Poverty simulation irks food pantry operator

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by STEVE STOLER

WFAA

Posted on November 12, 2012 at 6:00 PM

Updated Monday, Nov 12 at 10:14 PM

PLANO — Dozens of Plano parents are getting a taste of what it's like to be poor. They're participating in a poverty simulation.

But while the intent might be good, a community advocate for the needy says this experiment sends the wrong message.

Plano PTA members are divided into groups and role-play real-life situations: Recently unemployed, single parents or grandparents raising kids.

Each group starts with a small amount of money, transportation passes and possessions they can pawn. They shop for groceries, take care of kids and go to work.

They're allowed to go to extremes to make ends meet — including stealing.

"There was this desperate feeling of needing to get those prescriptions filled and not knowing how to do that, explained Tracey Sparks, one of the parents participating in the simulation. "So when I saw those transportation tickets, I took them."

Cheryl Jackson runs Minnie's Food Pantry in Plano. She says the poverty simulation is not helping the plight of the poor — especially when the would-be needy are allowed to steal.

"The people who are in this line are mothers and fathers who are working two and three jobs, trying to make ends meet," Jackson said. "They're not the thieves out there. That's not the concept... these are real people."

But the organizers of the simulation, the Plano ISD Council of PTAs, say it's based on reality.

"These scenarios are taken from real-life situations, so they are exactly like real-life situations," said Annette Maule, president of Council.

Dorrie Berry isn't role-playing. Minnie's Food Pantry is helping feed her family. She supports the simulation, hoping it will persuade parents to help people like her.

"I'm living proof," Berry said. "It works by sharing. I'm telling you I need help, but I also want to help."

And help is what organizers hope will be the lesson learned in Monday's event.

E-mail sstoler@wfaa.com

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