April 30, 2013

They Could Be My Stories Too

I work for a nonprofit. More specifically, I raise money for the nonprofit by writing grants, mailing solicitation letters, making calls and tap dancing and singing, if asked. It’s a challenge, I mean, let’s face it: my nonprofit’s not helping puppies, kittens or another awwww-so-cute-invoking constituency.

The people coming to us have alcohol and/or drug problems, or struggle to put food on the table, or are unemployed, or have been abused, or are abusing, or are on public assistance, or fall within any range of broke, struggling and searching for a lifeline. Sometimes one person has all of those issues, but more often than not, they’ve got a combination of a few. Issues like those never thrive in a vacuum.

We see and hear a lot of the ugly, seedy side, and it isn’t just the ugly seedy people from the ugly seedy side of town who need help. The well-dressed professional from the burbs is just as likely to ring us up or walk through the door as is the tattered person from the slums. They both need help, and we’re here to do that if they can’t help themselves.

Not everyone sees the value of standing in the gap the way we do, and I get that. There’s no shortage of arguments about welfare and public assistance being a handout and not a hand up. Or that drunks and druggies should be locked up in prison until kingdom come. Or that unwed moms ought to lie in the bed they’ve made. Or [pick an issue and fill in the blank here].

But I’ve heard enough stories and combed through enough statistics to know that the issues are more complex than any bootstrap meme floating around in cyberspace and that there are no quick-fix solutions, either.

I imagine what these folks would say if they could. Maybe it’d be something like this.
Dear Guy in Line Behind Me at the Grocery Store:
I wish you wouldn’t look at me like that. I may not show it, but I feel your disapproving eyes and hear your sigh. I feel your frustration. I hate being on food stamps. I’m not sitting around waiting for a handout; in fact, I work two jobs. Neither is enough to keep food on the table for my kids and I. And in case you were wondering, I haven’t always been a single mom. My marriage fell apart and my ex has been unemployed for over two years. His loss of income is our loss of income. So you and me, our frustration is the same…just different sides of the coin.
Dear Cul-de-sac Neighbor:
I didn't come over for morning coffee today because I was busy talking to the utility company trying to buy time to keep our lights from getting shut off. But how do I casually mention that my husband’s hours got cut and I can’t score a full-time job to make up the difference – even with my degree. Truth is I’m too embarrassed to tell you that we can only afford to pay part of our mortgage and we just let the other bills – like our utilities – just “ride” in the meantime.
Dear Cynic:
I find myself here applying for public assistance with “Those People”…at least that’s what I used to call them. Only now it’s “Us People.” But I’m not a Welfare Queen and from what I can see, neither are a lot of people standing in line with me. Believe me, I want to pull myself up by my bootstraps, but paying for a busted water heater and busted transmission on our only car have left us busted too. There aren’t any boots, much less straps.
More stories could be told, more letters could written. These are just a few.

The stories remind me that the work we’re doing does matter, even when a funding proposal gets rejected. Sometimes they’re a kick in the pants when I find myself whining about “first world problems” like our basement remodel taking forever to be completed. They keep me from turning into the frustrated Guy In Line Behind someone, or the too-busy-self-consumed Cul-de-sac Neighbor or after reading daily headlines, the Cynic.

Most of all the stories remind me that, but for the grace of God, those stories could be my own.

Do you have what it takes to be poor? Try this interactive quiz just to find out. Click here.


  1. This is so bang-on true - but for some luck, it could be any one of us. What a timely and clear reminder!

    Off to take the quiz now!

    1. Thanks Liz...not sure if I was writing it for the blog or for myself at the time. :)

  2. Rochelle - great post. Hard to keep this perspective, especially with a basement remodel!

    1. Thanks Greg! Believe me, in between the dust, the dust and more dust I've been thinking about this plenty. :)