- Associated Press - Monday, April 17, 2017

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Churches in South Dakota’s largest city are working together to address the city’s rising poverty rate in an effort to help children and families.

The Argus Leader (https://argusne.ws/2p9IJcy ) reported that Sioux Falls’ poverty rate jumped to 14 percent last year.

Empower Sioux Falls hosts forums every six to eight weeks where church leaders from all denominations can share ideas about how to help the community and coordinate outreach efforts.

“A lot of churches, we were doing similar things,” said Zach Bauer, pastor at Red Door Church. “The goal was, how could we come together and collaborate and communicate better.”

Empower formed last fall. Empower co-founder Rich Merkouris was serving on a school board and wanted to do something to help unite the city’s faith community.

“It was the vastness of the need,” he said that motivated him to reach out beyond his own church congregation.

Empower hopes to encourage people to become mentors for kids through groups such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and Lutheran Social Services.

Lutheran Social Services member Doug Morrison said the organization has had a shortage of volunteer mentors.

“You got to educate everyone that there’s a need out there,” he said.

Young children are the most affected by the increasing poverty. Almost half of Sioux Falls kids qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Some elementary schools in the Sioux Falls School District give free meals to all students due to the high number of qualifying children.

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Information from: Argus Leader, https://www.argusleader.com

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