Monday, February 04, 2008

Making Ends Meet

I got a call yesterday morning that left me with a knot in my stomach. It was a plea for money to help cover a rent payment in a household where only one person out of the 3 adults is currently working for a variety of reasons. Not my immediate family, but someone I care about. She said her mother could pay me back, but I knew there would never be a surplus of money for that purpose.

I’ve always had a policy of not giving people cash. I’ve given out many grocery store gift cards. I did give $100 once to help send the body of an innocent teenager killed in gang violence home to El Salvador for burial. I gave $50 to pay someone’s phone bill. All of this giving was part of a larger program of assistance I managed for people in the area where I worked. It was the collective money of many who wanted to help out.

I initially said I could not give any money. Then I asked what would happen if the family with a young baby could not pay their rent and the caller said in Spanish, “I don’t know.”

All day I was haunted by the specter of this family of 7 out on the street with their few possessions in a big pile by the curb. I was pretty sure this was the first time they had gotten behind in the rent, so maybe they would not be evicted. But what if they were?

I talked it over with my husband and we agreed we could give a small amount of money, but nowhere near what they needed.

Then in the late afternoon I remembered the fund I had co-administered in my old office and imagined that no one was spending the money now that I was no longer there to find needy recipients. I called my friend and confirmed that to be the case. After hearing my story of the day, he suggested paying the rent AND also giving me the remaining money to use in our DT RAK project. After all, that’s exactly why the money had been collected.

He very wisely also suggested that I accompany the person to the office where they pay the rent and get a receipt for my part of the payment. This way I could be assured of how the money was being spent and have proof of how the money was used if any of the original contributors ever asked.

I called to let them know I could help this time. But I made it clear that this is a one-time offer of assistance. We worked out a plan to meet this afternoon and go to the apartment office to pay the rent.

I already feel greatly relieved knowing this family has shelter over their heads for another month. Whether they have food is another story. Friends who were over to dinner suggested locating a possible food bank near where they live and seeing if the Catholic Church they attend might have an emergency fund for future such problems. Hopefully this is an isolated problem as everyone gets back to work.

My husband correctly pointed out that this is just one of thousands of local families struggling to make their rent payments. But they are people with names and faces. And I’m still in the group of people who have more than we need. It seems only right to share.


Blogger Pauline said...

How good that you could help and in such a responsible way - just handing over the money might have solved the initial problem but the way you handled it indicated to the family, hopefully, that money must be accounted for and other arrangements than borrowing from a friend could be put in place.

6:29 PM  
Anonymous LR said...

Barbara, you are such an expert problem solver. As Pauline said, you didn't just hand over the money. You pondered a better solution, found the way, and solved the problem, in a caring but not enabling way. Your response will have a long term effect on the family. They know you care and found a way to help them, but they know, as well, that you expect and believe they can avoid this problem in the future themselves.

10:44 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Pauline, LR -- Thanks for the kudos. Unfortunately the problem is bigger than I am. The saga continues in the next post.

11:11 PM  
Blogger Mari said...

Not just Catholic Churches have benevolence funds but other denominations, as well as Ward Council offices sometimes have funds to help constituents cover some emergency bills or know of resources that help.
Also this might be a good time to find out what non-profits in the area address the problems that you are encountering and supporting those organizations with chartiable giving.

9:24 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Mari -- Thanks for the ideas. If there is one thing I am good at, it's looking into problems, so I will try all angles!

10:06 AM  

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