Recently a friend posted on her facebook wall how she had helped a lady on the street who was desperate by giving her money. If you know me well, that makes me want to cringe, stomp my feet, and yell and scream, "NOOOOOOOOOOO--- don't do that!!"
I opted not to do that though. I kept my little tantrum to myself. Instead, I sent a private message and shared my heart and what God has taught me about serving and helping those in need without causing more harm to them. Her response was so humble and amazing- she was appreciative for the "advice". Honestly, I wasn't sure what to expect with my response. I just knew that I needed to respond. I don't really have that great of advice, just things I've learned along the way, from experiences that I've been blessed to be a part of, from studying and reading, from asking friends who work in this field, from working in this field myself, and honestly - things I've learned the hard way.
One of the things that I've noticed is that there are many more needy people on our streets lately. I could come up with many theories for this - the economy is terrible, etc.. but regardless of the reasons, we must respond, but we must respond responsibly. When we help others, we want to leave them in a better place than when we found them, right? We don't want to help them feed a possible addiction. We don't want to make them dependent upon us. We don't want to make life harder for them in the long run. As much as God wants and calls us to serve those in need, I think He also wants and calls us to serve those in need wisely.
Here are just a few tips to use when helping those in need. This is in no way an exhaustive list and I'm sure there are even better ones out there. In fact, feel free to leave your thoughts and what you do to help those in need without causing hurt - we can learn from one another!
1. Keep McDonald's or Hardee's or any fast food gift cards on you. Opt for the cheaper fast food chains so that they can actually go in and not feel out of place, can afford to eat from the dollar menu, etc.
2. Keep a couple bags in your car of non-perishable food items like crackers/canned fruit/cookies/bottled water with items like socks, lip balm, deodorant, toothbrush and travel size tooth paste and ask them if they could use these items. If so, give them the bag! Then go home, and restock!!
3. Ask them what their biggest need is and try your best to meet that one need. If they mention that they are hungry, go and get them food. If they are thirsty, grab them a cold coke or sprite, etc. from the store. If they need a bus ticket, go to the bus station and buy the ticket for them. If they need gas, go and pay for the gas.
4. Don't give cash money!!
5. Know the serving centers in your area and a little bit about them. Where is the nearest Salvation Army? Is there a Soup Kitchen near you and when is it open? Are there churches that help those in need? Here in Spartanburg there are many serving centers like the Salvation Army, First Presbyterian Soup Kitchen, FBS Helping Center, Total Ministries, Miracle Hill, and SPIHN. There are many more - this is just a few. Refer them to these places. If you can physically and safely take them there, do.
6. Ask them their name. Call them by name. Pray for them by name. Many hurting and needy people often feel looked down upon and just need to hear their name spoken and to be talked to, like you would a friend or a family member. Look at them. Talk to them. They are precious and God loves them. Take time to listen to them and hear their story.
7. Don't give cash money!! Did you get that?!?
There are a ton of resources out there to read and websites to learn from regarding how we can respond and help those in need. Here are just a few that I've been following lately:
When Helping Hurts , great book to read!
Poverty Unlocked, podcast and website
The Chalmers Center , great online learning center through Covenant College
So, What about you? What ideas do you have??