Taking small steps

Jul. 18, 2014 @ 06:02 PM

Poverty is a persistent fact in Durham – to say that is to offer no new revelation, just to reiterate that it is one of our thornier challenges. 

Our relatively high proportion of poor or near-poor neighbors casts a shadow over the many signs of affluence and prosperity in a city whose universities, research labs and creative-class entrepreneurs make us a bright star of the new economy.

We welcome the big-picture efforts to tackle that poverty, from initiatives such as Mayor Bill Bell’s call to action, to the champions of End Poverty Durham, to the Made in Durham effort spearheaded by MDC and others to rescue disengaged youth and put them on the path to gainful employment.

But small steps are important in this struggle, too.  In fact, modest initiatives may make only a small dent in the overall problem but they may have a big impact on a few individuals – so for them, they are big deals.

A couple of Durham’s noble small efforts turned up in a story in The Herald-Sun on Friday.

One we particularly like is a pilot program designed to help folks who can’t afford private transportation (or who simply prefer public transit) shop at our wildly popular Durham Farmers’ Market downtown.

The shuttle will ferry people between the market and the Durham Station, Durham Area Transit Authority’s us hub on West Pettigrew Street.  The shuttles will run every 15 minutes on Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m., starting today. The market is open from 8 a.m. to noon at Durham Central Park on Foster Street.

The closest regular bus stop to the market is a few blocks away, which may not seem like much – unless you’re carrying armloads of fresh produce and other food.  If the shuttle removes one barrier for people who may have few sources of fresh food in their neighborhoods, it is a plus.

That’s a goal of the Durham County Public Health Department, whose director, Gayle B. Harris, applauded the new bus service.

“They are helping Durham County meet our goal of providing all residents with access to healthy foods,” she said.

The shuttle’s launch coincides with the market’s own effort to help low-income customers enjoy more healthy food options. The market will double the value of SNA benefits (what we used to know as food stamps), up to $10.  A dollar in SNAP benefits, thus, will buy a recipient $2 worth of market goods. 

“We are trying to make it possible for everyone to have access to fresh, health foods at the Durham Farmers Market,” market manager Erin Kauffman said.

Again, the new shuttle and the effort to augment the SNAP benefits may seem like tiny efforts.  But there are few magic bullets in the quest to solve a problem as great as poverty, and success often comes from the accumulation of many approaches.