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The women stood in the doors looking out at their husbands, who were talking to the landowners. The children gathered behind them, one bare foot on top of the other. They all watched tensely as the negotiation dragged on; their lives hung in the balance. Some of the owners were kind, because they hated what they had to do, and some were angry because they hated to be cruel. But the decision was the same. These families, like their neighbors and friends before them, would be forced to move off the land, to head west to an unknown fate. While this scene from The Grapes of Wrath takes place during the dustbowl drought of 1938 in Oklahoma, the situation is all too familiar to the millions of Americans today who live in poverty. The rich keep getting richer while the poor are getting poorer. The rich unintentionally keep the underprivileged that way by making the road to success a bumpy one, filled with detours. In The Grapes of Wrath, the Joads encounter rich people all along their journey west. Some want to exterminate the Joads; others wish to assist them in their journey to a better life. But the issue both then and now is that the wealth gap is an unjust one. Those of us who are better off must do everything in our power to pave the way for others to live well, too.
The poverty gap I see around me is getting larger everyday. My nearest city, Philadelphia is a prime example. In the affluent sections of the city there are million dollar houses and branches of Fifth Avenue boutiques. Just blocks away from these neighborhoods, everything changes: there is violence, drugs and poverty and many of the residents live on welfare. Like the Joads, many of the residents of North Philadelphia try to improve their situation and move their families to a better life, but unfortunately the outside world makes it difficult for them to move down that road. Philadelphia schools struggle to provide even basic education skills to the children of the poor. If city residents cannot read on a sixth grade level it is impossible for them to be successful. On the other side of the gap where I live, the streets of Newtown, thirty minutes outside the city, are clean, safe and filled with the sights and sounds of small-town America. The Council Rock school systems spend several times as much money on each student as Philadelphia, and 95% of the students go on to college.
In this world, full of rich and poor, I attempt to bridge this gap in whatever small ways I can. Whether I am painting a homeless shelter or donating clothes, I attempt to clear the path for people who are down on their luck and smooth the way for them to get back onto their feet. I also participate in Aid for Friends that takes unused dining room food, places it in meal containers and delivers it to homebound residents and poverty-stricken residents of our local community, because as the Joads knew, it’s impossible to go forward with an empty stomach.
In college I would like to expand my commitment to community service. I truly enjoy the feeling I get when I help others. I know I will become involved with many different service organizations. Whether it is traveling abroad for a semester to Ghana where I can study and help children in an AIDS orphanage or joining a club that helps the community around campus, I want to contribute to making a better, fairer world. When I help those down on their luck, I feel good. I know that with a bit of help, modern day families like the Joads could one day soon rise through the ranks and find themselves on the road to success.
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