Residents reflect on weak local economy
by Eddie Burkhalter
Sep 18, 2013 | 2791 views |  0 comments | 36 36 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Alvin Townsend sits inside a pavilion at Oxford Lake with his christian literature. Photo by Stephen Gross.
Alvin Townsend sits inside a pavilion at Oxford Lake with his christian literature. Photo by Stephen Gross.
OXFORD – Printed across a religious pamphlet on a table at Oxford Lake Wednesday was the phrase “Why so much suffering, and when will it end?”

The pamphlet wasn’t about the weak local economy, but for residents who say they’re still suffering as the rest of the country slowly improves from the Great Recession of 2008, it could have been.

A report released this week by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis showed the Anniston-Oxford-Jacksonville metro area – which includes all of Calhoun County – was in a recession last year. The metro area’s real gross domestic product fell for two consecutive quarters, which economists say constitutes a recession.

Alvin Townsend, 67, was handing out those pamphlets Wednesday at Oxford Lake and talking with people about his faith. The Jehovah’s Witness and Oxford resident explained that while the nationwide economy might be slowly improving, it’s hard to notice it from where he sits.

“People are in dire straits now,” he said.

Townsend said while doing volunteer work for his church he regularly hears from people who say they worry about making enough money to survive.

Townsend used to own a business in Houston that delivered goods for a large retailer. He sold the business to one of his workers before moving to Oxford in 2008 to help care for his aging mother.

The recession didn’t affect his old business that much, he said, because he kept his overhead low. He has several health problems now and isn’t working, but his wife works at a local bank.

He and his wife aren’t struggling, Townsend said, but they “really have to be thrifty. You can’t do things out of want, he said

“If you stick to what you need it can balance out a little,” Townsend said.

Lisa Williams, 34, spent part of Wednesday shopping with her 3-year-old daughter at the Center of Hope thrift store in Oxford. Williams works part time at a fast food restaurant, her husband full time at an auto parts store.

Williams said she’s heard that the economy is improving overall but that “it’s not really getting better for us.”

“It’s still really hard to pay all my bills every month,” Williams said.

She shops at thrift stores and only spends money on necessities, Williams said. Most of her friends are also still struggling to make ends meet, she said.

She’d like to go back to school and become a nurse, but Williams said she’s not sure if the family budget can afford it.

That same uncertainty about how to pay for school is what Xavier McCluney recently found himself struggling with. The 18-year-old Lincoln High School graduate stood outside the Quintard Mall on Wednesday holding forms from a U.S. Navy recruiter.

“Tuition is so high,” McCluney said. The uncertainty of finding a job that would pay enough to attend his school of choice – Auburn University – coupled with increasing tuition costs helped him come to the decision to enlist.

The military will help pay for his college, he said, so he’ll still be able to live out his dream of becoming a teacher.

And it’s not just individuals who continue to suffer. One local food assistance agency is hurting along with the people it helps, said the nonprofit group’s director, Maudine Holloway.

With more than three months left this year, the Anniston-based Community Enabler Developer has already helped more people with food assistance in 2013 than it did during all of last year, Holloway said.

“We’re over the 1,000 number now,” she said. “We’re limited on food and there is no money to buy more.”

Holloway said the large need has depleted the agency’s food stocks, and after receiving about $3,000 less in donations this year than last, there isn’t enough money to replenish the pantries.

The agency runs largely on donations from churches and individuals, but those donations are down this year and Holloway suspects that’s due to the weak local economy.

“We’re really struggling right now,” she said. “And if groups are hurting, you know individuals are.”

Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.

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