Hope As Well As Help
By John Berry, Chief Executive Officer, St. Vincent de Paul Georgia
The other day I received a hand-written thank you note from someone that St. Vincent de Paul Georgia had helped. These kinds of notes always lift my spirits and warm my heart. They are not something that I receive often, because usually any expression of thanks goes directly to one of the 5000 + front line volunteers at our 77 local locations across Georgia. But occasionally people write directly to me, so I always pay particular attention to what they have to say.
One line in this person’s note particularly touched me that day. In it she said “You are helping me save my living situation in a time where I saw no way out other than a homeless shelter.”
Think about that for a minute. Think about the words ‘…where I saw no way out…’ And then imagine what it would be like – or maybe what is was like at some point in your life – to see no way out. To have no hope. To feel alone and afraid.
That is the tragedy of poverty. That is the tragedy of broken systems and ineffective programs that do nothing to lift people from despair to hope. It is not the fact that you are hungry today, as bad as that might be. But rather it is the fear and panic and hopelessness that even if you can find a place where you might eat today, you will face the same hunger tomorrow.
There is a story told of a city on the bend of a great river. One day the people of the city see three bodies floating down the river. So they send people to pull the bodies from the water and they tend to them. One is dead, so they bury them. One is sick, so they heal them, and one is a child who they care for. The next week, three more bodies float down the river and the cycle repeats itself. This continues for weeks, and months and even years. And the people of the city become quite adept at burying and healing and caring for the people coming down the river.
But you see, the tragedy is that as adept as they became, and as well as they learned to bury and heal and care for the people, no one ever went up the bend of the river to see why the bodies kept floating down to their city; and how they could stop it.
That is the difference between creating hope and just providing help. It is the difference between providing charity (as important as that is) and ensuring justice and equity. It is the difference between people seeing “no way out” and having hope for the future.