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Bridging Educational Gaps in St Joseph’s County

In St. Joseph County, Michigan, 13% of the population lives in poverty. The small rural county with a population of just 60,000 has an Alice percentage of 36% and houses a very busy United Way addressing needs. Alice stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, and refers to households earning above the Federal Poverty Level yet struggling to afford basic expenses. Research has shown a relationship between poverty and educational outcomes, with many children in low-income families lacking the necessary school supplies. This situation created a specific need in the community that required attention.

St. Joseph County United Way recognized the need for educational support. Together with partners Morgan Olson and Indiana Michigan Power, the Early Childhood Group, and radio station WBET, they hosted a backpack collection event on August 4 that distributed more than 350 backpacks filled with essential school supplies to students aged 4-15. Hundreds of families showed up between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. that day to either donate, pick up a backpack, or donate cash. Kelly Hostetler, the Executive Director of St. Joseph County United Way, stated, "We want teachers to teach. We will provide the tools they need for the school year."

This event was part of United Way's broader commitment to education, health, and financial stability, aligned with their goal to ensure opportunities for all to succeed. The organization acknowledges that education is a key factor in overcoming poverty and continues to seek ways to provide support, as expressed by Hostetler, "We will continue to supply the materials as long as we have the resources to do it." 

United Way's initiative in St. Joseph County illustrates the potential of community partnership. By identifying the role of education in poverty alleviation and taking tangible steps to meet immediate needs, they are working to create a more equitable environment for children and families.

The backpack event in Sturgis, Michigan, stands as an example of United Way's ongoing dedication to ensuring that everyone, everywhere, has an opportunity to thrive. Through collaboration and careful allocation of resources, they are making a difference in the lives of individuals and the broader community. It represents a practical approach to problem-solving, where collective action leads to measurable change.