After one year, our conferences are still holding strong, operating a bit differently than in the past, yet reaching out to neighbors in need. The number of calls is less, but the need for food has increased significantly. The increase in food assistance on Bridge cards has helped along with the federal moratoriums on shelter and local moratoriums on utilities.
We all anticipate an onslaught of calls when the suspensions have lifted, but hopefully federal dollars through the CARES acts, will offset that onslaught to some degree.
Poverty comes in all sizes and shapes. Our perception of poverty also fluctuates from individual to individual. It’s easy to acknowledge that a neighbor in need who has no furniture, no beds, and little else in basics in their home is impoverished. Individuals or families who are homeless, living in shelters, or on the streets may receive our immediate care and concern. The working poor that have lost employment and diminished any savings to zero also receive our compassion. Neighbors in need who reflect generational poverty may not always receive the same reaction from Vincentians, nor do neighbors who have received unemployment benefits along with the supplements that accompany it. Requests for help from neighbors who have received stimulus checks and haven’t applied them to basic bills may also be on the list of those not considered as needy.
Many of us have at times in our lives experienced difficulty in supporting ourselves or our families. Perhaps it was at a much younger age, due to medical bills or lack of family support. YET, do we understand the underlying issues related to poverty, the day-to-day struggle, the motivational issues involved, and as described by some authors, the “Tyranny of the Moment.” How frustrating is it to receive a call from a neighbor in need with the cry that the Bailiff will be out the next morning to evict them or the individual that calls or comes into the parish rectory indicating that they have a utility shutoff that day or have no food for their family?
The expectation that we may personally react and act in a timelier manner may fly in the face of those individuals who are fearful of reaching out for charity or are used to the difficulties experienced utilizing the various social service systems.
How can we as Vincentians understand the motivations or difficulties that our neighbors in need experience on a daily basis.
Ozanam Orientation has a component on poverty. Many Vincentians have served their neighbors in need for a long time and learned to cast judgement aside in the consideration of need requests. Yet, judgmental decisions may still come into play.
Reflect on your conference actions and decisions:
- When a request comes again from someone known to the conference, what is the reaction of your members?
- Is empathy directed to families with young children and not as much to adults living on a limited income?
- If you provide shelter for those homeless, do you limit it to families or include single adults?
- When unusual requests come your way, do you automatically reject them or carefully consider whether there is a way to cover the request?
- Are your conference members comfortable in making home visits or fearful for a myriad of reasons?
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul Rule book says that no work of charity is foreign to our Society. We serve those in need regardless of creed, ethnic or social background, health, gender or political opinions. Does your conference live this proclamation or for the sake of convenience, judgement or fear, circumvent them?
Consider having a discussion on poverty at your conference meetings. Reflect on the attitudes and opinions from various conference members. Review the Rule book for inspiration and guidance. Examine your coffers and determine what your conference can reasonably provide or how can you extend yourselves when necessary. Make the topic of poverty a part of your spiritual reflections. Remember the concepts of charity and love and incorporate them into your discussion on your neighbor in need requests.
We are all children of God,
God bless to all of you,