By Justin Wier
This spring, Megan Evans and Ashley Orr founded PAYO: Poverty Awareness in Youngstown — a service project dedicated to raising awareness of and alleviating poverty in the city — this year they’re looking to broaden its scope.
“We decided that we wanted to do a year of awareness and a year of caring,” Evans said.
In accordance with monthly themes, they’re scheduling events to raise awareness and will hold monthly collections to care for impoverished citizens.
In August, they partnered with the Student Government Association and gave away Team Tressel T-shirts to students who threw a football through a target or donated food or clothing.
“We actually did have a few students pull out their gym shorts that they’d planned on working out in and give them to us,” Evans said.
This month they’re working with the Honors College to hold a canned food drive that will factor into the College’s Scholar Wars. They’re also participating in an SGA Serves event on Monday by volunteering to clean up Elm Street.
Orr said the purpose of having monthly events is to keep poverty awareness at the forefront of students’ minds.
“Last year we did this two week project where our goal was to raise awareness — and we did raise awareness while we were doing all these collections — but we didn’t keep the awareness up,” Orr said. “We want it to be constant, so we change the mindset into a mindset of helping.”
She said they are also making an effort to partner with other organizations.
“The problem isn’t just Honor’s problem, or the problem isn’t just downtown Youngstown’s problem. It’s really all of ours,” Orr said.
Next month, they will be running a book drive in collaboration with the Student Literary Arts Association. They will also provide opportunities for students to record themselves reading the books they donate so children can follow along and improve their literacy.
In the future, they’re collaborating with Student Activities and the journalism program to add a poverty component to the Tunnel of Oppression in November. They are also planning on working with an honor society in the college of education to conduct a school supply collection.
Their efforts are building to a year-end event at Harding Elementary School.
“Our goal is to take everything we collect from all of these different events and put them in the gymnasium at Harding Elementary just like we had done last year, and then invite the parents and the students to come and get what they need,” Orr said.
Evans said they targeted families in the Youngstown City School district because 98.2 percent of students are considered economically disadvantaged — their household income is less than or equal to 185 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.
The decision to hold the event at the school was to reduce the stigma associated with going to a food bank or clothing drive, but Orr said they still have to contend with peer effects.
“If you look at people’s consumption patterns, they’ll commonly over consume in front of their neighbors,” Orr said. “It also happens the other way, where they don’t want to go collect things from this event because maybe their daughter’s best friend will see.”
In an attempt to reduce the effect, they will be holding a carnival this year.
“It’s going to be a fun community event for all the Harding students to attend,” Evans said.
Evans said they are planning on having games, dogs for students to pet, face painting and a bounce around.
“If we could get something like that, the parents could go through the line and pick up what they need without their children,” Orr said. “Because I think sometimes that’s hard too.”
Orr said she would like to get as many students and organizations involved as possible.
“If you’re a student group, think about how you can partner with this project, and if you’re a student who’s maybe not in a group, join us and serve with us,” Orr said.