Poverty pervasive in Lake County
LUCERNE — It’s a sunny Tuesday morning in Lake County and Yvonne Cox, a former exotic snake dancer and tattoo artist, is handing out bags of groceries from the back of a converted gas station on Highway 20, where she also sells motorcycles and secondhand items.
Her food cupboard clients are people who are living on the financial edge in a county where 1 in 4 out of 63,860 residents lives in poverty.
“I didn’t realize how much poverty there was till I moved here” 15 years ago, Cox said.
Lake County long has been near the bottom of the state’s financial rankings, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures, and a recent report published in USA Today rated it as the poorest. The ranking was determined by reviewing census data and labor and educational statistics.
According to the Census Bureau, 25 percent of Lake County’s population was living in poverty from 2009 through 2013, making it the fourth-poorest county in the state. Only Fresno, Merced and Tulare counties had higher poverty rates. Sonoma County was at 11.9 percent, while Mendocino County’s poverty rate was at 20 percent. The current federal poverty line is $11,770 for one person and $24,250 for a family of four.
It was unclear why the Census Bureau rating is different from the USA Today report, which was researched and written by online content provider 24-7 Wall Street. Emails seeking clarification about the data from 24-7 Wall Street did not receive responses.
While there may be questions about Lake County’s exact poverty ranking, it’s clear many residents are barely scraping by, a chronic problem that has been attributed to a variety of factors that include a shortage of good-paying jobs, low educational achievement, a high number of retirees and disabled people with fixed incomes, and a rural, isolated geography that deters business development.
Cox decided to help some of the needy people in her community 12 years ago, after she found a man eating food out of her garbage can. She started handing out bag lunches and later formed a nonprofit corporation that depends on local contributions to feed the people who come by her pantry, which is open two mornings a week. Cox said she serves between 15 and 50 people each of those days, with the highest volume at the end of the month when people’s money runs out.
Area churches, senior centers and other agencies also give away food several times a month. The Lucerne Senior Center reported it provides groceries to between 15 and 30 families each Friday. The food pantry, operated in Clearlake by North Coast Opportunities, feeds between 100 and 150 households twice monthly, said Tammy Alakszay, coordinator of the Lake County Community Action & Volunteer Network.
Most of the people who stopped by Cox’s pantry last week had somewhere to live and some sort of income but needed help stretching their food budgets.
“This helps me survive,” said Colin O’Gallagher, 28, who is on disability for what he described as “mental problems” and lives with family.
William Galletti, 57, is on disability for a back injury he suffered on a construction job 20 years ago. He lives with the mother of his two youngest children, ages 1 and 2. She also receives disability benefits and food stamps for their children, he said.