My husband began volunteering at our local food shelf a few months ago. He always has a story or two to share after he has been there. There is never a tone of judgment in his reporting -something cute a small child said or a story of an elderly person who needed extra help in selecting food. I am glad we have this wonderful service in our town. I know that while people go through tough times they often need help to tide them over until the next meager paycheck. This is the least we can do. Feed the hungry, Jesus said.
But I don’t think the least is what we should be doing. I read an article this morning about an organization in New York called Ready, Willing & Able (Parabola, Winter 2014-15) It was started by George McDonald who began passing out sandwiches to the homeless in Grand Central Terminal. He noted how the people were treated like trash. The citizens wanted them out of sight. On Christmas morning 1984 a woman known as “Mama” was found frozen to death outside the Terminal after being evicted by police. Trash removed. I doubt that the story made the headlines, but it shocked McDonald. She was found clutching the scarf he’d given her the night before.
The organization grew to meet real needs over the years as McDonald discovered who the homeless really were – veterans, those new out of prison who could not find jobs, addicts who had no place to go after treatment accept to the streets. The central need was to provide work. Those who participate in the program help clean the streets of New York gaining a sense of accomplishment and pride for a job well done. Ready, Willing and Able gives the participants food and a room as well as providing transitional programs, education, job training, and rehab programs. The assistance to a participant can extend six months into a new job. During those months they are given $200 for every month that they are documented to do their job faithfully and well.
Programs such as this are peppered throughout the country but very few of those who need them are reached. They operate because someone saw the suffering of human beings and responded because they, too, were human. They are rare programs because they extend their services as far as possible to help those in need. They aren’t just a hand-out and a goodbye. They recognize that people’s needs are complex and difficult.
I live in a country where the poor and homeless are looked upon as freeloaders, takers, folks who deserve what is happening to them because of the bad choices they have made or because they are lazy. Programs to help them are barely financed. The government doesn’t consider it the responsibility of the general public to care for these people. I myself disagree. I believe we should be doing the best we can to help our homeless veterans, the poor, the disabled. I celebrate when my tax dollars go toward programs that are thorough, that help people get on their feet, that move them into the work force. Giving a hand-up, they call it. I would call it walking along with a person until they can stand on their own.