Over this weekend tragedy struck a family in our church. It happened right at the end of my garage sale—or at least that’s when I saw it.
I was on my way back to the church to return some tables that I had borrowed when I saw smoke billowing across the main artery I was on. I figured it was a house on fire based on the amount of smoke and the number of fire engines in the area.
It didn’t even occur to me that it could be someone I knew.
It was the house of a single mom and three of her children. One of the kids is in my Patch the Pirate youth group—a real go-getter when it comes to getting her friends to come to church!
They suspect that it started with a grill that was left going on a porch. Both our friends and the tenants below (it was a two-family) were able to get out alive, but they were only allowed back in the house once, and even though the bedrooms are mostly intact, they were only able to get a few bags of things out.
So, the church swings in to the rescue—trying to provide housing, clothing, supplies, etc., and my wife and I got to thinking. With all the stuff that we as a church, and as a community, has, how does someone know what to give. I mean, I could even go out and buy stuff for them, but I don’t know what to buy.
Giving in a land of affluence is much different than giving in a land of want.
In the land of affluence, we have people that give cash—either because they don’t know what to give or they’re lazy. We have people that give things that do not fit, or are cast offs.
Personally, I have a problem giving away my cast offs to people in need. Why? Because I want them to think more of me than that I looked around my house, found what I didn’t want, and gave it to them.
I’d rather them get my best—or something that they really want—than give them my castoffs.
Now true, in their predicament they would “take anything.” But the truth is that in the land of affluence, “anything” says that it’s something they don’t want.
It’s like when we asked my kids to give something to the little boy that lived there. One of my kids went and started to grab any toy that he could find—regardless of whether he really wanted it or not. My other child started filtering through it to find things that he really didn’t mind parting with (which turned out to be not much!).
I tend to think like the latter son—I don’t want to give up things that I find useful, and yet I want to be considered like the former son—the one that would give the shirt off his back.
So, I’d like to give what they need—meet the need, get them new if that’s what they’d need. It’s not that I feel like giving my stuff would inconvenience me as much as I’d rather give them what they’d want than to look at it as they got what I didn’t want.
How about you?
10 thoughts on “Caring for One Another in the Age of Affluence”
I think the difference is sacrificial giving vs. after-thought giving. We’re so easily drawn into the mindset that our families need to be taken care of first and then we can help out with others in need, where Jesus said to give our first and best. So when we sacrifically give, it gives God the opportunity to miraculously meet our needs, as well.
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@AG: And yet in an age of affluence, giving sacrificially is sometimes hard. In the story of the widow’s mite, the rich man was chastised, and yet should we have expected the rich man to have given all he had? A very hard question indeed.
I agree that the gifts should be on a needs-based system, not cast-offs (unless of course the cast-offs are in great condition and are sizes that the family could actually use). Maybe the church (it has probably already done this) could get a list going of clothes and shoe sizes for the family – that way people looking to buy or donate would know exactly what to bring. I don’t think cash is a horrible gift; there are times when people in need just need some extra cash for an unexpected expense. Depending on how much this family lost, there will be other things such as dishes, appliances, furniture, etc. that will be needed. I think in these cases a pre-owned donation would not be a bad thing, because let’s face it – couches are expensive and very few people can afford to go out and buy new, quality furniture for someone.
Meals are important too. Some of the best ministries are those that provide food for families during a transition period.
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@Rachel: Thanks for the advice. We’ve started a list of some of the clothes, but they’re currently staying at someone’s house, and are waiting to find out what they will do (the lady is not originally from the area, so she may go back “home”). I think that the support has to be something that’s not just a one-time deal, but that actually takes place now, and then when they find a house.
I think when they find a house would be a great time for another shower– and I know that most ladies just need an excuse to get together! 🙂
It’s true. Especially if there’s chocolate fondue involved… So when’s this shower? Can I come? 😀
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@AG: Chocolate fondue? Isn’t that a fire hazard in and of itself?
I’m so sorry for what they’re going through…and if they didn’t have rental insurance…then it’s going to hurt that much worse. In our community, Red Cross steps in immediately with money…they drove into my s&bil’s yard with a hefty amount on a Wal-mart card while their home was still smoldering, the same day of the fire. Someone had alerted them to the need. Someone else contacted the bank and had an emergency account opened for them, then advertised it in the paper…this gave people an opportunity to easily donate to the cause.
I think the things that meant the most to them were the little things…one of our cousins met them the day after with thick, warm sweatshirts boasting the logo of my bil’s favorite sports team, this meant a lot because of the extensive KU collection bil had lost in the fire. The children need something special…a soft cuddly stuffed animal, new PJs, toothbrushes…if you were to fill a laundry basket with drugstore type things: band-aids, neosporin, Tylenol, sunscreen, toothpaste, razors, Kleenex, combs/picks/hairbrushes, hair things for girls…even fly swatters, laundry supplies (quarters for the laundromat), coloring books/colors…there are so many little things that really mean a lot to have new. Towels, washcloths! If your church could organize a pantry drive to help replace their canned goods…
Anyway, I hope someone contacted Red Cross for them…they’ll often pay for 3 months rent/hotel if necessary. They did for my brother’s family when they lost everything…or at least covered it till insurance kicked in.
Bless you for wanting to help, and I agree, we want to give our best to someone who has lost everything, but also, my b&sil were greatly humbled and blessed by all the donated clothing/furniture/lamps, etc that the community pooled together on their behalf. Oh, another thing to think about is…storage. When you have no place to live, and the community is lavishing so much upon you…you have no where to store it. Some friends of my family gave our b&sil free use of a storage building until they could find a rental and get somewhat settled. Going through a mountain of garbage bags of used clothing/blankets, etc is an enormously overwhelming task.
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@Mary: Thanks for the ideas– some of them I’d thought of, and some of them I hadn’t.
I’d wondered about where to store everything that was collected (since they’re currently staying with someone), but I think we have that covered. Red Cross wasn’t as helpful as I imagined they would be, though.
Has anyone stopped to think what YOU would need if this happened to you? Go from there.
@Carol: Good point, Carol. We were talking last night about how, without insurance, you’ve lost everything– including jewelry, etc. Fresh start or not, it’s hard to lose it all.