Combining Resources – Part 11: Readings – 5
For example, our sharing at the meeting revealed that several agencies gave away clothing. The duplication was actually convenient for the agencies. In Holland [Michigan] there was no shortage of donated clothing, and so there was no reason to ration its distribution. Imposing more accountability on the distribution of clothing would reduce distribution and thereby produce a stockpile of clothing. This would require renting a warehouse. In addition, controlling distribution at each agency and coordinating distribution among the agencies would take a lot of time. The agencies saved money and time by simply giving away clothing to anyone who asked. But, one agency representative pointed out, it was apparent that some people were showing up at one agency after another asking for clothes. It turned out that some of these people simply never did laundry. When clothes got dirty, they threw them away and went back for more. After all, if you don’t have your own washing machine, why go through the bother of going to a laundromat, as long as clean clothes are always available?
Who was responsible for this behavior? Surely the agencies contributed to it by their own irresponsible style of compassion.
The same was true of financial aid. Whenever assistance is readily available, people will take advantage of it and may not even think they are acting irresponsibly. Why should a person feel guilty about accepting something that an agency or church readily provides? (An especially memorable instance of financial irresponsibility was a client’s request that a church donate money to pay his fine for welfare fraud!)
It was incredibly frustrating to realize that our way of doing things unintentionally kept people focused exclusively on their physical needs. We made it virtually impossible for them to achieve any level of self-esteem, because the helping experience was not designed to give them the help they really needed to become self-sufficient; it was geared to meeting their needs for clothing, money or whatever, in the manner that was simplest for us. Much of the blame for chronic dependence lay with the service providers, who lacked the resources and relationships with other providers to intervene more deeply in their lives. The system was betraying people.
The agency representatives reached the decision to work together more closely. In a series of meetings in the fall of 1976 we systematically gathered information about needs and resources in the Holland area. We conceived of a clearinghouse that would interview people to determine their needs and would refer them to the appropriate agencies for help. We developed a policy statement for the clearinghouse and even came up with a name—Love, INC.
We agreed that the clearinghouse:
- should not promote any further duplication of efforts in town;
- should conduct a need analysis of each client to determine the nature, extent and legitimacy of his or her needs;
- should identify people who were chronically dependent, not with the intention of dismissing their needs but in order to understand their whole need and to involve them in the process of overcoming their irresponsible behavior;
- should confirm the availability of help at an agency before referring someone to it.
Helping agencies would work cooperatively in analyzing people’s expressed needs. The clearinghouse would become a city-wide data bank on people having a wide variety of needs.
The next question was how to use the clearinghouse to bring these needy people into direct contact with church members. I suggested to the agency people that the clearing- house could be used to connect needy people not only with appropriate agencies but also with church members who could help them. Doing this, I argued, would be a way of enlisting more people, more resources, in helping needy people in the community.
The agency staff members were not optimistic about this proposal. Their general view was that the churches were irrelevant to meeting needs. Staff members cited instances in which churches had unnecessarily duplicated services or had started out to provide help but then lost interest. Agencies expressed their sense of responsibility to protect their clients from church members’ passing enthusiasms. They were interested in asking churches for food, clothing and money, and even for volunteers for programs. They did not, however, envision making the churches partners with them in helping the needy members of the community.
One reason agencies did not perceive a need for church members was that the war on poverty had produced a multitude of organizations and funding streams. Agencies had appeared to meet every need. The proliferation of well-funded agencies for a while masked the fact that agency efforts unfortunately often did not alleviate the needs or eliminate poverty. The spending cuts of the 1980s would force agencies to cast about for new resources. The possibility that church members might be enlisted became more attractive as it became clear that they represented not a reshuffling of existing resources but an infusion of new ones.
In any case, in 1976, despite reservations, the agency workers admitted that a cooperative program with church members would be great if it worked.
The next step, then, was for me to go to the churches.
Help Is Just Around the Corner, Virgil Gulker with Kevin Perrotta, Creation House, pages 50-53.
Sunday’s coming. Do you have your sermon ready? Is it relevant? Will it effectively motivate your congregation to walk more in step with the Master? What about that Sermon Series you’ve been thinking about?
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