I served as Executive Director of three non-profits helping poor folks in the rural south and I’m going to tell you the truth about private charities caring for America’s poor. Short version: It is a delusional pipe dream.
Libertarians like to advocate this so the government can further be reduced to the point it will fit down the bath tub drain. Then, the theory goes, people will voluntarily give to charities so that the poor will be kept alive. If voluntary giving will accomplish this I challenge you: DO IT! Do it now and the welfare state will wither from lack of use. Why don’t you do it? Why don’t the Koch brothers do this with their billions?
Because it will never work, that’s why, and everyone with over three brain cells knows it. The real plan is to just cut away at public benefits and the devil take the hindmost-the hindmost being the least of these, who can’t afford a lobbyist, are most often working or are children or elderly so busy trying to stay alive they have no time or energy to defend themselves.
I realize that most people have no idea of the scope of the problem or the human stories of the poor in America. The corporate media won’t cover the story and a thick blanket of silence covers America’s shame. I’ve written a few stories about real poor people I have known and could probably write 30 right off the top of my head.
Are you worried about welfare, as in cash assistance? Don’t be, Bill Clinton killed that with WIA-the Workforce Investment Act. I love the names of cruel laws, like Bush’s Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 which HURT consumers right before the world economy crashed and so many found themselves without the funds to even file for bankruptcy. On the other hand, banks going bankrupt, that’s another matter. That’s unacceptable.
I first became aware of The Poors when an affluent friend asked me to accompany her to distribute Christmas gifts to the children of prisoners under Project Angel Tree. Children of prisoners would write a letter saying what they wanted for Christmas and church folks chose a name, got the gift and it was delivered with a tag, “From Daddy.” The idea was to maintain family ties until the guy got out-and to give kids presents, something the south has enjoyed doing since the slaves were invited up to the Big House for a ham on Christmas day.
The first house we stopped at did not look inhabitable by human beings; the porch was falling off for one thing. Inside was a weary mother of six, grateful for the gifts. I sat next to a baby dozing in a car seat on the couch. The kerosene heater barely kept the temperature above freezing because the spaces between the floor boards were so wide I could see the ground under the house.
The house was furnished with decrepit couches and chairs but was spotlessly clean. I noticed movement all around. Cockroaches were crawling everywhere, in an out of crevices. This was alarming to me (I got more used to it as the years went by) and I had to mightily suppress an urge to scoot the roaches off the baby as they crawled up his blanket toward his face. What good would that do? I was only here for fifteen minutes; the baby lived here all the time.
The rest of the homes were similar eye-openers. “This is outrageous,” I told my friend. “I’ve got to do something.” She encouraged me to try. I started a non-profit and moved to the hood to live with the people, like Jesus did. We had a little food pantry. If someone was without food, we could provide two bags of groceries. Unlike the “food gestures” of many private charities-two bags of donated canned corn and out of date beans, I insisted we actually provide some meat and took fruit out of my own fridge. It was only two bags, but darn it, at least it was two bags of healthy food.
Local food ministries were strapped even then, in supposedly better times. Things just got worse and worse. I disagreed with a few other Christian ministries on how I treated those in need. I treated them with respect, not as victims needing rescue. I did not attempt to ascertain who were the “deserving poor” since I never saw Jesus mention any such criteria for giving. Requiring people needing help to go to church is manipulative and prying into their personal lives is humiliating. With all we did, it was a drop in the ocean.
I ran two other charities, one which worked with the regional food bank to provide a meal every day for kids and one that coordinated all the local charities to increase efficiency, which included an in-house food bank. Local charities cannot do any better than provide a couple bags of groceries a month.
Please do an experiment. Go get a couple bags of canned goods, eat only that and tell me how you are doing at the end of the month. You will become an advocate for SNAP, even though SNAP benefits average under $5 a day for food.
Cutting benefits for these folks is cruel. It is, I believe, cruelty based on ignorance. The Poors are not taking all of America’s money-if so, they would no longer BE poor now would they?
I challenge you-before you comment on The Poors, at least have the decency to learn the truth about them. VOLUNTEER right now. Volunteer at the local food bank, soup kitchen or homeless shelter-they always need help.
Do it. Look up their number and call them and say, “I want to volunteer.” Then go and work and watch. Listen.