(Photo by Selma Komisky)
How-To: Care For Others in the Community
By Jehn Kubiak
He sits on the corner of a planter outside Walmart, holding a square, cardboard sign etched with “willing to work for food” in black Sharpie letters. Facial hair obscures the man’s face. Tattered jeans and a once white, now tan, shirt mask the ribs popping out on his torso. He’ll gladly take a granola bar or a job offer. The man’s wish most likely won’t come true and he’ll sit there for a week, eventually losing hope. Most people click their turn signal and drive out of the parking lot, focused only on the road in front of them, or see the man and ignore him, hoping someone else will step up.
She’s a single mom that works two jobs––one as a cashier at Walmart, the other as a barista at Starbucks. She’ll save every pretty penny for her children’s food, education, and health. None of it goes towards her own desires or amusement. She walks into church every Sunday with a smile, yet her finery disguises the financial debt she faces.
He’s an eight-year-old boy that lives in a run-down apartment with his older and younger sister because his mother died and his dad walked away from the family. The child walks five miles each way to school because his sister, who is his primary guardian, can’t afford a bike or car. He’d like to join a sports team, but he can’t pay for membership fees or equipment. He receives free lunch at school due to the low-income programs, but he only eats a meal or two on the weekends.
These are three typical examples of people in our communities that we encounter daily – people with unmet needs that we can show generosity towards, yet many ignore less fortunate people in society. Proverbs 22:9 says,” The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.” God calls us to generosity, but it’s difficult to help others when we face our own burdens. However, many of us can pay for air conditioning, fill a fridge with food, spend money on movie tickets, and pay for cable television. Society convinces us that we need to watch the latest episode of The Office or buy a mocha every morning, but do we really need these things? How can we care for others who can’t afford basic necessities?
The Bible commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31). Shifting the focus from ourselves towards others is the first step, but we often make the mistake of trying to only help others around the world when people in our neighborhoods need just as much assistance. Start with small acts of kindness. Help that petite lady grab the box of rice she can’t reach at the grocery store. Pay for the coffee of the customer standing in front of you in line just because you can. Tip your waiter or waitress when you dine out. Say thank you when someone else blesses you. All these little things go a long way.
Next, don’t get stuck in your own little world and forget that others might not enjoy many privileges as you. If you’re financially stable, think about what others don’t have that you might––clean water, food, clothes, etc. Purge any dusty or neglected items from your closet. Flip closet hangers backwards and donate any clothes still backwards in a half year to a Goodwill. You may think you need that little black dress for a work event, but someone else can enjoy it if you’ve only worn it once. There’s probably other shirts and jeans you’ve become tired of wearing that someone else would gladly accept. Make a goal to fill a certain amount of bags (three is a great starting place) and donate them to a local thrift store.
After you’ve looked through the closet, sift through the pantry for any items that have passed their shelf life. The typical shopper grabs sale items they don’t need, and that food sits on the shelf because we didn’t really want it. Donate these groceries to a local church or food bank that will give it to the homeless or others with financial difficulties. Ask your neighbor if they might have a use for the bag of pasta you never opened.
Once you’ve done these things, research local charities or causes. Decide on a cause you’d like to donate to –– an after school program, a pregnancy care clinic, a homeless shelter, or something similar. Allocate a certain percentage of your income or make a one-time donation. Also, don’t forget that adults aren’t the only ones in need. Many children in America don’t have enough food or cannot receive the education they need because they lack resources. A couple suggestions for supporting children include buying gift cards through a Scrip program, where the proceeds go towards a sports team, and donating supplies to local schools.
Although these actions are great ways to help others in need, the best way is through personal encounters. Find a specific person in a church or around the neighborhood that doesn’t have enough help. Don’t stop your service there–– get to know them personally and develop a relationship. You can show kindness towards others who don’t necessarily “need” anything by offering to pull weeds around their yard, driving someone places if they don’t have a car, sending a care package to a sick friend, or by walking someone’s dog if they don’t have time.
There are so many children and adults a stone’s throw away that could benefit from others’ assistance, whether they’re poor or prosperous. Divert your focus from yourself and think about one way you can show generosity towards someone else each day. Take things one step at a time. Who knows how the world could change if each person thought more about their neighbors?