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It’s easier to give free turkeys than help the poor leave poverty: Mitchell

Julie Fletcher alumnus Black Black mentoring program at
Thanksgiving food give-a-way. | Mary Mitchell/Sun-Times

Julie Fletcher, alumnus of Black on Black mentoring program, at Thanksgiving food give-a-way. | Mary Mitchell/Sun-Times

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Updated: December 30, 2013 11:34AM

When you consider how many organizations handed out free turkeys and groceries this year, you know the need is growing.

On Tuesday, Black and Black Love hosted its 18th Thanksgiving Food Give-A-Way at Kennedy King College on the South Side.

More than 400 families showed up for the donated turkeys and other food items. At a church around the corner, the line stretched down the block.

“This is my Thanksgiving,” Frances Wright, executive director of Black on Black Love, told the waiting crowd. “I look forward to doing this every year.”

These families weren’t just given food; they were given a big serving of hope.

Julie Fletcher, 45, understands that all too well.

Fletcher, mother of three, went through My Sister’s Keeper, a program for formerly incarcerated women operated by Black on Black Love, after serving an 18-month prison term.

Now, Fletcher is drug-free and helping others.

“There are so many people that have lost hope and are discouraged and weary,” Fletcher told me. “This lets them know there is still hope and someone cares. You can reach out and ask for help.”

If you’ve ever been in a place of desperation, then you know that can be difficult.

That’s why the proverbial saying: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch a fish and you feed him for a lifetime” is still so relevant.

But too often, the poor are fed but shut out of the opportunities that would allow them to feed themselves.

For instance, dozens of protesters from social service agencies across the city picketed outside of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308 at 205 W. Wacker on Tuesday.

The picketers, led by the Rev. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina, are responding to the union’s decision to end the CTA Apprenticeship Program for nonviolent offenders on Dec. 31.

The second-chance program has helped hundreds of formerly incarcerated persons acquire the skills needed to hold down a job.

According to Pfleger, the program is being used as a bargaining chip in negotiations between the union and the CTA.

“I’m not here to argue or take sides. All we are saying is separate this program. Stop using this as a bargaining tool. This program has helped people get jobs,” Pfleger told me.

Robert Kelly, president of the transit union, is blaming CTA chief Forrest Claypool for the program’s demise.

“We entered into an agreement with an ending date of Dec. 31, 2013. Forrest Claypool had an opportunity to bring it up in contract talks and he did not. Now he is out there saying I’m the problem. I have nothing to do with it,” Kelly told me.

“He still has an opportunity if he wants to talk to us about it.”

In a written statement, CTA pointed out the program has the agency’s full support:

“Mr. Kelly’s repeated efforts to reduce or kill the program makes no sense for his own workers or for CTA customers. . . . Ironically, Mr. Kelly is discriminating against his own dues-paying members, insisting that they be laid off, treating them as second-class citizens in his own union.”

It is not unusual for negotiations to get ugly before both sides agree on a compromise.

Still, why should apprentices, who earn $9.50 an hour with no benefits, be the employees held hostages during hostile bargaining?

And what is the point of a second-chance program if the participants who are least likely to find employment elsewhere, are the people laid off?

Unfortunately, it is easier to hand out free turkeys than it is to give poor people the chance to climb out of poverty.


Twitter: @MaryMitchellCST

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