Unity Park food lines signal trouble for

As Unity Park swelled Friday afternoon with hundreds of residents queued for another food distribution effort by local church Casa de Dios, reality gained focus.

Trenton, a sanctuary city jam-packed with almost 100,000 residents if numbers include an estimated 10,000 undocumented residents, lists in serious upheaval with many newcomers unemployed and likely not counted as part of the 28-percent poverty rate.

On this steamy day, a line of people that serpentined from Hanford Place near Hamilton Ave. into Unity Park, included many people holding bags, carts, milk crates, cardboard boxes, and other items needed to carry food gifts from Casa de Dios. Several women, tired of standing for hours, opted for lying on the ground with infants cradled and pressed against their chests.

Katherine, from Venezuela expecting her first child in October, had been one of the first to line up for offerings of vegetables, fruits and other items. She had been blessed with insider knowledge. A friend had phoned Thursday with information about the food giveaway. A text message sounded another alert — Food distribution starts at 5 p.m. Get there early!

Only a few people were ahead of Katherine when she arrived Friday at 2:30 p.m. A problem regarding no permit delayed by one hour the food distribution and forced it out of Unity Park onto Hanford Place. By the time Katherine headed home on Division St. with her collapsible metal cart filled with food items, three hours and thirty minutes had passed.

“Recibí todo,” Katherine beamed. “She received everything,” translated Laura Mora, a community activist bewildered by what she considers a lack of concern for the city’s legions of people struggling for basic life needs.

“Can you imagine a pregnant woman standing in line for more than three hours just for a little amount of food,” Mora quizzed.

Answer? No. Then again, never expected Trenton filled almost to capacity with residents, many latched to poverty and all the issues associated with being poor — health concerns, food insecurity, crime, addiction, inadequate housing, unemployment, and myriad other issues. Leaders rarely discuss this matter of undocumented residents nor the generational poverty endured by many others.

Poverty robs people of important commodities like time, respect, self-worth and potential. According to the Time Use Institute, which studies how people allocate their time in a normal day, the average person spends 41 minutes in the grocery store per shopping trip.

In that time, most people collect all food and household items then show impatience if the checkout line wait slips past ten minutes. Imagine all that Katherine could accomplish in the three hours and thirty minutes she spent in that Casa de Dios food line.

A bottom line to all of the aforementioned insights involves the belief that this capital city exists in unimaginable and unmentioned crisis, especially when one understands that government leaders avoid this topic.

City Council members and Mayor Reed Gusciora should attend the next Casa de Dios food distribution, just to gain a ground-zero education on these troubled times.

City leaders seem caught off guard by the magnitude of the rising tide of undocumented immigrants and arriving migrants. These changes include a monumental shift in our public schools where Hispanics comprise an estimated 65 percent of students.

Many students face language barriers and financial challenges. For instance, William Harrison Elementary School shows an estimated 68 percent of Spanish-speaking students combined with 84 percent being economically challenged.

The double whammy places the K-3rd grade students in jeopardy and sets them up for a gauntlet of life challenges. And, 35 percent of Harrison Elementary students miss at least 18 days of school, twice the 18.1 state average.

Remarkably, a silver lining exists in the city’s difficult issues — People get to perform amazing acts of kindness and care while giving magnification to their higher powers.

Imagine Trenton, a sanctuary city, without the numerous non-profits and organizations involved in assuring that people have access to food, healthcare and shelter.

Still, Trenton should declare a city-wide emergency to discuss and find solution to our growing number of undocumented residents. One look at the Casa de Dios food line underscores an imminent social catastrophe.

L.A. Parker is a Trentonian columnist. Find him on Twitter @LAParker6 or email him at LAParker@Trentonian.com.

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