A Humbling Experience

The following article, reprinted from The Journal — the newsletter of the Special Court Judges Association of Pennsylvania — was written by John R. Bailey, Magisterial District Judge…and a West Chester Food Cupboard volunteer.

A Humbling Experience

By John R. Bailey, Magisterial District Judge
District No.: 15-4-03

Judge John R. Bailey

I am a Magisterial District Judge and began my volunteer work at the West Chester Food Cupboard in early December 2016. I started volunteering because I was concerned with the number of Chester County residents that I was seeing in my court who couldn’t pay court fees or pay fines because of their financial situation. They truly don’t have the funds. It got me thinking that if a Chester County resident is unable to pay a court fine, how many county residents can’t afford food and as a result are going hungry.

What I’ve learned working at the West Chester Food Cupboard and through my work as a Judge in Chester County, is that there are a lot of county residents who don’t make a sustainable living wage. A sustainable living wage in Chester County for one Adult is $12.71/hour based on 2,080 annual hours1. That equates to $26,437 annually, yet based on the Census Bureau statistics2, the median wage for Chester County is $88,995 which equates to roughly $43/hour. Clearly, there’s a large disparity between a living wage and the median wage amount that’s documented by the Census Bureau.

Hourly Wage 1 Adult 1 Adult/1 Child 1 Adult/2 Children
Living Wage $12.71 $24.90 $29.69
Poverty Wage $5.00 $7.00 $9.00
Minimum Wage $7.25 $7.25 $7.25

All data in this table is based on 2,080 annual hours.1

Per the Census report2, 7% of Chester County residents experience poverty (as of 2016), but per the article, “Identifying Food Insecurity, Even in Pennsylvania’s Wealthiest County” by Lisa Huffman and Diane Walker for Penn Medicine News Blog (July 26, 2017) there are “half-dozen (Chester County) municipalities that experience poverty rates in excess of 15%”3.

The Census report estimates that there are 516,312 residents of Chester County which means, at the very least, there are 36,142 residents who can’t afford to provide the basic necessities — including food, for themselves or their families (as of 2016).

From what I’ve seen, that’s most likely a low figure and is probably much higher. That substantial income disparity among the residents of Chester County — the wealthiest County of Pennsylvania, means there are a lot of residents who are hungry with no hope of changing their current situation without outside help.

The West Chester Food Cupboard is providing this help every day. They are filling the food needs of countless individuals who would otherwise not have the adequate resources to provide food necessities for themselves or their families. Food is a basic need for all human beings, along with safe and secure shelter and drinkable water.

Every week I stock shelves, unload trucks and receive donations for the West Chester Food Cupboard, and this helps to remind me that not everyone in Chester County is wealthy and food secure. It also helps in my day-to-day activities as I’m more sensitive to residents who come before me and may be experiencing financial distress. I’m thankful that the West Chester Food Cupboard exists to meet the food needs of Chester County residents.


1Living Wage Calculator for Chester County, Pennsylvania

2US Census Beureau Quick Facts, Chester County, Pennsylvania

3Penn Medicine News: Identifying Food Insecurity, Even inPennsylvania’s Wealthiest County by Diana L. Walker and Lisa Huffman