11/25/19 Poverty in Tippecanoe

Roughly one of every five individuals in Lafayette lives in poverty, according to WelfareInfo, an organization that tracks reported income levels nationally.

The statistic reveals the story of a city that’s undergone economic trials and tribulations since the onset of the millennium, consistently displaying a poverty rate several percentage points higher than the national average.

These monetary shortcomings have created a niche for organizations like Lafayette Urban Ministry, a conglomerate of more than 40 churches that functions as a social safety net for underprivileged groups by offering donations of food, shelter and emergency financial assistance.

In its 47th year, the nonprofit sponsors several prominent aid offerings and fundraising events throughout Greater Lafayette.

“The Hunger Hike,” hosted every September, raised just short of $100,000 in 2018 to combat food insecurity through local and statewide efforts. “The Jubilee Christmas” has been serving the community for nearly four decades, affording parents an opportunity to select gifts for children and provide food for holiday meals. In past years, more than 1,800 children have received Christmas gifts from their parents through the fundraising efforts of LUM.

LUM organizes two popular events around Thanksgiving: the Greater Lafayette Interfaith Community Thanksgiving Dinner and the Turkey Trot 5K run.

“Holidays are hard for people, starting with Thanksgiving and going all the way through Christmas,” said Kathy Parker, director of the LUM Thanksgiving dinner and city councilor-elect for West Lafayette District 5. “So, it’s a way to provide food and companionship, some entertainment and some community for people who might not otherwise have it.”

In its 33rd year, the dinner is set to serve more than 800 people from noon to 2 p.m. at Central Presbyterian Church in Lafayette. Its guest list has peaked at approximately 900 in each of the previous two years.

Parker filed through an extensive list of community donors, ranging from local churches to regional franchises. Over 70 turkeys are donated by churches and Lafayette Brewing Company, with rolls coming from Great Harvest Bread Company. KFC plans to provide all the mashed potatoes for the event and Jane’s Deli will pitch in stuffing and casseroles. The double-digit list of sponsors is supplemented by individual donors who contribute smaller items or money.

Parker said that though the event’s original target was lower income families, she sought to avoid that as a qualifying threshold which might serve to limit attendees.

“People who are food insecure are typically the ones who show up most often,” Parker said, “but we don’t want it to be confined to that. We want all faiths to participate and feel welcome. Students, the elderly, those who don’t have anywhere to go, everybody.”

The organization renamed the dinner in October 2018, replacing “Lafayette Urban Ministry” with “Greater Lafayette Interfaith” to broaden the event’s audience. Parker said the invitation to meet with members of the community extends beyond any belief system or preferred church of attendance.

The Turkey Trot 5K is a relatively new event, founded in 2016, but last year’s run drew more than 500 participants who combined to raise $21,100 to fund LUM programs and services. This year’s event will begin at 8 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day and participants will convene at the West Lafayette Walmart for the start.

Donations can be made via the organization’s website, lumserve.org. Neil Klemme, owner of a local State Farm insurance agency, has agreed to match donations up to $3,000 for the entire month of November in contribution to the Thanksgiving dinner and the Jubilee Christmas.

“I used to give a little bit here and a little bit there for local charities,” Klemme said. “But they do such good work and knowing that they spend money where I think it should be spent, I just started giving to them. Around Christmastime, if there’s a kid who needs gifts, you want to make sure they have them.”

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