OPINION: Orlando charity that helps low-wage workers deserves help from low-wage employers

2018-01-11 | The Orlando Sentinel

Jan. 10--Wednesday's front page featured a truly sad story.

United Against Poverty -- a great nonprofit that helps the working poor -- has so many people who need its services, it has run out of room.

Specifically, UP needs more parking spaces to serve the 500-plus people who go there each day for job training, low-cost groceries and continuing education -- and to meet local parking regulations.

UP has already raised about $1.4 million of the $1.6 million it needs to buy the necessary land. It's $200,000 short.

And I submit this region's low-wage employers should step up and finish the deal.

After all, many of their employees are the ones who work full-time and still don't earn enough to make ends meet.

When I first visited this nonprofit on Michigan Street a decade ago, the former director had a message for the theme parks, hotels and restaurants.

"We're taking care of your employees," said Pastor Scott George. "I know, because they come in here wearing your uniforms."

Actually, dear readers, you help too. You, the taxpayers.

City and county leaders have agreed to pay about $500,000 each to buy the land, knowing that UP fills a critical need.

The center's current director, Eric Gray, has raised another $400,000 from private donations. He needs the final $200,000 within the next few weeks -- money that should come from the companies whose workers have to shop at UP's discounted, makeshift grocery store because they can't afford to shop at Publix.

Really, it's all basic math. We're a region driven by low-wage tourism jobs -- a median wage of $10.09 an hour, for instance, for the 149,790 people who work in food prep, according to the Census Bureau.

That's $21,000 a year. Yet the United Way says the average local family of four needs to make $53,856 simply to "survive".

That's a gap -- one that will always be there, as long as this region runs on low-wage jobs.

So we have a choice: Raise wages, which local employers don't want to do. Or find a way to fill the gap between what they make and what it costs to live.

That's where we are now. Taxpayers have done their part. So have many private donors and foundations. It's time for local companies to do a bigger share ... on behalf of the employees who keep their doors open and profit margins healthy.

Get more info on United Against Poverty at www.uporlando.org.

Game on

If you haven't ever checked out Otronicon at the Orlando Science Center, this week is your chance to see all the video games, virtual-reality simulators and cutting-edge technology.

About a decade ago,the Center asked me and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer to kick off Otronicon by facing off in a virtual-reality military game. Buddy used a flak cannon to blow a 12-inch hole in my chest, saying: "On many days, I've felt like doing that."

Two years ago, we faced off again -- this time in a motion-sensor dance-off. Theoretically, I won that contest. But really, no one who witnessed the sad spectacle of two flailing dad-bods won that day.

On Tuesday, Buddy and I strapped into a couple of flight simulators for a "Top Gun" battle. I told Buddy I felt the need ... the need for speed. Buddy told me my ego was writing checks my body couldn't cash.

We were exactly like Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer ... if both stars had camped out at a Golden Corral for the past 30 years.

Buddy beat me. I'll retaliate during his next campaign. More info on the event at www.otronicon.org.

UCF champs

And lastly, a thought on the politics of football.

It's been fun watching the debate over the University of Central Florida declaring itself national champion. Personally, I like UCF's swagger and PR savvy. And mostly, it's just free fun and games. (Well, except for the $325,000 in "championship" bonuses the school paid coaches and staff, many of whom are leaving. That one had a real-life price tag.)

But I've been amused by all the politicians trying to one-up each other with press releases declaring UCF national champs. It's basically low-hanging fruit. They get to pander to UCF fans and look like grade-A Sunshine State homers.

Yet I have trouble imagining that, if the Gators or Seminoles had been in that final game Monday, these same Florida politicians would've been as eager to invalidate that championship game.

I asked Buddy if he would've declared the Knights champs even if his own law school alma mater (UF) had won the title.

Hizzoner's eyes widened as he realized the dilemma before responding: "That would've been harder."

At least he was honest. Go, Knights.

smaxwell@orlandosentinel.com

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