It’s the holiday season! The season of giving. Time when we talk to our children about generosity and the spirit of giving. It’s a time when many of us take one of those tiny tags from the giving tree and go out to buy a present for a homeless child.
It also gives me an opportunity to share my thoughts about giving with dignity.
Let me state up front that writing this letter was not easy. How do I convey my feelings of deep appreciation to all of the people who contact us throughout the year with items that they want to donate to help our families and, at the same time, begin an honest conversation about the possible negative effects of giving directly to families?
I often say that I learn something new about homelessness and poverty every day. And I must admit that I never used to give gift-giving much thought. I get great joy out of giving as I’m sure most of us do. There used to be nothing more fulfilling than the feeling that I had done my small part in helping a child living in a shelter feel better during the holidays.
But much of what I experience is more about me and how I feel after giving a gift. Have I ever really stopped to think:
- What providing gifts for parents to give to their children does to the parent’s sense of dignity?
- How a child experiencing homelessness feels to be handed a gift that he neither wants, needs, or asked for from another person who clearly has much more than the child and his/her family?
- What message are we sending when gifts are given by strangers giving the recipient no opportunity to reciprocate?
The answers to these questions are complicated and I won’t pretend I fully understand them all. But what I have learned, while working with parents and children experiencing homelessness, is that giving with dignity only results when the recipient is being empowered by the help they are receiving. I want to be very clear – your gifts are honored and appreciated — we could not do all that we do without your help. But all gifts need to be viewed as supporting the overall plan that the family has created and is working to accomplish with the guidance of their case manager. Gifts given directly to families can end up undermining a parent’s goals and create expectations on the part of their children that parents may never be able to meet on their own.
A mother in the Network not long ago had several unexpected expenses in a short period. Each time, the client came to Luz and asked if Family Promise could help her pay the bills and promised to pay the organization back. The mother had to adjust her budget and sometimes go without in order to have enough money to contribute to her mandatory savings account and to pay what she owed each month. And do you know what happened? She did it! And she was proud that she had kept up her end of the bargain. Unbeknownst to her, as a reward, we are putting a portion of what she paid us into her savings account for when she is ready to leave the program. Would the lessons that she learned and the confidence that she gained have been the same if we – or a volunteer thinking that they were helping her — had simply paid her bills outright? Surely not! Remember: the best kind of giving is empowering.
This is why the Holiday Giving Fund is the perfect way to help our families this holiday season. Your donation does two things. First, it provides gift cards for parents in our sheltering programs so that they can buy the gifts that their children want and need and are in keeping with the family budget. Additional funds allow us to provide the vital programming to support families on their journey to self-sufficiency.
There are other ways that you can help families enjoy the holidays. Learn more
On behalf of the entire Family Promise family we thank you for all you do and wish you and your families a very happy and healthy holiday,