Recently, a friend of mine, Stephanie, shared with me an experience she and her family had last year during the holidays. They had been invited by friends to be on the receiving end of a toy giveaway program a local organization was doing for low income families.
Stephanie’s family normally wouldn’t be on the receiving end of such a program. They live comfortably and have no need for this type of assistance, but they were invited by a family in their neighborhood who did have need and wanted Stephanie’s family to go with them.
Stephanie felt honored to join them and loved the opportunity to deepen her family’s relationship with their friends. Unfortunately, the experience fell far short of their expectations. In fact, as Stephanie described it, “it was humbling, humiliating, and infuriating.”
Her experience wasn’t unlike others I have heard over the years from recipients of holiday giving programs. For those of us usually on the giving end, we might be shocked at what our good intentions create for those who receive our giving.
“I was willing to subject myself to humiliation for the sake of my kids,” said one recipient after I asked her to describe her experience. “We’d stand in line to receive the gifts and on the outside I looked joyful and appreciative but on the inside I felt worthless, incapable of providing for my children, and poor.”
She went on to say, “We could only pick out two toys. I hated the way the happy volunteers watched us like a hawk to make sure we wouldn’t take more than two toys. Moms would get up early in the morning to be first in line (Parent waits 28 hours for free toy giveaway) and push each other out of the way to get the best toys.” (Free toy giveaway program turns chaotic.)
“Some who knew the leaders had toys set aside for them. I never knew why they were more special than me.”
“I did this year after year for just two toys.”
Not all holiday giving programs are like the ones described above. Many understand the needs of the recipients and affirm their dignity. Pride for Parents, for example, sells toys at affordable prices, instead of giving them away, believing families prefer to provide for themselves rather than receive a hand out.
“I wish the same enthusiasm and energy for giving my family a toy was replaced by a similar desire to be my friend.”
I’m astounded at the amount of food, clothes, and toys given away at this time of year. There’s something about the holidays that makes us do it.
While those who receive our gifts are crying out for relationship and dignity, we’re giving them dependency and humiliation instead.
In his book, Toxic Charity, Bob Lupton describes the common effects of our giving on the recipients:
Give once and you elicit appreciation;
Give twice and you create anticipation;
Give three times and you create expectation;
Give four times and it becomes entitlement;
Give five times and you establish dependency.
So with a shift toward relationship and dignity, I’d like to suggest alternative ways for us to engage the material poor this holiday season:
Take a drive – Do you know where those in need live in your city? Have you ever been to their neighborhoods? Drive there and see firsthand the areas where they live. Learn the names of the streets, the schools, the churches, the parks, and even the history of the neighborhoods. Pray for the people and for God to give opportunities for you to develop meaningful friendships with those in these communities.
Ride the bus – If you live in an urban area, this might not be a big deal, but pick a day to take the bus to work or into the city. Experience what it’s like not to have your own transportation. Pray for those on the bus with you and engage in conversation with the person sitting next to you. Learn his or her name and commit to praying for your new friend.
Invite a family in need to dinner – Whether it’s to join you for Thanksgiving or an evening in December, find a time in the midst of all the busyness to open your home for a family in need. And make sure you ask them to bring a dish to share.
Give someone a job – Need help around the house? Does your company have openings it needs to fill? Want to inspire and support someone in need to start a small business on the side? Consider ways you can give what many long for this holiday season…the dignity of work.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
– 2 Corinthians 8:9
Jesus gave His life so that we who once were poor could have life. I guess maybe we should do the same.
Leave a comment below…
What other ways should we thoughtfully care for people in need this Christmas season?