Today I don’t have a story about ending poverty or changing the world. I can’t tell you about major life transformation or a dramatic turning-point in somebody’s life.
Instead, I want to tell you about a small, seemingly inconsequential act that we witnessed this week.
Sometimes we email our clients about opportunities at the Resource Center – free haircuts, tax assistance, and so forth. A couple weeks ago I added a small line at the bottom of one of those emails that said something like this:
Donating to the Personal Essentials Pantry is an easy way to give back to other needy families in the community. Currently we need paper towels, toilet paper and Kleenex. Drop these items off on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 10am-1pm.
Keep in mind this email was sent to our clients – many of whom come into the Resource Center every month to visit the Personal Essentials Pantry. Maybe this strikes you as odd, even improper. How dare we ask needy people to donate to us?
Contrary to the way people living in poverty are portrayed in the media and by politicians, most people don’t want free handouts. There’s no dignity or self-worth in that. Most people want to contribute by giving back in some way. So we offered one small way that clients can give back.
And this week, one of them did just that. A client we’ve recently helped through a job transition came in, dropped off a package of paper towels, and left. That was it.
It probably didn’t look like much from the outside, but in that moment, human dignity, responsibility and worth was affirmed and restored. A young woman who was embarrassed to ask for help found a way – a small way – to contribute, to be a giver, not just a taker. In that moment, she no longer was a project, a patient, a passive receiver of services – she is now a part of a community that is working for the transformation of world.
After all, the old parable about eating an elephant one bite at a time has some truth to it. We can’t “fix” poverty in one fell swoop – but we can build on small victories and search for the subtle moves of the Holy Spirit each and every day.