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How To Help Those in Need

Rev. Carol Bodeau, Minister

As a religious community, we are naturally positioned to be a resource to those in our community who have needs. Folks who are not necessarily interested in becoming members of our community, but who are reaching out for help, come to us not only for spiritual and social support, but also in times of crisis. They may have financial needs that they do not know how to meet, or psychological or social circumstances that require outside help.

And because we are a community of caring, giving people, we naturally want to help. But what is the best way to do that? It may be easy to follow through on the initial impulse to offer money, a meal, personal assistance, or other things from our own personal resources. This can sometimes be a good response, but the truth is that, as often as not, this does not really help the person in the long run. Frequently the folks who appear on our doorstep suddenly with requests for cash or material needs have more significant, large-scale problems that are beyond the scope of our ability to assist. So how do we balance the desire to help, our deep and often accurate feeling that we have the resources to do so, and the very real complexity of many of these folks’ needs? Sometimes giving a handout simply helps a person with more chronic needs avoid real treatment and resources, which might be more helpful and useful in the long run.

There are a couple of ways we can offer help while also ensuring that the help goes directly to the core of the true need, rather than being a short-term, even counter-productive Band-Aid that covers for only a moment much deeper troubles. When we give cash to someone with a story of immediate concerns, we may or may not be paying for the stated purpose. In recent months, we have experienced some of these requests from visitors, and while some of the gifts given were received and used in good faith, others were not. In some cases, unfortunately, we are asked for handouts based on a story of ‘immediate crisis’ that may have been told over and over again, at multiple churches and over a long period of time. And the truth is that, in the heat of the moment, we simply can’t know if the story is true or not.

So what are the alternatives? When presented with such requests, it can be good practice to do the following:

  1. You can offer food directly from a ‘pantry’ of reserves that we keep on hand for such occasions

  2. You can put the person in touch with me, the minister, and I will then do the following: first, I will check through appropriate channels to see if the person has a record of such requests over time (Rev. Chris Buice of TVUUC has offered to connect us with the resources that allow us to do that); second, I will consider monetary requests and if deemed appropriate, offer them from the Minister’s Discretionary Fund, which exists precisely for this purpose; third, I will refer the individual to a wide variety of local resources which will address the much greater needs of the person and/or family

  3. You can follow up with me if you want to offer more long-term help, and we can talk about the specific needs, resources and referrals for that specific person or family

If you are interested in providing monetary resources for such needs, it is best to make a contribution directly to the Minister’s Discretionary Fund, which will ensure that your resources are put to the best possible use. On Christmas Eve, our offering will be dedicated specifically to this fund, but you can make a donation at any time.

As your minister, it’s my responsibility to care for the well-being of the congregation as a whole, and to make sure that we offer the best care we can to the community while creating the least risk to our own financial and physical safety. We are a community of loving, generous people with gifts to share, and I know that we are growing together in finding ways to bring that generosity to our community.

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