Poverty seems like an impossible problem to solve. Many barriers prevent individuals from achieving financial stability, and the solutions seem just as puzzling. 

Yet, there is something we all can do. It starts by asking this one questionHow can I help? 

If we want to make central Iowa a great place to live for everyone—not just the two-thirds of us who are doing well—then all of us must consider how our daily actions can make the difference for someone else in our community. 

Here are 11 ideas for taking action right now: 

1. Call 2-1-1 if you or someone you know needs help.

2-1-1 is a free, confidential helpline that can connect anyone with local resources and services any time of day. A trained professional will listen to your needs and connect you with the best options for support. Get started here or share this information with someone you know who needs help. 

2. Learn about poverty in central Iowa. 

One in three central Iowans struggle to afford food, housing, and other basic needs without assistance. Many are one flat tire or one emergency room away from financial crisis. Most of these families are working and earning above the federal poverty level but still struggling to get by every day. Read about what poverty is in Des Moines and across the region.

3. Learn how central Iowa is fighting poverty.

Our community has created a plan to tackle the barriers that keep one-third of central Iowans from thriving. The OpportUNITY Plan identifies eight issues with action steps that work groups are implementing, with the support of more than 2,000 partners. Learn about the plan.

4. Talk about poverty.

Our community must agree that poverty is an important issue that we need to address together. It starts with shared understanding about what poverty is and how it impacts central Iowans. Share what you're learning with your coworkers, family, and friends. 

Whether you're fighting poverty in your own way or experiencing it every day, we would also like to hear your story. Please email me and share your experience. In addition, you can speak up by writing your own post on social media or sending a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Find ideas for topics to discuss by following our Facebook pageYour voice will inspire others to join us in the fight. 

5. Contact your elected officials.

One of the most effective ways to create large-scale change on the issues impacting low-income central Iowans is to advocate for policies with people who are making decisions about our community. Reach out to invite your elected officials for coffee or send them a personal note. Read this article for tips on contacting your elected officials and learn about United Way of Central Iowa's advocacy agenda, which includes issues that impact individuals living in poverty. 

6. Give what you can.

What nonprofits often need the most is funding to do the work of addressing poverty and supporting individuals who live in poverty. When you give to United Way of Central Iowa, you'll invest in research-based strategies that are working toward increasing the percentage of central Iowans who are financially self-sufficient, and we will measure those results to ensure meaningful progress. Learn about giving options. 

You can also find many opportunities to volunteer with local nonprofits in our volunteer database

7. Build connections with those who are struggling.

Whether it's a neighbor who is lonely or a mom who is frustrated by her child at the grocery store, we have an opportunity to reach out and create a connection. An encouraging smile or a short conversation can be the difference someone needs to feel supported and to keep going. 

8. Find creative ways to help your community.

Think of new ideas to reach out to others who might be struggling, such as setting up a blessing box with food items for people to take or donating your nice quality clothes to a clothing closet. You can also contact a senior center, homeless shelter or a nonprofit and ask them what they need for help and encourage others to join you in providing support. 

9. Join a work group.

The OpportUNITY Plan has identified eight issues to work on to fight poverty, including child care costs, housing, education, and food insecurity. Find what you're passionate about and get involved in a group. Learn more about our work groups

10. Try making tough choices.

Every day, individuals in our community have to make tough decisions, such as paying the rent or putting food on the table. Experience what it's like to live in poverty with this simulation. Or, try to take the bus to work or spend money only on essentials for a week to get a sense of what those in poverty have to navigate every day.

11. Teach giving.

Inspire the next generation to care about our community and to give back by talking about poverty as a family, inviting your child to make a donation to a nonprofit of their choice, or to volunteer as a group. 

You are a poverty fighter

If you take any of these steps, you are part of our fight to end poverty in central Iowa. Thank you! Sign up to receive updates or action alerts on what you can do next.

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Topics: Financial Stability, Essential Needs, OpportUNITY

Seth Johnson

Written by Seth Johnson

Seth Johnson is the former program director of OpportUNITY.