Giving when it hurts

Keith Goetzman of the Utne Reader writes:

As the recession rolls on, the people who run the nation’s social service nonprofits expect people’s needs for food, shelter, and other types of assistance to rise dramatically, just as donations from businesses and individuals are falling: In December, a survey of nonprofit professionals reported the gloomiest fund-raising outlook in a decade. At the same time, cash-strapped government agencies at the federal, state, and local levels are further cutting back on social spending and allocating less money to nonprofits that citizens have come to depend on for a wide variety of services. Making matters worse, a number of these same nonprofits—as well as an array of municipalities, school boards, and public works agencies—got caught off guard by poorly structured investment portfolios and scandals, like the Bernard Madoff affair, and have seen their risky Wall Street investments all but vanish.

To consider how we might remedy this state of affairs, it’s worth asking how we got here. In a way, it’s quite simple: We’ve outsourced compassion. Over the past few decades, the United States has deliberately and steadily shifted the burden of meeting social needs from the government onto a loosely organized, haphazardly regulated patchwork of nonprofits. Many groups have overlapping or competing missions, many are closely aligned with business interests through their funding or their boards, and many rely heavily on foundation funding, which ties them even more closely to Wall Street’s fortunes.

Is this really the best way to do things? Several critics have recently been asking this and other hard questions about what some have dubbed “the nonprofit industrial complex”—the $300 billion-a-year sector of the economy that encompasses everything from art museums to private colleges to local food shelves. Reform-minded critics come from both right and left, with proposed remedies that range from mildly corrective steps to a fundamental makeover of the system.

Read the article to see some of the alternatives being discussed.

Faith in the Balance: A Call to Action

From the Episcopal Church's Office of Public Affairs:

A groundbreaking report, Faith in the Balance: A Call to Action, which calls on The Episcopal Church to address the issues and concerns of the poor in this country, was released today.

The report, based on the outcomes of 2008 Presiding Bishop’s Summit on Domestic Poverty, presents a Model for Domestic Poverty Alleviation, with an initial endeavor in Native American communities. This innovative Model works in tandem with the Episcopal Church’s global poverty initiatives of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Click Read more to see the full release.

Read more »

Poor farmers helping rich countries

Small farmers from poor countries are helping larger rich countries cope with the financial crisis.

Read more »

A homeless love story

Marc Fisher's moving column in today's Washington Post tells the story of two homeless people who will be married on Saturday at Grace Episcopal Church in Georgetown. You owe it to yourself to read it all, but here are a few paragraphs:

Read more »

A dream wedding

Agence France Presse attended the nuptials of the homeless couple married last weekend at Grace Episcopal Church in Georgetown:

The groom wore a black tuxedo, a damask-rose pink waistcoat and tie, and an ear-to-ear smile.

He picked out his wedding outfit at a mall in Virginia -- his first time ever in one of the sprawling shopping centers that are monuments to consumerism in the suburban landscape across the United States.

During his 14 years living homeless on the streets of Washington, Dante White, 28, never realized that so much opulence existed. Nor had he had much luck in love in his life, having been thrown out of his mother's home when he was just 14.

Last week, White married Nhiahni Chestnut, 39, a woman whose battles with drugs and alcohol had left her on the streets of the US capital as well. Both are unemployed.

"I was basically living from day to day, trying to survive, and I wound up meeting him," Chestnut told AFP at the couple's wedding, held in the tiny chapel of Grace Episcopal Church in Washington's Georgetown neighborhood.

The Cafe's previous coverage is here.

It's costly to be poor

In case you need to know, it costs more to be poor than to be rich:

Poverty 101: We'll start with the basics.

Like food: You don't have a car to get to a supermarket, much less to Costco or Trader Joe's, where the middle class goes to save money. You don't have three hours to take the bus. So you buy groceries at the corner store, where a gallon of milk costs an extra dollar. ...

Homeless man goes high tech to help others

NPR's All Things Considered broadcasts the story of how a homeless advocate, who is himself homeless, uses high tech to tell the story of what it is like on the streets and how people can help:

Read more »

24 hours at Compassion Camp

Kate Santich in the Orlando Sentinel:

Twelve-year-old Trinity Fore was roused too early from sleep by the clanging of a ladle on a pot. She choked down a stale doughnut and water for breakfast and had 30 seconds to grab something to wear from a pile of hand-me-downs. Then, before she had a chance to wash her face or brush her teeth, she was hustled out into the dawn along the streets of Parramore, a homeless man as her guide.

Read more »

Integrated approach to ending poverty in Ghana

Episcopal Relief and Development reports on a comprehensive, integrated approach to ending poverty:

Read more »

Bishops care about health care

Bishops Working for a Just World to lobby for health-care reform

Read more »

Fighting poverty with faith

About Fighting Poverty with Faith

As communities of faith, we are grounded in a shared tradition of justice and compassion, and we are called upon to hold ourselves and our communities accountable to the moral standard of this tradition.

Read more »

Using matches to communicate;
killing kerosene

The blog, NextBillion, brings us two red hot ideas NGOs can use:

1. Match Point

Question: Which manufactured consumer product has the deepest market penetration in rural India?

Read more »

Outside a world of wealth stands the reality of hunger

From The New York Times, which visited the church of occasional Cafe contributor the Rev. Bonnie Perry:

Read more »

Houston attorney seeks end to Cathedral's 'Beacon' program

Harry C. Arthur, a lawyer in downtown Houston whose office is near Christ Church Cathedral, is suing in pursuit of shutting down The Beacon, the cathedral's well-used program for area homeless.

Read more »

Feeding ministries abound and offend

Typically at this time of year there are many stories about how churches are responding to hunger in their communities. St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Natik is doing heroic work in their community. But the need has grown so great that their food pantry has outgrown their parish building. Luckily the community around them came to the rescue:

Read more »

Scientific evidence to guide spending on MDGs

From the Poverty Action Lab at MIT:

By distinguishing programs that work from those that don’t, and sorting highly effective programs from those that work but come with a higher price tag, randomized evaluations help answer tough questions on comparative cost effectiveness and are central to generating rigorous evidence for development effectiveness.

Read more »

Why was I born where I was born?

It's a question driven out of the capacity for empathy, not the self-centeredness of youth: Why was I born where I was born? What fate intervened?

The Rev. Roger Bowen has seen the question arise on his several decades of taking young Americans to Haiti first as a chaplain and headmaster of Episcopal schools and now in retirement in Staunton, Virginia:

Read more »

MLK, Jr. on interconnectedness

As we pray and work to help the victims of the devastating earthquake in Haiti many of us are also planning to remember and honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many communities will embark on days of service and many people will attend events to remember and honor Dr. King, but also to be inspired to live and work in ways consistent with his call to action. Over at "" there are many resources for MLK, Jr. day.

Read more »

What could you live without?

Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times writer, asks What Could You Live Without? after reading about a family who sold their house, bought a smaller one and gave the difference to charity:

Read more »

Responding to domestic poverty

In Newark, NJ, a conference will be held for those working to eradicate domestic poverty and will examine how the church might work more effectively to reach this goal:

Read more »

Help plant an orchard in Central City, New Orleans

Holly Heine and the folks at Jericho Road, a neighborhood-based nonprofit homebuilder that provides families with healthy and energy-efficient affordable housing opportunities in Central City, New Orleans needs our help. Just by voting in an online initiative sponsored by Edy's Fruit Bars, we can help them win a free fruit orchard for their neighborhood.

Here is what you need to do--every day:

Read more »

William Stringfellow wants to make you uncomfortable

Vicki Black featured this quotation from the late William Stringfellow on the Speaking to the Soul blog yesterday. But it is a question that can't be examined too often. Are some people poor because others are rich? And if so, what should Christians do abut that?

Read more »

The Church's special responsibility to the rich

The headline above isn't intended as a joke. Given yesterday's readings, is it possible that the Church is failing in its responsibility to warn rich people--which, in the global calculus would mean most Americans--of the grave danger that their standard of living poses to their souls?

Read more »

Archbishop lives the food bank diet'

Colin Johnson, Archbishop of the Diocese of Toronto decided to try living on the sorts of food found in the typical Toronto food bank both as a spiritual exercise and as a way of understanding better what it was like to live off the sorts of resources available to a family who have no where else to turn.

Read more »

How would Martin Luther King, Jr.'s last Sunday sermon play today?

Martin Luther King gave his last Sunday sermon at Washington National Cathedral on March 31, 1968. Some of that sermon is reproduced below, but we urge you to read it all. Read it all and ask yourself how a man who says the kinds of things that Dr. King said would fare in the era of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.

Read more »

Ancient Christian radicalism: Martin Luther King, Jr. on poverty

Albert Raboteau reminds us:

Martin Luther King Day memorials tend to celebrate King the Civil Rights leader, stressing his activism on behalf of interracial equality and reconciliation. We slight his emphasis on the link between racism and poverty and so neglect King the advocate of the poor.

Read more »

Students act creatively for the MDGs

Two college juniors are taking action for the Millennium Development Goals:

Read more »

Do justice. Not love justice. Do justice.

Charles Honey of the Grand Rapids Press considers the age-old question of whether the church should take part in political debates, and concludes that it should:

Read more »

The myth of a faith-based social safety net

Whenever Congress and the White House cut support for poverty programs, ideologues on the right assert that churches can and should fill the void--that faith-based, private charity is morally superior to government assistance, not to mention more effective. Expect to hear that argument advanced by proponents of the mean-spirited, budget deal that Republicans and Democrats struck this weekend to avert a government shutdown.

Read more »

Study says the rich are less empathetic than the poor

If you have been following the political debate in Washington and Iowa, you might already have arrived at the same conclusion as a study featured in The New York Times.

Read more »

More American families with children live in poverty

The official child poverty rate grew by 18 percent and poverty levels for families with children increased in 38 states, according to a new study.

Read more »

Religion links from all over

Riazat Butt, religion reporter for the Guardian, is traveling in Afghanistan with British army chaplains. One chaplain said to her:

Read more »

Responding to those who approach us for money on the street

Jesus instructed his disciples to give to those who asked of them. Does that extend to panhandlers? Churches in Sacramento find themselves mulling this issue.

Read more »

Hunger hidden in plain sight

Hunger is visible if you have the eyes to see.

While reflecting on the millions spent to make the El look better in Chicago while the infrastructure is falling apart, Chicago columnist James Warren sees another kind of infrastructure that is both neglected and falling apart: our people.

Read more »

Episcopal charity The Ark keeps afloat for homeless kids' sake

In The Baltimore Sun, Jean Marbella writes about The Ark, a program of Episcopal Community Services of Maryland.

Read more »

Invisible children: in South Africa, and here at home

Bishop Mark Beckwith of Newark attended the recent consultation in Durban, South Africa on issues of justice and sexuality. It inspired a reflection recently published on his blog that included this passage:

Read more »

Churches doing what they can to address homelessness

Various reports from the past few days have pinpointed some congregations' involvement in the effort to help the homeless.

Read more »

Food stamps and the working people who need them

From the folks at Need to Know at

More than 46 million Americans — one in seven of us — gets help from the federal government to feed ourselves and our families. If you’re surprised at how many Americans receive help in buying food, you may be even more surprised who they are. As it turns out, millions of Americans with jobs also need the help.

Read more »

Diaconal association seeks larger conversation about poverty in 2013

From the Association for Episcopal Deacons comes a call for the church to spark a conversation in 2013 around issues of poverty.

Read more »

Politicians are ignoring crisis of poverty in America

The Huffington Post is running a series spotlighting problems that are not being discussed by either political party this election season. As part of this project, Jim Wallis notes that we're looking at the highest rates of poverty this country has seen in 50 years:

Read more »

Christian group prompts Obama, Romney to explain views on poverty

Leaders of "The Circle of Protection," a broad coalition of church groups concerned about poverty issues, asked Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to create videos explaining their plans to protect the most vulnerable in American society. The candidates' videos were presented yesterday at the National Press Club. Check out their responses here.

Jesus calls us to help the poor, deserving or not

Christians err when they fall into the trap of believing that charity should be based on whether those in need deserve help or not, contends Rachel Johnson, writing at This is important to consider as we debate public policy on poverty issues. In a piece titled "Jesus Doesn’t Care or Why Liberals Need Christ," she writes:

Read more »

Sister Simone Campbell on the invisible 46.2 million

Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of the Catholic social justice lobby NETWORK and leader of “Nuns on the Bus," tour has written an op-ed for the On Faith section of The Washington Post's website. She says:

Read more »

Sheep and goats - today

Yesterday, The Lead ran a video on wealth disparity in the U.S. It has gone viral. Susan Thistlewaith comments at Occupy the Bible:

Read more »

CEO speaks out for the oppressed in Dallas

Today is Good Friday, when we remember what terrible injustice occurs when no one among us cries out to stop it. Yesterday in Dallas, a prominent business leader challenged a country club audience to take action to right entrenched injustice against the poor and oppressed. Rudolph Bush of the Dallas Morning News reports:

Read more »

What the FAA fix says about our priorities

The flights delays due to The Sequester were of a focus this week on social media, mainstream news, and in Washington where politicians rapidly responded to come up with a fix.

The rapid response has led to a steady drum beat making the point that when it wants to Washington can fix things, so why doesn't attend to more serious problems.

Read more »

Google supports giving cash directly to world's poorest

Here's an interesting idea. Instead of sending donations to agencies and foreign governments in hopes they will direct it to those in need, why not send cash directly to poor families overseas, via their cellphones? From

Read more »

Hunger for Profit

Great fortunes are being made in agriculture. But people around the world are still going hungry. This five minute video from examines the issue from several points of view.

Read more »

Stealing Africa

Zambia has the 3rd largest copper reserves in the world, but 60% of the population live on less than $1 a day and 80% are unemployed. Yet the chief executive officer of many of the copper mines pays taxes not in Zambia, but in the small, wealthy Swiss village in which he lives. This hour long film from Why Poverty examines the tax structure that exacerbates inequality.

Read more »

Are women better at getting out of poverty than men?

Solar Momas, another excellent documentary from Why Poverty asks: ARe women better at getting out of poverty than men.

Read more »

The changing map of American poverty

The Atlantic's Cities blog notes the astonishing change in the geography of poverty in the United States between 1980 and 2010.

Emily Badger writes:

Read more »

Sequester creates severe hardship for Native Americans

As we seem to have settled into weary stasis regarding the government sequester, former Democratic Sen. Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota writes in the New York Times of the unjust hardship this has created for Native Americans. He contends that Indian country should be immediately exempted from the impact of sequestration:

Read more »

What summer camp taught me about rules, priorities & the Great Commandment

The Rev. Robyn Barnes has been to summer camp and learned a few things about rules and priorities, both as they apply to children and as they apply to the wider church.

She writes:

Read more »

Criminalizing the homeless

The Rev. David R. Henson says that local laws that criminalize the homeless also criminalize Jesus.

The God Article:

Read more »

Rome and Canterbury planning joint anti-poverty initiative

The Tablet has some news about the June meeting of Pope Francis and Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury:

The Archbishop of Canterbury is hoping to meet Pope Francis in December to discuss working on a joint anti-poverty initiative.

Read more »

Why doesn't poverty have a place on the agenda of the religious right?

This article from Salon is partisan to be sure, but it asks an important question: why aren't poverty or income inequality part of the agenda of conservative Christians in the United States?

Elizabeth Stoker and Matt Bruenig write:

Read more »

Do try this at home - Thistle Farms inspires nationwide movement

I just returned from the first national conference presented by Thistle Farms, the amazing Nashville-based ministry launched by the Rev. Becca Stevens to help women recover from lives of prostitution, drug addiction and abuse. Most of the 250 attendees were women, from all over the country, hoping in some way to create or bolster programs back home based on the Thistle Farms/Magdalene model. From Episcopal News Service:

Read more »

Can churches make up for gaps in federal funding to the poor?

The government shutdown may be over, but cuts to social programs that help the poor are very much still with us. In my church work, I meet people every day who are hurt by cuts to food programs and other federal assistance. Can congregations make up the difference? I wish we could, but the answer is absolutely not. Brie Loskota writes at Religion Dispatches:

Read more »

Food stamps funding set to shrink

Funding for the federal food stamps will shrink by $5 billion this week, and the pain may not stop there, says the Wonk Blog at The Washington Post.

Brad Plumer writes:

Read more »

Solidarity with those surviving on food stamps

The Port Huron Times Herald reports:

Read more »

Poverty is pervasive

Poverty is more pervasive than we realize, says Mark Rank in an op-ed for The New York Times. He writes:

Read more »

Bp. Fisher speaks out against casinos in Massachusetts

Bishop Doug Fisher of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts states quite clearly that casinos are bad news for the poor. His diocese has joined a statewide effort to place an initiative on the 2014 ballot that would make casino gaming in Massachusetts illegal. Writing in the Worcester News-Telegram, he says:

Read more »

Disappointing new findings on pre-K education

File under dealing effectively with poverty is hard.

Brookings has issued a report by Grover J. Whitehurst on a study of Tennessee’s Voluntary Pre-K Program (TN-VPK).:

Read more »

Working poor turning to soup kitchens

Holy Apostles in Chelsea is among the soup kitchens featured in a New York Daily News story about the deteriorating condition of the working poor. Tanay Warerkar and Jennifer H. Cunningham write:

Read more »

Episcopal food pantry says it will be swamped if Congress slashes food stamp budget

A food pantry at an Episcopal Church in Clay Center, Kansas, is trying to make Congress understand that faith communities are not going to be able to meet all the need that will be created by deep cuts in the federal food stamp programs. The Clay Center Dispatch has the story:

Read more »

To be young and homeless

A sobering thought to reflect on as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus: an estimated 1.6 million young people are homeless in the United States. At She the People, a blog on The Washington Post website, Bernardine Watson writes:

Read more »

Making those who are invisible visible

Artist Ramiro Gomez takes images of the good life, and then sketches in the invisible domestic workers who make the good life possible. Recently he spoke about his work with Kinsey Sullivan of Policy Mic.

Read more »

Does the U. S. need another War on Poverty?

From The New York Times:

In his State of the Union address on Jan. 8, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson introduced his “war on poverty,” when the national poverty rate was 19 percent. His project created Medicare, Medicaid, a permanent food stamp program, Head Start, Volunteers in Service to America and the Job Corps.

Read more »

Stop stereotyping people who are poor

Archbishop Barry Morgan of the Church in Wales says people need to stand with those who poor and stop the use of stereotypes:

Read more »

Wealth inequality

Oxfam has released its latest report on wealth inequality and the rapid growth of poverty and its effects:

Read more »

Doomed to poverty? Gates says no

Bill and Melinda Gates refute the arguments that poor countries are destined to remain poor and that the gap between rich and poor will only grow larger. All Africa reports:

Read more »

Questioning poverty assumptions

In a provocative and detailed report, "What If Everything You Knew About Poverty Was Wrong?", Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones looks at the work of Kathryn Edin:

Read more »

White Protestants don't mirror general public in views on poverty

White Mainline and evangelical Protestants are less likely than Catholics, or the general public, to believe that the government should do more to battle poverty or reduce the gap between rich and poor, according to a new Pew poll:

Read more »

Five provocative points about "Poverty Porn"

Poverty porn, the practice of playing up the suffering of needy people to elicit an emotional response, and perhaps a donation, is a knotty problem, writes the blogger Emily Roenigk.

In an essay called "5 Reasons Poverty Porn Empowers the Wrong Person" she raises a number of difficult questions. Such as:

Read more »

Are poverty and inequality becoming the new normal?

More than 46 million Americans live below the poverty line, and income inequality in the U.S. is at its highest level since the 1920s, according to NBC News, which recently produced an extensive report on the subject.

Writer Martha White notes a generational aspect to the problem of poverty and inequality:

Read more »

Tax Codes and the Least of these examines how the American welfare system both helped and hurt the neediest Americans during the period 1983-2004.

According to the article:

Read more »

The unfairness of climate change

President Obama Obama's has announced new carbon regulations for the U.S. 17 percent of the world's emissions come from the United States. The new regulations are designed to cut that number significantly, ideally reducing the United States to 17 percent below its 2005 target. but as Vox notes, though changes may cost the developed world, the burden of not doing anything will fall heavily on the poor of the world.

Read more »

Want to end poverty? Give poor people money.

Dylan Matthews of Vox writes that there is an increasing body of evidence suggesting that simply giving poor people money is an effective means of fighting poverty:

A recent randomized trial found that Kenyans who received no-strings attached cash from the charity GiveDirectly built more assets, bought more goods, were less hungry, and were all-around happier than those who didn't get cash.

Read more »

How the poor really live

Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic writes:

Read more »

The Hospitality Center: "I don't know what we'd do without them"

In three brief years, The Hospitality Center, founded by Deacon Kevin Stewart and the people of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Racine, Wisconsin has become the largest feeding program in the city. Listening to some of the stories in this video makes the Baptismal Covenant come alive.

Read more »

How the poor cope with ADHD

According to experts, children from low-income households are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. NBC News Plain Sight has the report here.

Bringing healthy eating within reach with a cookbook

If you spend much time around church food pantries, and the government-administered food assistance programs that are often run out of churches, then you might have noticed that the food available to people with restricted incomes is often the least-healthy option available. As food pantries seek to reduce costs, and cut down on spoilage, they understandably rely a lot on processed and canned food, everything which is high in sugar and carbohydrates, and that doesn't always taste fantastic.

Read more »

India has a brilliant alternative to the Ice Bucket Challenge

If you have eyes, and an internet connection, then you've seen a video recording of someone getting ice water dumped over their heads in the past month or so.
This is a challenge dreamed up to raise awareness and money to fight ALS (formerly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease), known as the Ice Bucket Challenge. Basically, once someone calls you out, you then have 24 hours to film yourself having a bucket of ice water dumped over your head, or you must pay $100 to a charity that funds ALS research, then you call out several more people.

Read more »

1 in 5 U.S. kids live in households that lack adequate food

Churches and others partner for clean water

The World Health Organization says that more than 2 billion people have gained access to an improved source of drinking water since 1990.

Christian Century:

Read more »

The rich got richer while the poor gave more to charity

Danielle Kurtzleben of Vox writes:

[D]uring the downturn and recovery, the poorest Americans upped their charitable giving. Meanwhile, the highest-income people gave less and less, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported this week.

Read more »

"It’s time to stop giving our crap to the poor"

Kristen Welch at the We Are that Family blog writes:

Somehow collecting clothes for immigrants has become the perfect opportunity to get rid of stuff we don’t want and gathering baby items for new moms is the perfect excuse to toss out stained and worn clothing we wouldn’t dare use again. I’ve packed suitcases with beautiful donations, but mostly I’ve pilfered through piles of junk donated in the name of Jesus.

Read more »

Unconventional transitional housing

In Eugene, Oregon, local faith groups, religious leaders, and volunteers have created Opportunity Village, a community of small houses for the unsheltered homeless.


Read more »

The new wave of book banning: Poverty and class

Some folks don't want kids reading reality-based portrayals of poverty and class:

More worrying, however, is the recent rise in efforts to get books banned that cover poverty and social class. At a time when rising inequality and the demonisation of poorer people (both in the UK and the US) is commonplace, such attempts to remove books that depict the reality of life for people who are struggling should concern us all.

Read more »

Advertising Space