Monday, June 6, 2016

Toxic Charity - how our efforts to help may actually hinder...

Have you read the book, "Toxic Charity" by Robert Lupton? 

This is a book primarily about churches and the charity projects they undertake, but it has lessons for all of us working to build a better world.

Two themes that really resonated with me (and I'm sure there may be more in the future):

Volunteer projects - When a group or even an individual wants to volunteer, it's important to establish motives.  Is it more important that the volunteer activity meet the needs of the volunteers or the needs of the community / the organization you are volunteering with?

This may seem easy to answer, but I can't tell you how many times people have called me with ideas for things they want to do that don't really meet the needs or mission of GardenShare.  They often have a hard time accepting "no" for an answer, even though I think that I am, for the most part, pretty diplomatic in providing that answer!  

Then there are the volunteer groups who expect nonprofits to spend our limited resources to feed the volunteers lunch or provide t-shirts or other things.  We've already spent a lot of resources in staff time setting up and organizing the project, so don't be surprised if we say no to those requests, also!

Ending hunger or poverty -  The book has lots of examples of programs that have not succeeded in ending the social ill they set out to fight.  And a little guidance about how to do better.  Lupton says the key is in relationships.

"To effectively impact a life, a relationship must be built, trust forged, accountability established.  And this does not happen in long, impersonal lines of strangers.  A name and a story have to be attached to each indivdual face.  Highly personal life struggles must be explored and with each person a unique action plan created.  A bed for the night...where to get a job...treatment for addiction...escape from an abusive husband...childcare for homeless children...a wheelchair for an amputee."

This is the same conclusion that I have come to in my 30+ years of work in the anti-hunger field.  We won't end hunger by building bigger food banks and distributing more and more food.  We will end hunger one family at a time, because each family's needs will be different.  And we can only do this by mobilizing an army of volunteers who will work one-on-one with people in need and build these kinds of relationships.

At GardenShare, we have two primary ways of building community - the CSA's and the Farmers Markets.  Can you help us think about other ways we can build community and engage people in need with people who can help?