We’ve all driven past a homeless person holding a sign at an intersection or been asked by a stranger for money while visiting a big city. And you’ve probably felt torn– Is this an opportunity to be generous? Or could my generosity have harmful consequences that I can’t see right now? If you’ve been exposed to the broader poverty relief discussion, you may wrestle through a number of conflicting thoughts about your charity. You want to meet a need but wonder whether a hand-out does more harm than good. Fear of doing the wrong thing often keeps us from doing anything at all.
Handouts such as money, food, and medicine are forms of relief aid that intend to sustain life during a crisis situation. They’re crucial when responding to an emergency, but prolonging their distribution beyond this stage can be detrimental to a community in the following ways:
- Displace small business owners whose markets are flooded with an oversupply of handouts.
- Create cycles of dependency in communities.
- Cause “savior mentalities” in the givers and hinder the development of the receivers.
- Can cause community members to feel disempowered because they’re consistently looking outside of themselves to meet their basic needs.
127 partners all employ a combination of relief and development aid techniques to address the needs of their communities. As visitors to these communities, we don’t see the complexity of the problems that face them, so 127 GO Teams never give handouts that are beyond the scope of a partner’s ministry.
- The Chalmers Center does an excellent job of describing the complexity of these and suggests several helpful ways to proceed under the goal of restoring people to all that it means to be human. Consider your past interactions with the poor. How might you change that interaction in the future to communicate that you see people as image-bearers created with dignity, worth, and capacity?
- Have you ever before considered how generosity could have unintended effects? If you’re still curious about this topic, we encourage you to read this article for a more in depth explanation of how charity can cripple agency.
- What are some better alternatives to packing our suitcases full of old t-shirts and American candies or handing out dollar bills in a slum? How can we both critically evaluate the ripple effects of our actions and still practice generosity toward people in need?