EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the last column in a three-part series exploring poverty, activism, and philanthropy. The views expressed are those of the writer.
Part II: Make your actions speak
In the previous two parts of this series, we considered the foundation needed before we can really be effective givers. Firstly, what is one’s attitude about the poor in our community? Secondly, that it is only from the basis of gratitude that we can truly give, and care is needed to not proceed in a God-like manner. To be humble is to refute the natural desire to tightly control outcomes, too overbearing and impatient to build dialog and consensus among our fellow workers. If we plunge ahead like this we risk burnout, disappointment, and cynicism.
So what is happening in Piqua? Where are the opportunities to practice giving in a way that might help those who receive to develop some security and self-respect and gratitude enough to begin to give back? This is a new idea emerging in the nonprofit community, one that rejects the traditional philanthropic model of the one-way flow of giving and receiving. Admittedly our community might have a ways to go in this respect, but at least one organization is making good on this potential: Piqua Compassion Network (PCN).
PCN began as a result of numerous churches in Piqua trying to handle so many individuals who come to the doorstep for help, often in some kind of financial crisis. Most churches are not equipped for screening and the ongoing practical support often needed. PCN’s motto is “A hand up, not a handout.” In addition to providing for legitimate basic social, physical and spiritual needs of those in crisis, this nonprofit enterprise offers a three series course designed to foster self-sufficiency, called Path to Stability. Getting Ahead helps people to assess their current situation, and focuses on choices. Steps to Change is about financial planning and decision making. Jobs for Life imparts skills for employment success and retention. According to Executive Director Ann Hoover, “Poverty is simply not about a lack of money, it is about a life skills set and mind-set that holds someone back.”
Another opportunity for giving is a project with which I am personally involved. Many people in Piqua know or have heard about the Bethany Center. Seventeen years ago Wilma Earls stepped out in faith to start a soup kitchen at St. Paul’s Church (because St. Mary’s didn’t have available facilities). Today, Bethany Center is at the old South Street school building and is much more than a soup kitchen serving four meals a week. There is also a pantry, furniture bank, reading room, housewares room, and cold shelter for the homeless.
People coming for hot meals often show up early just to visit with each other. In fact, a great many people, givers and receivers alike, have formed a small close knit community. Politically conservative readers will be pleased to know that Bethany Center receives no government funding whatsoever. If you get to know Wilma and Kathy — her “co-conspirator” you might say—what you find is that these women depend entirely on God’s providence—and provide He does indeed. (Ask me about the watermelon story sometime.)
I started helping at Bethany Center on the first Tuesdays back in February, initially as a mission project from Westminster Presbyterian Church. Since then, some of my beliefs have transformed the kind of food served on those Tuesdays. For years, I’ve been a strong advocate for whole foods (i.e., from scratch), properly grown, locally sourced and lovingly prepared. Yes it costs a little more, and takes more time to fix. And I do understand that soup kitchens and many people cannot afford food and time like this. But I have a dream and well, you have to start somewhere.
I think there are injustices built into our system, but that’s a subject for another time. If a person finds him or herself in the “have not” part of society, it shouldn’t forever relegate them to less nutritious food (or health care for that matter). In fact there is a definite and clear correlation between food and health. But in our fast-paced society that thrives on consumerism and disdains critical (that is, analytical) thinking, most of us are too hurried and woefully ignorant about the kind of nutrition that truly supports health and healing. Can you imagine actually using food to prevent things like diabetes, high blood pressure, or even cancer? Even if one appreciates this fact, truly believing it and changing your lifestyle to live that belief are two different things. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
In short, here is my vision. Spending your money with locally owned and operated businesses keeps money in our community; this leads to more jobs closer to home. Better food means better health. Less fortunate people usually have poorer health. What if we were able to provide them with consistently better food? This might mean less money to the health care system and more to local businesses. Just ask Montgomery County Commissioners Deb Lieberman and Dan Foley. They get it and are doing something about it. And what if we found a way to connect local food producers (there are more than you would believe) to soup kitchens like the Bethany Center? The way I see it, it’s a win-win-win scenario, and our local economies could regrow what we have lost since Wall Street undermined Main Street.
Caroline McColloch is a freelance writer, farmer and local foods advocate. She can be reached at (937) 773-0663 or firstname.lastname@example.org.