at 9 am at the Lake Merritt bandstand (that’s 666 Bellevue Avenue, Oakland), entry is free, and walkers are encouraged to bring a team of ten friends, though groups of any size are welcome. The first 500 participants to show up with a nonperishable food item to donate will receive a free t-shirt. After traveling three miles around the lake, walkers can stick around for a free brown bag lunch, a fair with information on AC-OPAC’s programs, speeches from local activists, hands-on activities for kids, and entertainment like the Chinese Lion Dancers and Ballet Folklorica.
This part of the event is crucial, says District 3 (Jack London) board member Sean Sullivan. It gives participants time to check out the various organizations around Oakland that are working to battle poverty on a daily basis. There’s Earn It, Keep It, Save It, a tax counseling program that Sullivan says earned Oakland residents $10 million in income tax refunds this year. There’s also the Helping Working Families initiative, which matches every dollar saved by its participants with a $2 donation, with the goal that the family will eventually buy a house, send a child to college, or open a small business.
Another initiative AC-OPAC supports is the Bank on Oakland fund, through which participating banks and credit unions extend financial advice and low-cost checking accounts to 30,000 Oaklanders, including many immigrants. “That’s one of my favorite initiatives,” says Rivera. “So many people are afraid to go to the bank because they’re afraid of the questions they’ll be asked—that they might get deported. Or they’re afraid they won’t know what they’re doing, so they go to a pay day lender to cash their checks instead. This really helps combat those issues.”
The AC-OCAP also funds the Kitchen of Champions program at St. Vincent de Paul, which offers a course of cooking classes people who have been incarcerated, and then helps them to get and keep jobs at restaurants in the area. The program they go through is an intensive, 12-week culinary curriculum, and Rivera says the recidivism rate for graduates of the program is very low, and that 90 percent of them are placed in jobs.
Overall, Oakland has a higher unemployment rate than the national average, and Alameda County as a whole is battling severe conditions when it comes to poverty. The county has 1.5 million residents, according to the US Census Bureau Community Survey, and of those, nearly 200,000 people struggle to pay rent and buy food. That’s 13.5 percent of residents that fall under the Federal Poverty line. It is AC-OPAC’s mission to put a stop through this through education and awareness—this weekend’s walk will not only promote their cause, but brings Oaklanders together in the spirit of healthy activity.
“It’s grown every year,” says Sullivan of the annual walk. “But we’re always hoping for more people. We want everyone to be aware that their neighbors may be suffering and in need. We want our residents who are struggling to be able to check out our different programs. And we want everyone to walk. Disparities around health factor into poverty a great deal, so this is just one opportunity to combat that.”
For more information on the 7th Annual Walk to End Poverty, visit the AC-OPAC’s website.
Image: Young Oaklanders show their solidarity at last year’s Walk to End Poverty. Photo by Josh Taxson.
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