Imagine you are a member of the Members In Mission Team at Central Presbyterian Church. At today's Team meeting, you are told that $60,000 is available but the grants must be in multiples of $20,000. So, there could be three grants of $20,000 each ---- or two grants: $20,000 and $40,000, or one grant of $60,000.
We must decide today exactly how we will give to the poor.
GRANT APPLICATION #1: The Kindly Shepard Soup Kitchen
This grant would help fund daily operating expenses. The Soup Kitchen provides a hot lunch every day for about 350 men, women and children in Newark. Participants are welcomed and fed without any limitation, and some have come regularly for years. Without our grant, says the Director of the Soup Kitchen, they will have to start limiting participation, particularly with their longer-term guests.
GRANT APPLICATION #2: Hopkins House
A former hotel in Newark, Hopkins House is operated by a private, charitable association as a no-frills, but safe and clean, shelter for mothers and their children. House rules of behavior are strict and forbid all drugs and alcohol; no visitors are allowed above the first floor. Residents provide all routine maintenance, such as cleaning the common areas, shoveling snow from sidewalks, and decorating for holidays. Every adult must contribute at least 5 hours of service weekly to Hopkins House, or risk eviction. Our grant would let Hopkins House avoid charging rent, which most of its present residents would be unable to afford. However, some of these people have been residents for 10 years or more.
GRANT APPLICATION #3: Saw and Hammer
This vocational training facility in Newark teaches basic carpentry skills, as well as more advanced subjects like woodworking. It provides remedial math and reading instruction as needed for its vocational program. Participants are paid a subsistence allowance because the combination of classes and shop practice constitutes a full-day session. Participants are in the program for 5 months, and are tested regularly with difficult projects along the way, Because the program is challenging, it is highly regarded and its graduates later find good jobs.
The grant request is for helping to fund the subsistence allowances, and for shop supplies. The Director is afraid that a reduction in the subsistence allowance would place the program out of the reach of many candidates with potential for vocational development. At the end of 5 months, participants must end the training whether or not they satisfy the graduation requirements.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
1.) When we give to the poor, should there be strings attached? Of the three grant applications, the "string status" was different for each:
---- #1 = no strings
---- #2 = some work required, but no outer limit
---- #3 = work required + 5 month limit
Might your answer depend on the nature of the particular "poor" you are trying to reach? Given the wide diversity of the "poor", could there somehow be an equal need for all three grant-request programs, necessary to reach the several different segments of the "poor"?
2.) Perhaps our target for financial support should focus on:
---- a.) programs which enable those who are willing to work hard and who take care of themselves. But, is it that simple? The disadvantage of being among the "poor" is less about income, more about environment. For example, the best metrics of child poverty aren't monetary, but how often a child is read to or hugged. Or, conversely how often a child is beaten, how often the family descends into alcohol-fueled fistfights, whether there is lead water poisoning, whether ear infections go untreated. This is "poverty" that is far harder to escape. Some think success is all about "choices" and "personal responsibility." Yes, those are real factors, but it is so much more complicated than that.
---- b.) efforts which help particular individuals who are otherwise deserving, to recover from misfortune. Individuals do not always deserve either their wealth or their poverty ---- but, pulling oneself up by one's boot-straps is often impossible without help.
3.) The apostle Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians, 8:13, "Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. There will be equality . . ."
Are we on our way to realizing this wonderful goal, or is the process much more complicated than Paul let's on? Is it fair to impose Middle Class values of work and self-sufficiency on the "poor," when their life experience is so different from ours? But how do we avoid a "free ride" for them, which may poison their ever seeking to be self-sufficient?
These thoughts are brought to you by CPC's Adult Spiritual Development Team, hoping to encourage you to find some personal spiritual growth this year at CPC.