United Way’s poverty simulation will broaden perspectives

Experience is to simulate what living on less than $24,000 annually would be like

The Greater Mankato United Way will be holding a poverty simulation on Tuesday, Oct. 17 from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. It will take place at the Mankato Public Safety Center.

The event is free and open to the public. At least 25 people are needed to do the simulation, and 60 people have already signed up.

Elizabeth Harstad, director of community impact at Greater Mankato United Way, explained how the simulation will work:
“Each participant takes on the role of a person living in poverty. The roles are based on real family scenarios. The goal of the simulation is to make ends meet, feed their family, and maintain housing for one month. It can include between 30 and 80 participants, and they’re put into these family groups. During the simulation, they have four 15 minute periods that each make up a week. Those four weeks are the month they’re trying to survive in poverty.”

Each “family” receives a packet of information that tells them their roles within the family. It also tells them their income, expenses, and struggles they might face as a family.

Transportation tickets are used to simulate the challenges people in poverty face when needing to go from one place to another.

“In real life, lack of transportation is a major barrier for people in poverty,” Harstad said. “In addition to being able to afford their groceries and their bills, [the participants] also have to take into consideration the transportation, so they use transportation tickets. If they don’t have one, they are rejected by the organization or the business they’re trying to get to, because it’s a reality that in order to make sure you can get all the things you need, you need transportation to get there.”

This is the third time the United Way in Mankato has done a poverty simulation, and they are planning three more for the near future. The goal of these simulations is to raise awareness of poverty and to help people feel more empathy for those living in poverty.

“When people participate in the simulation, they’re putting themselves in the shoes of people who face poverty from day to day,” Harstad said.
In Mankato, 1 in 4 families of 4 live in poverty, which means their total yearly income is $24,000 or less.

“It is a reality in our area, that a lot of people are facing poverty. People who are not facing poverty and have no experience with it aren’t really aware of the challenges, the stresses that people in poverty face,” said Harstad. “It helps create some empathy, it helps them better understand when they’re interacting in the community with people who might be in poverty.”

There are ways to help people who live in poverty. One of the ways is to increase awareness and knowledge of poverty, and tell friends about the struggles that people in poverty face. If you get to know someone who lives in poverty, you will realize they are not unlike yourself.

Harstad listed other ways to help people in poverty, including volunteering for organizations that help support fellow community members, giving to United Way or other organizations, writing to officials to alert them of the problem, and reaching out to others so they can voice their opinion about policies.

“Just socialize and make it a habit to meet with people of all socioeconomic backgrounds,” Harstad said. “You’ll develop even more sensitivity to relate to them as people just like yourself.”

To register for the poverty simulation, visit mankatounitedway.org/poverty-simulation. Groups of 25 or more should call the United Way office.

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