It’s an unfortunate situation that, in our world, there are people who can live lavishly, enjoying not only essentials, but luxuries. On the other hand, there are people who cannot secure basic requirements of food, water, clothing, shelter, education, and health care. One group is able to enjoy a wide variety of comforts and pleasures while another group must struggle and battle daily to meet minimal requirements of life. This inequity can be changed and the poor can be helped. Here are seven ways.
- Respond promptly when you see a need. Remember that assistance delayed is almost always assistance denied. As soon as you see someone in need, respond and do what you can. If you have a little, give a little. If you have a lot, give a lot. The key is simply to act when a need presents itself. This is a biblical teaching: “When you happen on someone who’s in trouble or needs help . . . . don’t look the other way pretending you don’t see him. Don’t keep a tight grip on your purse” (Deuteronomy 15:7–8, The Message). A woman named JoAnn tells of a time four decades earlier when she and her struggling family were helped in this way. At the time she, her husband and four children were living in a small two-bedroom apartment they shared with her husband’s parents. JoAnn’s sister was working for a prominent investor as governess to his children. One day he came to the apartment to pick her up and “saw our tight living arrangements.” Speaking to JoAnn, he said: “This is not good. These children need rooms to play and sleep in without being on top of each other. Go find a house to buy.” JoAnn said it was not possible for them to make such a purchase. The investor responded: “You find the house, then we’ll talk.” A few days later she and her husband found a three-bedroom house in the suburbs. “And sure enough, this wonderful man made the down-payment, which was about $3000, a lot of money in those days. We moved right in. My gratitude to that man, now deceased, is never ending. Because of his generosity, my children were raised in a safe, clean, and fun environment with plenty of room to run around and play. I still say thank you for him every night. And I’m still living in the house.”
- Use social media. Sometimes the need is greater than you—just on person—can meet. That’s the time to partner with others who can help you to help someone in poverty. Social media offers an exceptional way to publicize a need and gain support. Recently, a teenager approach Matt White as he was leaving a Memphis, Tennessee, grocery store and offered to carry White’s groceries in exchange for a box of donuts. White recalled that the teenager looked “ashamed, hungry and broken.” Moved by the youth’s desperation, White took him back into the grocery store and invited him to fill a shopping cart with groceries. Once the cart was stocked with cereal, milk, fruit, pasta, peanut butter, and vegetables, White paid for the items. Then he offered to give the teen a ride home and helped carry the groceries inside. There, White was stunned at what he witnessed. The boy lived in a tiny flat with his grandmother. “They were sleeping on pads made out of sleeping bags, they had two lamps and nothing in their refrigerator. The grandmother was a kindly woman but was “very fragile. She had some sort of physical and /or mental disability that made her shake. I thought I was going to cry,” White recalled. Later that day he shared his experience on social media and linked it to a GoFundMe crowd funding website. His goal was to raise $250 to buy the teen a lawnmower so he could earn money. However, the story spread and touched 14,000 people who contributed almost $345,000 to help the boy and his grandmother. While not every attempt at fund raising will be that successful, Matt White provides an inspiring example of what can happen we respond and ask others to help us help the poor.
- Give ‘pro bono’. If you are in a highly educated profession such as medicine, law, or accounting, or if you have unique trade skills as an electrician, plumber, or carpenter, apply the legal concept of “pro bono,” which means offering your professional services for the public good without compensation. Robert Dole, former US Senator and presidential candidate, was the recipient of pro bono kindness during World War II. In 1945, near Bologna, Italy, his army unit was engaged in combat with German soldiers. Dole was seriously wounded by machine-gun fire. Despondent over losing the ability to use his right arm, it was the kindness and generosity of an orthopedic surgeon that lifted his spirits. Dole explains: “Dr. Hampar Kelikian, an Armenian, operated on me half a dozen times and wouldn’t let me pay him. He said, ‘I’ll get my money from the next rich client I have but you’ve got to make the most of what you have left. You just can’t sell pencils on a street corner.’” The doctor’s kindness and words of wisdom motivated Dole. “I couldn’t use my arm very well so I decided I’d use my head. I went back to school and became a lawyer.”
- Offer a micro-loan. You can change a life by loaning someone in a developing country as little as $25. These micro-loans can be made through a number of non-profit organizations. By lending a small amount—anything from $25 and up—borrowers can establish a business and lift themselves and their families out of poverty.
Poor people living in developing countries often do not have access to banking services. Additionally, banks in developing countries hesitate to offer “micro” or very small loans because administrative costs are too high and they cannot report a profit on their services.
Lourdes, a young single mom from Paraguay, is one who benefited from a micro-loan. She secured her first loan of $60 to open a business selling empanadas and snacks to support her son and herself. As her business succeeded, she repaid this loan and began taking out and repaying bigger and bigger loans. With her growing success and credit history, Lourdes was able to work with several agencies to borrow $975 in order to increase her inventory and buy a refrigerator. This allowed her business to grow to the point where she could afford to move into a larger shop with a secured gate to prevent robberies and an attached home for her family.
- Open your heart to media news of suffering. Author Leo Buscaglia writes: “It’s not enough to have lived. We should be determined to live for something. May I suggest that it be creating joy for others, sharing what we have for the betterment of person-kind, bringing hope to the lost and love to the lonely.” Apply his insight when watching or reading news that presents the suffering of another being and allow that information to open your heart. One who did this was philosopher and motivational speaker Wayne Dyer, author of several best-selling books. He was watching a news program that profiled the plight of an elderly African American woman named Harriett Cleveland. She was 61 years of age, living in Montgomery, Alabama and raising her 3-year-old disabled grandson. Earlier she received a traffic violation with a $75 fine. Unable to pay it as well as her medication and food, she put that ticket in a pile of unpaid bills intending to deal with them later when she had the money. Over a few months that simple traffic fine accrued interest growing from $75 to over $3000. She was arrested in her home, in front of her grandson and taken to jail to serve a one month term. Watching her story, Wayne Dyer tracked down Cleveland’s address, wrote her a letter and sent her $3000 to cover the fine and get out of jail. He then sent a second letter with another $2000 dollars for any additional expenses she might have. Cleveland phoned him in tears saying she couldn’t believe that a complete stranger would send her more money than she’d ever had in her life. Dyer’s daughter, Serena, later commented that, of the millions who watched that news program, only one person reached out to help the woman and that was her father. How often do most of us learn of someone’s suffering via the news, are saddened by it but never cross the bridge linking intention with action?
- If you’re wealthy, be financially generous. That advice comes from Gregg Popovich, head coach of the San Antonio Spurs basketball team. His salary on a five-year contract is reportedly $55 million. Well known for his generous financial donations, Popovich was asked by reporters why it was important for him and others in similar situations to give back, he replied bluntly: “Because we’re rich and we don’t need it all and other people need it.” He suggested that those who have “it” but don’t share “it” are lacking in gratitude, responsibility and compassion. “Pretty simple,” he concluded.
- Always help from a pure intention. When reaching out to the poor, be guided by this advice from the Jewish Talmud: “If you give liberally, but unlovingly, and wound the heart of the poor, what good is your gift? If you give little, but give your heart with it, your deed is blessed and you are blessed.”
The Bible recognizes the pervasive reality of poverty: “There will always be poor people in the land” (Deuteronomy 15:11). There will never be a time when someone, somewhere isn’t in poverty. Because of that reality, we must constantly be updating the various ways in which we reach out to help the poor.