CHARITY IS NOT ENOUGH
By John Berry, Chief Executive Officer, St. Vincent de Paul Georgia
The six weeks from Thanksgiving to the New Year is no doubt the largest continuous period of charitable giving of the entire year. While the retail sector has Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday, the nonprofit sector has its Giving Tuesday (today) and will continue to solicit our support with donation appeals focused on the spirit of holiday giving and the end of the year tax deductibility of donations. If you have not already had your email inbox, your Facebook and Twitter feeds, and your ‘snail mail’ box flooded with appeals – get ready, they are coming. It’s like the election season all over again – only much nicer and more inspiring. You’ll hopefully hear from us at St. Vincent de Paul Georgia (if you don’t let me know and I’ll add you to our lists!) and many other good organizations doing good work.
But charitable giving and charity itself are not enough. Because charity is only one part of what is necessary to change the lives of the people that these many organizations seek to help. There must be another goal, a more important goal; albeit a more difficult one. That goal is Justice.
The Founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, referencing the New Testament story of the Good Samaritan, once said; “Charity is the Samaritan who pours oil on the wounds of the traveler; it is Justice’s role to prevent the attack.’ That statement, made in the 1830’s, makes the argument that help and support after the fact is important, but action and intervention beforehand is more important because it eliminates the need for the charitable act. Imagine a world where we don’t need food pantries because people are not hungry. Imagine a world without homeless shelters because all have a home. Idealistic, sure. But if we limit our dreaming to what is, we will never achieve what might be.
At SVdP Georgia we work to ensure that the critically important charitable support we provide to people in need is accompanied, as best as possible, with specific actions to help alleviate the need that required that charitable intervention in the first place. It is core to our mission, ‘… so they may achieve stability and move towards self-sufficiency.’ We not only work to prevent homelessness by keeping people from losing their homes due to a financial crisis, but then address the root cause(s) of that crisis and address them as well. We advocate for public policies that ensure justice and fair treatment of all. We educate and support people trying to better their circumstances and their lives. In the simplest terms, we work hard to put ourselves out of business. Imagine a world that doesn’t need charitable organizations!
Charity that leaves people in their poverty with only short term relief can’t be enough. Because once that charity is done, the poverty remains; it creates false hope and unhealed wounds.
During this ‘giving season’ consider how you can make your gift last all year long. Not by spreading out your treasure over a longer period of time, but by evaluating what you are doing, or can do, for justice. Will your gifts be used in a way that sustains conditions of dependence and need, or will they be used to repair the injustices and inadequacies that exist at all levels of our society? Can you provide not just your ‘treasure’, but also your time and talent to help organizations in their efforts to prevent the attacks, not just heal the wounded once the attacks have occurred? Charity is vitally important, but it is not enough. Charity without justice will heal, but not cure. Justice without charity is unacceptable because things cannot be changed instantly. We need both.