Saturday, December 26, 2009

Giving to the Needy

A year ago, some people in a very affluent suburb wanted to do something good and helpful for Christmas. They passed around the hat, collected some money, and made an anonymous donation to a family in the inner city. It was a very generous act, they are truly good people, but was this act thoughtful, or even helpful?

I feel a bit like Scrooge even asking that question. Well maybe it’s the rhetorical nature of the question that has me feeling Grinch-ish, because I already have an answer. No.

This group of people gave the gift to someone they knew of, but did not know. They gave it to me.
Why me? Without asking it was easy to surmise; they first, knew I exist, and second, knew I live in the “inner city”.
They knew of my family’s existence due to our both being part of a larger religious community. My activities in this church often bring me in contact with those who do not attend my regular congregation, so it would be easy for someone who does not know me personally, to have some small familiarity with my name. That would easily combine with their knowledge of the geographic boundaries of my actual congregation, but this is the extent of our intimacy.
These well meaning people have a view of what it means to live in the inner city, and in many cases it is accurate, but they never go there. Not only do they not go there but people who live “there” rarely if ever, venture out. News cameras broadcast reports from the grimiest of places and tell the saddest or most sordid tales, and an image is permanently cast.

This image is not entirely false. I could introduce these people to countless associates of mine with stories worthy of “Extreme Home Makeover”, or more likely” Cops”, either way, people in need of a gift. I am surrounded by those in need. But those are not they to whom the gift was given, it was given to me. At the time I was in the fifth year of a career with a Fortune 500 company, enjoying a nice salary, a regular bonus structure, a company car complete with gas card, and even a healthy expense account. Of those who attend my congregation my family would have surely qualified as one of the least in need of outside assistance. This has made me think a bit.

Many want to help. Many even take steps, especially at this time of year, to do something helpful. I fear most of these efforts are wasted. Maybe not wasted but rather squandered. How can any of us help another without first knowing what help they really need? That is the hard part, identifying the true need. It’s the nitty-gritty, nuts and bolts of helping, it’s the dirty work. Not only is it dirty, but it takes time, more time than December provides.

Maybe it would have been a better idea to have given me a phone call first. I could have passed them along to someone else more deserving, or accepted the gift with the charge to pass it along to someone else.

I would hate for those who have, to stop giving to those who don’t, but we can do better. Let us start thinking things through to the end. Let’s take the next step and make sure we know the situation before we act. Let us try to actually solve the problems we think are out there rather than just make a little dent in them. I know it’s hard. I know most people don’t have the time. I understand. In the end, maybe these folks, while a bit unknowingly, did the best thing.

If you don’t truly know the needy, give to those who do.


RED said...

Just curious, but why would you choose to live in the inner-city? I am one who doesn't venture in unless forced (although less inner-city exists in Dallas then in D.C.). I can understand the need to visit, help, try and understand the needs and repair damage but why live there if your circumstances don't require it?

brohammas said...

1. I dislike yard work.
2. I like a locale that has "place". Suburbs are sterile, one looking and feeling just like any other. You could be just outside D.C. or Seattle... you can't tell.
3. Natural human interraction. In the burbs you see a neighbor in the driveway and wave from 40 yards away. You do not have more than a nodding interaction with another person unless you seek it out and arrange it; play dates, dinners, socials, etc. One lives from home, to car, to work, to box store, to car, to prearranged sporting/art event/lesson, than back home. In the city you share a stoop, people walk past you and your home, you naturally find yourself elbow to elbow with people. I like people.
4. The art museum, the aquarium, the natural history museum, the sculpture garden, the Italian Market, Old City, the American Philasophical Society, UPenn, Rittenhouse Square, more independent eateries and Bistros than I can ever visit... need I continue?

The term "inner city" with it's negative connotation, insinuating crime, poverty, despair... ignores culture, style, community, history, and yes, even affluence... here it is often gross, old, astronomical affluence.

The perception most have of life in the city again goes to show the degree of seperation we as people have created between each other. This need to visit and help out but otherwise avoid is the root of how one drops the check off to the wrong house.

(the clock is ticking.... my wife wants a yard)

Dad said...

Looks like you are still on the Pride cycle. Yep, someone misjudged your circumstances, and blew it just like someone did some years ago. Look on the bright side for once and say to yourself, wow, someone thought of me, even if circumstances aren't what they seem, maybe I can make some good of this and pass it on rather than being cynical about it. You may like people, but sometimes you have to look at yourself to see how you are judging others.

uglyblackjohn said...

"Inner City"
If it's primarily Black, it's "Urban".
If white,
it's "Urbane".

brohammas said...

UBJ, usually except here the white parts are affectionately called "Blue Collar".
Dad, Point taken. Though in my defence, we were very gracious and you would be very accurate if the givers had actually known me and made a misjudgement, but that was not the case. The direct quote was, "we wanted to help a city family", they did not know who I was/am, just turns out we were the only name they could find.
The point here was not that I am successful and don't need help, especially after the past 8 months, but rather the idea that those who have good hearts and want to help could do a little better. It is a shame to waste good intentions and resources because we are too removed from those who need to help to really know how to help. This wasn't really about me or them but the bigger picture. One segment of society who wants to help another, or one country trying to help another, may very well be wasting effort and capitol if they havent spent the time in the trenches needed to know how these resources are best allocated.

I am presently accepting any gifts offered... feel free to donate.

Amber said...

From person to person, this is a very difficult thing to do. You can't go around asking people "How's your financial situation?" The appearance of being financially stable is very important in American culture, and money management is almost a taboo conversation.

How could you go around finding the most needy person? Often, you can't. Often, the most needy person is one who does not have a network of resources to help them out. People look at Joe Stink on the street and often believe he deserves to be there, or tells themselves that they must make good money pan-handling 'cause why would they do it otherwise. How are we to know? Who are we to judge?

Which is why there IS value in government programs - despite many complaints from people who contribute a little toward them with their taxes but don't see the benefits. It is a lot easier to admit your financial situation to a faceless form and jump through some hoops every six months in order to get food stamps than it would be to ask family to support you month after month so you can make sure your children get fed.

Gary-Good-Heart likely does not have the time to research individuals, and the giving corporation or star likes giving that has some glamor about it. (It sounds great to say you're helping orphans in Africa. Not so sexy to say you're helping a neighborhood family or a recently laid off single guy, etc.)

I'm not saying government aid is the only, or even the best way to help the needy. I am saying it is a GOOD way - and CAN even be improved. Perhaps we should think twice before decrying the evils of taxes and instead focus on improving government aid programs rather than arguing they should be done away with all together.

(Sorry for taking your topic off on a tangent.)

brohammas said...

actually Amber that isnt off topic at all. Its exactly the sort of thing I'm talking about.

Siditty said...

I love this post. It reminds me of when I used to tell my friends my great aunt and uncle lived in Oak Cliff here in Dallas. Oak Cliff to many was the ghetto. Yes, there are some rough parts of Oak Cliff, but there are houses there that cost more than most suburban dwellings, a country club, and my great aunt was a retired school teacher, and my great uncle was a lawyer, so they didn't really live in the rough part. They actually had a very nice home with wonderful architecture, a great locale, and more expensive than those who assumed they were poor and down trodden lived in. The problem with the "inner city", much like with racial stereotypes is people believe things to be true because they watch stuff on television or believe nonsense people tell them.

Like you said the inner city has culture, style, community and history, something suburbs don't typically have, and I know I currently live in one, and have lived in suburbs all my life.

Sick of Sweaters said...

Bro...They do the same thing every December. They gather around for family council or family night, read a feel good story from a church magazine and then ask "who can we help this year?", "hum...since we categorize those in need as minorities... what minoroties do we know???" "hmmmm" (deep but empty thought and lots of pauses) THE ANSWER IS NO ONE! the same answer every year! So they take the easy route... "Let's call up the church leaders and see if they can tell us who we can help in the city!"
Then they go buy a sweater from target...because you know "we be" cold her in the city! They drop it off the easiest way possible and POOF... on to heaven they go!
The suburb people make me sick man! Yes I'm steretyping them just like they stereotype us. They see someone and automatic; they just ASSUME, based on the persons appearance. But if I must take part in this gifting process of helping them feel good, then I must ask them to please boost up the value of the item you give next year, so that when I sell it on ebay... I can actually profit from it.

Anonymous said...

Seriously Bro Check your spam posters.