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  • Bridget Thomas

Giving With Dignity

Holistic Charity During The Christmas Season

In a city like Houston, there isn’t a shortage of opportunities to encounter those in need. People “Struggling” can be found asking for help on street corners, the entrance to the grocery store, and yes, even in a local Houston community center called The FORGE for Families. Of course, it’s much easier to turn a blind eye to the first two, but when the "ask" is right in front of you, when the 15-foot cross outside the building beckons one to come get their needs met, and when relational equity has been forged, you’re faced with the questions, "How do you help people without hurting them? How do you ensure that you are elevating the dignity of people through the active belief that everyone has something to offer??" Finally, "How do you assist in moving people from dependency to independence? While contemplating the answers to these questions, I’m challenged with the traditional way the church, social service agencies, and Parachurch ministries have responded. Food pantries, backpack giveaways, adopt a family for Christmas, clothes closets etc. have all been well intentioned solutions. However, while birthed out of good intentions, the question is, have they been the most dignifying or even self-sustaining solutions for the recipients? I believe Bob Lupton, the author of Charity Detox nailed it when he said, “This method of helping has done far more harm than good to those being helped.” More times than not, handouts or “freebies” disavows the dignity of a person (“Free handouts are like magnets that draw the needy into a deepening life-style of dependency, turning the able-bodied into perpetual beggars”-pg. 15), highlights their lack, and creates an unhealthy dependency on the giver. Rather than being given freedom of choice, it is "take whatever is given and be grateful that you got it." Rather than self-sufficiency, it’s dependency on the giver day after day, week after week, or month after month. Lastly, rather than being proud of the ability to contribute to meeting one’s own needs, one is faced with the shameful reality of their poverty and the unspoken voice of the giver saying that the poor has nothing of value to offer. Stay with me now! Don’t stop reading. By no means am I saying that giving to those in need is a bad thing. We are called to give, and to take care of the poor and oppressed.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.
Matthew 25:35-40
Share your food with the hungry and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help
Isaiah 58:7

Though Scripture calls for us to be active agents in the welfare of “the poor, ” when I reflect on God’s command to Adam in Genesis 2:15 to work the Garden of Eden, I can’t help but conclude that there is a value and affirmation of self-worth when one is able to work for what they need. Just think, as Adam worked the Garden it would produce a crop of provision for his family from the fruit of his labor. I’m convinced that there is great satisfaction that comes from being able to provide for self and family. So, what if the church, social service agency, and nonprofit organization moved away from simple handouts with nothing required of the recipient to inviting them to have a seat at the table. What could this seat look like? Holland Rescue Mission in Holland, Michigan provides a great example:

In exchange for a free week of lodging and meals, guest are required to contribute in meaningful ways-making their beds, performing kitchen duty, mopping floors, doing laundry. During their “free” week, guest work closely with a caseworker, who helps them establish a personalized growth plan, manage their finances, take first steps toward self-sufficiency. Guest also enjoy full access to the facility’s laundry room and telephone banks and receive appropriate clothing for job interviews. Guest who demonstrate initiative are invited to stay on longer and enter a job training program that provides real life employment experience at the mission, a paycheck, and mandatory financial management.
Charity Detox pg. 12

Four years ago, The FORGE for Families, moved from giving away Christmas toys to hosting a Christmas Store called Holly Jolly. This was a big shift in philosophy for us, and we were a bit nervous about how it would be received. Basically, we transform one of our gyms into a toy store filled with all new items and invite parents from our programs, local school partners, and others from the community to shop using their own resources. Everything is marked down 75% off retail price, and $25 gift cards are marked down to $8 each. When a parent doesn’t have the monetary funds, we allow them to volunteer as a form of work to earn a voucher that they can use to buy gifts for their families. It has been neat hearing parents say how thankful they are to be able to provide for their own family versus having gifts given to them. Imagine the sense of dignity and self-worth one begins to feel as they contribute to having their needs met. Jesus tells us, “Love our neighbor as ourselves,” and to “Treat others the way we want to be treated.” I know personally, that I wouldn’t want to be given handouts, be seen through a lens of not having anything to contribute because of my circumstance or live in dependency on an organization that I become indebted to on a regular basis. Here’s to a new way of seeing that even those “Struggling”, have something of value to offer, which in turns gives them a Gift That Keeps On Giving!


Something to reflect on:

When we deny a person in need the ability to give, we are keeping the more privileged position for ourselves, for "it is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). Aside from Christ, possibly the greatest gift that a person can receive is the opportunity to give a gift to another.

Get Involved:


Help us to show parents and families that they are loved and have inherent value as image bearers of Christ. You can participate in our Holly Jolly toy store by hosting a toy/gift-card drive and/or delivering toys to 3435 Dixie Drive, Houston TX, 77021 by December 6th.


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Recommended Reading:

  1. Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo

  2. Charity Detox by Bob Lupton

  3. When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett

  4. Making Neighborhoods Whole by John M. Perkins and Wayne Gordon

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