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The Rev. Matt Peterson of Faith Lutheran Church in Spicer talks of ways to decrease poverty as he addresses an audience Thu-rsday at the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services Building in Willmar. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

Group faces long odds as it fights to eliminate poverty

WILLMAR -- The goal of A Minnesota Without Poverty is to eliminate poverty in the state by 2020.

It's a tall order, because Minnesota's poverty level has been rising in recent years. A Minnesota Without Poverty conducted five meetings around the state Thursday night with the goal of discussing ways of eliminating poverty.

One meeting was in Willmar, at the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services Building.

Others were held in Duluth, Fergus Falls, Rochester and Minneapolis.

A dozen people attended the meeting in Willmar, but they seemed to carry with them enough enthusiasm and commitment for a room full of people.

Gov.-elect Mark Dayton spoke at the Minneapolis gathering. However, a computer sound problem kept the Willmar group from understanding what Dayton and other speakers were saying.

Instead, they asked the Rev. Matt Peterson, the meeting leader, to turn off the sound so they could have their own discussion about ending poverty.

Peterson, a pastor at Faith Lutheran Church in Spicer, is a member of A Minnesota Without Poverty.

He provided statistics about poverty in Minnesota and talked about a legislative task force that has been studying ways to end poverty.

According to information in a presentation prepared by A Minnesota Without Poverty, the state had 506,000 people living in poverty in 2008. In 2009, the number rose to 563,000.

The poverty rate among white people in Minnesota is among the lowest in the nation, but the rate for black people is among the highest in the nation.

A Minnesota Without Poverty was originally a faith-based initiative, but it has expanded to include many partner organizations, Peterson said.

The common bond is that its members believe they "have a calling to serve those in the community in need," he said. "There is enough in our community for everyone to have all that they need."

The group discussed local programs that had helped people move out of poverty. Some of them have faded due to a lack of funding. Circles of Support, of Heartland Community Action Agency, was a program they mentioned. Circles developed relationships between low-income people and others in the community.

The Link, fighting poverty in the New London and Spicer areas, is a successor to Circles.

Lori Clasemann of Hector said she was concerned about developing grassroots programs to involve communities in fighting poverty. "The only thing that works is a relationship," she said.

The group talked about ways to increase understanding about poverty and to find ways to reach out to people who don't understand it. Several people said they were disappointed in the relatively small turnout in Willmar.

They decided to meet again and to try to gain more information about poverty in the area. Each pledged to talk to others about the meeting and to try to bring someone else to the next meeting.

As Naomi Mahler, director of The Link said, "I feel like there still needs to be education."

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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