The number one reason why we named Project Elf a “project” is that we have a willingness and ability to evolve.
Each year we learn something completely and fantastically new about how to deliver change to people who are trying to work their way out of poverty.
And each year our families have a dynamically different story, and yet they all have one common thread. That thread is that they have a desire to do better, to be better, and have better for themselves and their children.
The daily battle that all of them experience is also the same. To be able to economically add up all of the details to be able to fully function day-to-day is very expensive. The economics of what a dollar means to a family who has a low income is not the same meaning as a dollar for a family that has a higher income.
So $100 of groceries can mean something very different to a family whose earnings are under $30,000 than they do for someone who has earnings of $70,000.
We also look at the way that poverty has changed in our project. Many people who just need a tiny bit of help can actually avoid free falling by having access to the resources we provide, and sometimes those resources are really not that big of a deal – they might need clothes, shoes, pots and pans or furniture.
Having access to items that they don’t have to use their money on allows them to have safety in the things that their money has to go towards; things that they have no control over such as gas prices, transportation cost, heating expenses.
For a single parent who is working a $12 an hour job, after taxes their paycheck is still only $360 per week, and with the average two bedroom rent in Minneapolis right now being $1200, you can see how this becomes an incredibly difficult budget.
That family is stuck in a role that they can’t control because they also can’t qualify for a house because “I don’t make enough money.”
When you bring to the storage unit really basic necessities like toilet paper, cleaning supplies, laundry soap, silverware, socks, new underwear, feminine products – these things have become a luxury item for every single person who is struggling in a minimum wage job.
Whether or not they have children, there is no one that can afford an apartment and a car on minimum-wage earnings.
Project Elf has, over the years, expanded who we are willing to help. We help people who have mental health issues, we help people who are new to our country, we help people that have a wide variety of needs.
This past year we reached out to 12 teenagers who came out of foster care and helped them set up their first home.
Bus cards last year allowed those people who are living so close to the edge the opportunity to have a ride to work if they want to work an extra shift, or if they have to come home at a different time. Your bus cards last year gave 120 rides to work.
Who knew that one of the ways that you break out of poverty is that you find a way to make sure that a parent has a bus card? The reason that we like bus cards is because you can’t spend them any other way. It sure is the resource that stays as a resource. Sometimes resources like cash get turned into many things – socks underwear, lunch. A bus card stays as transportation support.
The last reason that we really highlight our efforts as a “project” is because we get to pivot the relationships that we can work with. We are a group of about 350 people who have made an active decision to use their resources differently, that we will use resources in a way that allows another person to use our extra resources.
For me, that is holding a place in the world where people can start to create change. I pay a monthly fee out of my own pocket to have the storage unit available. Because I have the resource of the ability to pay the storage locker fee, that means that everyone has a space to put their resources and everyone has a place to pick up resources.
As a project I also invite each and every one of you to decide how you help us evolve for a common cause, one that allows individuals and families to transition to a healthier life away from poverty.