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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

Nothing Is More Than Something

Monday, November 03, 2008

With the downturn in the economy, churches are receiving more and more phone calls from people asking for help. Most of these calls, at least in my church's case, come from people outside the congregation, people who, more likely than not, found a listing in a phone book and cold called with a story and a plea: the mortgage is due; the electricity is being disconnected; the car needs gas.

Whoever fields these calls wants to help. We all feel a powerful pull to help, to wave a magic charity wand and fix the situation. If we could, we would become need technicians, men and women who know just which button to push to get the bank of the single mother's back or put some petrol in the family Chevy. We could traffic in gas and grocery gift cards, vouchers for services, memorandums of understanding with utility companies, and so salvage situation after situation from the brink of catastrophe.

There is some success to be had here. But it is a grudging success that comes with the tacit expectation that the next billing cycle will bring the same panicked phone call from the same person. Regardless, it's success worth aiming for, because if you can keep a family's water from being shut off you should.

But I'm realizing--sloooowly--that there's a lot more work to be done in these kinds of situations and a whole lot less workers. If you need food, there are innumerable food pantries around. Clothes? No problem: charities are overflowing with donations. Even medical care can be provided for those who have absolutely nothing.

If you have something, though, and you're scraping and clawing to hold on to it, then you're much, much harder to help. There really aren't any organizations to help you pay your rent, and in the end the utility company is going to collect its money from somebody. Because it costs a lot more to keep people in homes and cars than it does to simply give them food, clothing, and a night's shelter. If you're homeless, we can help you; if you're trying to avoid becoming homeless, we're mostly stuck.

Once you've been evicted, though, and the car has been repossessed, come see us and we'll give you some non-perishables.

It makes one sick with helplessness.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 11:43 AM


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