We are entering the giving season, and two stories recently underscored the needs in our community. First, we learned that the shelves are bare just as the demand is soaring at the Lessie Bates Davis Continuum of Life Care Center in East St. Louis. Second, Joe Hubbard is retiring after 50 years of helping the poor, the past 40 at Catholic Urban Programs in East St. Louis. He lamented the growth of the problems that seem overwhelming.
We think it’s reasonable, before you give, to question how you give. A handout may feed someone today, but will that just make them dependent on another handout tomorrow?
We’re reminded of a story about a woman who fed the homeless, but not until she had given them a small job. She said it wasn’t about her need to have the work performed, it was about maintaining the dignity of those who sought her help. They earned their meal.
That’s the philosophy behind Habitat for Humanity and similar housing groups. You get a hand up, not a hand out. You invest sweat equity but receive a house you otherwise could not afford thanks to others’ generosity.
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Is there a similar mechanism we can apply to our food pantries? Would it be horrible to expect someone to volunteer for a community clean-up or to help an elderly person or to stock the food pantry shelves before they received a food basket?
Should we build human dignity or human dependence when we give?