These unique, inspiring Butler County programs are battling poverty in new ways

While the percentage of Butler County residents living in poverty has dropped from 12.4 in 2007 to 10.5 in 2017, thousands of people still need assistance.

To help those residents, especially children, several local agencies and organizations have created new and unique programs to raise people out of poverty.

In Middletown, the school district recently unveiled its first food truck, part of a $225,000 program to feed the district’s needy students by going to them on non-school days; Supports to Encourage Low-income Families (SELF) runs a program that hopes to combat poverty through a two-generational approach; and a Butler County organization is building bunk beds for area children.

MORE: Schools starting food trucks to expand battle against student hunger

Nearly 60 volunteers from numerous Butler County agencies built 30 beds on a dreary Saturday inside the Fairfield Fire Department headquarters as part of the “Sleep In Heavenly Peace” program.

Mike Watkins, director of the Butler County chapter, said about 2 percent of people either sleep on a mattress on the floor, on a couch, or share a bed with a relative. That means of the 400,000 people who reside in Butler County, 8,000 aren’t sleeping on a bed with a box spring and mattress.

Watkins said seven of the beds — which cost $340, including materials, mattresses, bedding and insurance — were to be delivered to Fairfield children over the weekend.

He said the Butler County chapter has built 400 builds since June 2018 and there are 300 beds on a waiting list.

“The need is real,” he said.

MORE: Goal of group: Build every child in need a bed

Inside the fire station, there was an impressive assembly line as volunteers cut and sanded pieces of wood, then assembled, stained and branded each bed with the Sleep in Heavenly Peace logo. There were volunteers from the Fairfield Chamber of Commerce Leadership Class, Mattress Firm and the Fairfield police and fire departments.

Valerie Simmons, a volunteer for Love Works, a Fairfield community group, and director of the Fairfield Lane Library, delivered 180 books for the children to read at bed time, she said.

Simmons said she has noticed an increase in volunteer efforts geared toward assisting children.

“There are so many of us trying to care for one another,” she said.

Many of the volunteers were from the Fairfield Chamber Leadership Class, said Shane Knisley, interim president of Mercy Health Fairfield. He said the Leadership Class was introduced to Sleep in Heavenly Peace and members immediately said they wanted to volunteer.

As Knisley stood under cover from Saturday’s showers, he was asked what he saw when he looked into the bay: “A lot of people who care about their community and the quality of life of children who are less fortunate. Make life better for children. People are rallying behind the needs of our community.”

The same action is taking place in Middletown, said Jeff Diver, executive director of SELF. He said parents and their children are taking classes at the Robert “Sonny” Hill Community Center to move out of poverty. The key, Diver said, is getting both generations involved, what he called the “whole family approach.”

Research showed it made no sense to help the parents and not the children, he said.

Jeri Lewis, marketing and development leader at Kingswell Ministry, helps runs a summer program at Sherman Park. The goal, she said, is to feed the children and provide them activities to get them outside and away from their electronics.

“We bring value to them,” Lewis said. “We speak life into them. Some of these kids don’t know what it’s like to dream.”

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