Monday, August 17, 2009

Fretful Monday

This is a bit delicate to write about because I don't want to come across as trumpeting virtue, but it's a subject I've been thinking a lot about lately and I'm not entirely easy in my mind with it. I'd like to hear what other people's opinions are.

As a family, we've been helping out a single-parent family with groceries and an occasional tank of gas, as well as just staying in contact on a regular basis. This lady left a pretty chaotic, insane situation and set up on her own. She's working hard on her own "issues" as well as holding down a job and creating a stable home for her children. She's not frivolous, no expensive habits, and is a very economical, d.i.y. kind of homemaker. But the money's still very tight, even with a housing subsidy, and it just feels like the right thing to help her out, since our heads are firmly above water right now.

(Please don't congratulate me on that. It's the same sort of thing that most of you are doing on a regular basis too, and I'm only giving out of my plenty, not out of my scarcity, so that's not exactly a moral occasion.)

Anyway, I was making up a grocery run for her, and on an impulse decided to research what food items are most in demand at food-banks, just in case I'd forgotten something basic. But on several of the websites they mentioned that cash donations were really helpful because food-banks have "four times the buying power" of an individual. That stopped me. Four times. Holy crackers. They could buy four times as much food as I can (if what they're saying is true), and four times as many people would be helped...

But why does that not feel right to me?

I mean, on the surface it seems like a no-brainer. Bare math. Four times. But that doesn't take into consideration so many other things that are important to me.

Like contact and consistency. When you're floundering, and goodness knows I've spent enough time floundering, just to know that there's someone there who keeps you in mind and cares how you're doing is so important. A person, not a collective. Collectives are important, community is important, but I wouldn't want to be married to a community. A little impersonal, you know what I mean? Not really a relationship. And the same with care. I can't really work up a lot of concern for The Village, but I can be concerned about X and her family.

And yeah, I guess maybe care in this circumstance may be a bit embarrassing, but is it more embarrassing than going to a food bank? I don't know. She doesn't seem upset about it. I try to fence it round with as much dignity for her as I can muster, but still, it must be a pang. I know that, but I don't know what the option would be. She's been a giver in the past; hopefully we all can rassle up the grace to receive when necessary. It's the harder end of the stick, I think.

The other thing is, that I know I'm giving to someone who's working very hard at self-sufficiency. I know that lots of the folks who end up resorting to the food bank are doing that too, but not all. And I really want to see these resources going to the people who are working but coming up short, rather than those just waiting for the ravens.

I guess this is the way I can do it, for now. Maybe always. There's probably call for both approaches, like most things. More than one street in this town. This is just the road I live along.

6 comments:

CONSTANTINE said...

I think you are spot on in your perspective. Both are good, but when and where tenable, the personal is preferred over the collective, at least that'd be my take. The latter is an investment in charity and generosity in the abstract (thank God for it, too, but when you do a compare and contrast it seems obvious whichi is better), the former gives count to a soul, so to speak.

Madcap said...

I think the reason why I'm so trepiditious (is that a word?) about this whole situation, is that I'm concerned about me as well as about here. I don't her to feel humiliated, and I don't want to be the sort of person who humiliates in the name of "help". So I guess the food-bank route eliminates some of that possibility in a one-on-one sense, but yes, like you say, no soul is counted. Not in the same way. I guess it's just another one of those situations where we're called to be awake and aware of who we are and what we're actually doing. No easy out.

I read Eat, Pray, Love last week, btw. Loved it. I'm looking forward to her sequel that's supposed to come out this year. Thanks for the heads up!

Shadowmoss said...

I am one of those who would be better off giving to the food bank. I don't do all that well with nurturing. I want people to have food. I'm just at a loss as to how to cook it and give it to them with an encouraging word. I've had enough meals cooked for me and gotten the encouraging word to know how much that means. I'm just not good at it. Now, fixing their computer, or even rustling up one to get them going and setting it up with free software, that I'm good at. But, food is more necessary, even in this day and age.

I encourage a friend who worries about similar issues: give what feels good and stop when it feels like it's for the wrong reasons or to the wrong people. If I feel like I want to step in and 'help' someone live their life 'better' then it's time for me to step back. If I can give the $10 in my pocket freely to the guy with the sign, then hopefully it blesses him as much as it blesses me. Not that I've done that lately...

gfid said...

having been on both sides, i think it's important for everyone to know they HAVE something to give. if i have tomatos and you make someone laugh on a rough day, we've all contributed. the tough thing is that people often think they have to 'pay it back'.... well, maybe they do.... some how or some when or some way. but i don't believe we have to 'pay back' the gifter. giving blesses us. receiving with appreciation and dignity blesses the giver. it's the dignity that's hard, when we're tired and overworked, and don't feel like we're doing a good job on basic needful things.

food banks can multiply their $clout because they don't pay full price for goods, and successful businesses use them to get tax breaks, etc. makes me think really hard about the markup, and how much is thrown away, etc.

platespinner said...

here's something to consider: http://givinganon.org/

Madcap said...

Hmmm. The problem with monetary gifts, at least where I live, is that if you give someone money, and they're getting any kind of subsidies of the sort she is, they're obligated to declare the gift as income, which could jeopardize the subsidy.

But something to think about. I notice it's for Washington State - I wonder if there's something comparable here....