the least of these

do homeless people make you feel uncomfortable?  or when you pull up to a stop light and someone is standing there with a cardboard sign asking for help, do you squirm a little?  i have to admit, this totally happens to me.  i have this rush of conflicting emotions – awkward uncomfortableness, sad compassion, and a discouraging helplessness.  zach said he experiences the same thing.  we know that we are called to help those in need.  to feed the poor.  to give.  and we want to help.  but we’ve never liked the idea of just handing over cash.  we want to help meet their physical needs, not enable debilitating habits or encourage a lifestyle of milking the system. (now don’t get me wrong – i know that not everyone who stands on a street corner is milking the system. but working for a church office for 10 years also gave me exposure to some very discouraging examples of people who did.)  for awhile, zach and i both felt jaded, stuck and unsure of what to do.  so we did nothing. 

but not any more.  God really used zach’s dad’s example of compassionate giving to a street beggar and a provoking conversation later to change our approach to this kind of benevolence and spur us toward action.  we still don’t like to give out cash, so we talked about other ways we could give that still felt more responsible with our funds while seeking to meet people’s immediate physical needs.  these ideas have worked wonderfully, so i thought i’d share them!

1. The Pantry ministry.  our church has a pantry ministry that is stocked via donations from the congregation and is open to anyone.  if someone comes by the church office during the week seeking help, they are welcome to take a bag chock full of items.  if a member within the church is in need, or knows someone in need, they are also welcome to receive from this wonderful resource as well!  the leaders of this ministry send out a weekly email with a list of items specifically needed and/or requested – i simply pick a handful of items from the list and add them to my grocery list.  it’s such an easy way to contribute and give to people in need that i may not even be aware of.

2. gift cards – specifically to a food establishment.  we use mcdonald’s. 

yes, i know that the food is pretty low on the nutritional scale, but $10 in gift cards can buy a couple meals, especially if you use the dollar menu.  i simply pick up a handful of these every couple weeks (or as i run out) and keep them in the glove compartment of the car.  they are perfect for handing out through my window to anyone asking for help. 

3. blessing bags.  i actually found this idea on Pinterest, which led to this blog post.  my local dollar store is awesome for these kinds of items – i made 3 HUGE blessing bags with TONS of stuff in them for less than $25! 

each time i have had opportunity to give any of these things away (gift cards or blessing bags – or both!), the recipients have been SO eager and grateful!  they smile and thank me repeatedly.  and i drive away so joyful that i was able to give and give in a way that i was confident met a true need (hunger, clothing, etc.). 

i no longer feel the least bit uncomfortable when i see these people on the street.  actually, i find myself on the lookout for them!  when i see them up ahead at a stop light, i hope the light turns red so i’ll have an opportunity to give to them.  if i get stopped coming out of store or in a parking lot, i am thrilled that i can say “yes! i’d love to help you – here you go!”

and the joy in my heart after those moments reminds me again that it truly is more blessed to give than to receive.  besides, everything i have is a gift to begin with anyway. 

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