by Rev. Denise Bender

wal-mart groceries store shopping hanson-lu-1116266-unsplash

The Gospels tell us that Jesus often spoke to and about people who are poor during his earthly life and ministry. Yet for churches in middle-class or higher settings, youth may have little interaction with people living in poverty, and may not realize the many challenges that come with low or no income. With a goal of increasing understanding and empathy for those who live in different economic circumstances, the following lesson was presented at Cameron United Methodist Church in Denver during an overnight retreat.

At first, the youth (called FYI – Fabulous Youth Involved), were skeptical that they would have difficulty buying the food they needed. As part of our retreat, I took them to the grocery store where we actually bought the food on their lists to begin our Lenten food drive at the church. When perishables were identified as part of the meal, the costs were subtracted from the team’s $20 to be donated along with the non-perishable food.

When we debriefed, each of the youth shared that they had been surprised by how difficult it was and how a bump in the road with the addition of needing medicine or cleaning supplies made it very difficult. Even the next day when they were telling their parents as they came to pick them up they were excited about how well they had done to give to a family for a weekend. I believe this was an important lesson that we can build on as we continue to be involved in our community.

Lesson Plan

1. Read Luke 6:17-26
In teams of two, come up with five questions you have about this passage. Together discuss questions and answers.

2. Today’s activity (ask youth to discuss):

  • How would you describe poverty?
  • How would you describe a living wage?
  • Is a living wage the same as minimum wage?
  • Which is better?
  • How do people who live below the poverty line make it in today’s world?

3. Split the group into four teams with a minimum of two on each team and present the scenarios below. Each team should begin with making a list of what things the family in their scenario need to survive. Money is a given, so money is not to be on the list. Discuss in a group what each family needs, comparing the four lists.

4. Each team is then to find a grocery store on-line to begin researching what their situation can use to survive the weekend. Give each team about 45 minutes to do their shopping. About halfway through, add to each scenario with a “bump in the road” – for instance, the baby has a fever and needs medicine, or the dogs barfed all over the car and it has to be cleaned because they live in the car. Another bump can happen when the grocery list is almost done.

5. After shopping is completed, invite each team to share with the other what they “bought” and why. Ask:

  • What surprised you about this activity?
  • What did you learn?
  • Would you have been able to be happy through the weekend with the food you bought
  • Why or why not?
  • Is the food you bought part of a balanced diet? How?

6. After the discussion and during closing prayers, ask each person how they will help those on the margins in the coming weeks.


Situation #1

A family of three – mom, dad, and 4-year-old. Both mom and dad make a living wage working as inspectors for food for the FDA, but they have been furloughed from their jobs and are not getting paid. Their Christmas bills are past due as is their house payment and other bills. What are three meals you can buy for them with $20?

Situation #2

A family of four – a mom, a child who is 2, a child who is 6, and a child who is 8. The children eat breakfast and lunch provided by their school each weekday. The 2 year-old is in day-care where her mom works. The baby is also fed two meals at her daycare, but she is still in diapers. On the weekends, the family has little to eat and barely get through the weekend. The mom has a car that needs repairs, the baby needs diapers, and the landlord is raising the rent. For $20 what can you buy to get this family through a weekend?

Situation #3

An elderly couple with one 15-year-old grandchild and a dog. The couple was doing well with retirement until the grandchild needed to live with someone else other than her mom due to drug addiction of the mom. The household is running smoothly except that the couple does not have enough monthly income to cover all their expenses. The grandchild has breakfast and lunch at school during the week, and usually eats at least one meal on the weekend with a friend. The grandfather is diabetic. For $20 what can you buy to get this family through a weekend?

Situation #4

A man is living in his car after his wife divorced him. He has two small dogs that live with him. Occasionally he will go to a rec center and take a shower. He works at an auto mechanic during the day, but has to take care of his dogs, too. He does have money for gas, food, and occasional showers. All of his food needs to be easy to open and microwavable. His boss lets him use his microwave during the day. The man cannot find a shelter to stay in because of his dogs. He is a recovering addict and did jail time when he was younger. For $20 what can you buy to get this family through a weekend?

One thought on “A Unique Lesson on Poverty for Youth

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