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Gerry McGill
Gerry McGill
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How do you define "poor"?

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Times are very tough today in America when the unemployment rate is above 10%. But the St. Petersburg Times newspaper had a great article about the great depression of the 1930’s when the unemployment rate was at 25%. One survivor of that time was asked to define "poor" and he told the "cornflakes story". Velmar Mack, who grew up during the depression, said that one day his dad came home with an astonishing treat: a bottle of milk and a box of Kellog’s corn flakes. Mack had eight hungry siblings. His mother filled three bowls with cereal and milk and let the three oldest children eat first, but made them use forks to make the milk last. The middle three kids ate next but also had to use forks. The three youngest children got spoons, what was left of the cornflakes and most of milk. "That", said Mack " is what poor is."

When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made the Civilian Conservation Corps part of his New Deal for America, Mack signed up. He and 3 million "men" and 10,000 women built roads, planted trees, built bridges, cleaned up polluted rivers and stocked the newly cleaned rivers with fish. Mack received three meals a day, slept in a cot in a tent and eventually under a roof in barracks built by the CCC and received $30 a month allthough $25 went directly to his parents to help feed his family.

Many CCC men were actually boys. They were supposed to be at least 17, but many desperate parents lied and signed up their baby-faced 14 year olds.

Some liberals disliked the CCC program. They thought the government should pay the volunteers more than a dollar a day. Conservatives disliked and opposed the program because they thought it sounded like socialism. Sound familiar?

In nine years the CCC laid 89,000 miles of telephone lines, constructed 3,400 fire look-out towers, re-stocked rivers and lakes with 972 million fish, developed 52,000 acres of American parks and planted 2 billion trees.

Is there something we should learn from this story?

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  1. Mike Bryant says:
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    Yep, a lot. But, it would require people to really look for solutions. Thanks for the provocative piece.