Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Moved with Compassion

Something has been heavy on my heart tonight, and I just have to put it out there, get it off my chest.  It is not meant to offend anyone, it's just coming from my heart, from my experience, and from my perspective.

I occasionally see posts on social media or news articles about welfare and the poor in our country. It's mostly related to politics, which I understand. We're certainly in the midst of a turbulent time politically in our country. It's difficult for working class or middle class person to be frustrated that their tax dollars are going to support someone else, who maybe isn't working or hasn't made the wisest decisions in their life. I get it. Our economy sucks right now, people are struggling. There are many people who have never worried about paying their bills who have now faced foreclosure, bankruptcy, and extreme hardship. My husband was laid of in January, so I get it. It's hard to live on a Social Worker's salary and unemployment. We did, but just barely. I'm thankful that God has provided me with a new position that will help us financially and that Brent is close to starting a new job, but I constantly remind myself that we are blessed.
"Helping the Homeless" - Ed Yourdon (Creative Commons)

Most of my readers are suburban, middle class individuals. Most of us have never received public benefits or have actually gone hungry. Not "oh I haven't eaten since breakfast" hungry, but "I haven't had a full meal in several days" hungry. I've never felt that, and I imagine you haven't either. Maybe you have, but most of us haven't. I couldn't even imagine how it feels as a young child to go without food, how difficult it is as a parent to struggle to provide for your children, or how scary it is to be homeless and not know who may come to help you with food on any given day.

I've met many people who are struggling like this. I'm currently working very closely with a local DFCS (Georgia's public assistance office for you out of state readers) office through my current position, so I've spent time in the waiting room in several locations. The mood inside these public benefits offices is somber. People don't make eye contact. They look sad, depressed, and discouraged. They are humbled down to asking the government for help. They are struggling. Yes, I imagine fraud exists, but for most of us, asking for help is the last resort.  I've worked with refugees for several years. All refugees (legal immigrants) are given public benefits for the first couple of months. Many of them receive food stamps for several years after that time. They cannot find jobs that pay more than minimum wage, so this food supplement keeps them going as they make a new life in our country.

I don't want to get into the health care debate, but I worked at a charity medical clinic for a year during grad school. I was a counselor and spent my days providing therapy to patients at the clinic. Most of our patients were working class individuals who either lost their jobs or their health insurance. Many struggled with chronic health disorders and were not able to pay for their own insurance. I don't know how many times I sat next to a middle aged woman, trying to help her come up with options to pay her bills or find a job. It felt hopeless, and there were a lot of tears, but we still tried.

Before you throw stones or turn public benefits into a purely political conversation, remember the faces of the children who are able to see a doctor because of Medicaid. Remember the new residents of our country who are able to eat as they work to create a new life here. And remember the people in the DFCS office who are lined up to see if anyone can help them. Public benefits do not fully sustain people by any means. TANF benefits max out at 5 years of an adult's life, no more. You can't have more children to extend your benefits, and if you miss a TANF class or do not fulfill the requirements, your benefits get cut. The average Food Stamp benefit is $208 dollars per month for an average sized family of three. Brent and I spend twice that on food per month. Very few adults have medicaid, most medicaid recipients are children, and the benefits are severely limited. I spent three hours one day trying to find a specialist who would see a medicaid client, and the result was a two month waiting list. Section 8 housing vouchers are essentially non existent now, there isn't even a waiting list. Private organizations are essentially tapped out right now, its almost impossible to find a church or organization with the funds to help someone keep their lights on or put food on the table. Its a vicious, painful cycle for so many people. Its a cycle that brings tears to my eyes, because I've seen it, I can give names and faces to this struggle. I'm going on my fourth year of vocational social work and my sixth year in the non profit world, and I have yet to meet someone who enjoys their situation or who is abusing the system. I'm not naive, I know it happens, but I don't think its as prevalent as the media would like us to believe.

I could go on to talk about cycles of poverty and how insecurity in childhood can perpetuate poverty, mental health issues, or substance abuse later in life. But I try to limit my post lengths, so I'll refrain. Ultimately my prayer is that much like Jesus was, we will be moved with compassion towards the people around us. People are watching us online and out in our communities, especially if we claim to be Christians. Let's put aside assumptions about welfare recipients and try to imagine life in their shoes. I would love to see the day when the private sector can care for everyone in our communities, deserving or not. But in the meantime, I hope I can extend grace and love, and do my best to help those in need around me. As Mother Teresa so eloquently put it:

 “Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.”

I try to make things positive and give us ways to make a difference through my posts, so if you want to help people in your community and around the world, check out two innovative organizations I've recently learned about. 

Hungry for a Day www.h4ad.com

HopeMob www.hopemob.org

Sunday, July 8, 2012

{SCS} Is it legit?

A question I often get asked is "How do you know if the company you are supporting is actually fair trade?" This is an excellent question, so I thought I'd share with you a few ways that I check into the products I buy.

1. Check the Label: This is pretty self explanatory. If there is a fair trade certification label on the product, then the company has invested time and money into being certified. Third party groups verify these companies' policies and practices.

2. Read the policies: I was in Ireland and went into a store called "Penny's". The store had a sign by the register stating their ethical policies and that they were committed to providing a fair wage and good working conditions to the people who made their products. It made me feel better about shopping there. And I was able to go back and read, in detail, their policies. And call me naive, but I tend to believe that if a company goes to all that effort to display their ethics and makes it a priority, they're trying to make things better. I certainly think its better than a company having NO ethical policy.

3. Ask them about the people who make the products. If the organization is invested in the people who make their products, they'll have stories, examples, and even names of the artisans. I used to work at a shop called "Go Fish" on the Marietta Square. We had pictures, names, and stories of artisans all around our shop, and could explain how our model worked to curious customers.

4. Do some research. If you come across some companies, research them online. Many times you can find news articles, reviews and opinions about the company or organization. That takes a bit of time but information is fairly easy to find.

5. Write a letter: If you're still curious and haven't been able to find information, write a letter to the customer service section of the store or company. My new friend Kristi recently did this with the grocery stores she shops at. Check out her blog to read the responses.

6. Check their grade. I posted about Free2Work last week. Check out Free2Work to see if the company has a grade. They've done a bunch of the legwork for you. And if the company doesn't have a grade, tweet Free2Work to see if they know anything. 

So there you have it. Six simple ways to do some investigating. And this summer, I'm going to do some of the investigating for you. I'll be using these methods before I post any organization on this blog. I've found some great organizations, and I'm excited to share them with you. Lots of good stuff coming soon!

Monday, July 2, 2012

{SCS} Free2Work

Good evening friends! I hope you are having a fantastic start to your fourth of July holiday week. I love this week, its an incredible reminder of how blessed and lucky we are to live in the United States. We are free to do so many different things. Freedom is one of the key values of our country. We are free to eat what we want, go where we want, do what we want. We are free to travel, free to make choices, and free to work to make a living.

Some people in our world, however, are not free to work. They are trapped in debt bondage or forced labor to make the products we use every day. Forgive me if I sound like a broken record, but this is the foundational reason for the {SCS} series this summer. People are in bondage, and we indirectly perpetuate that with our purchases. But we can do something to end it. We can do numerous things to end it.We have power in our purchasing. We have the choice, the freedom, to choose where we shop. And it is a lot easier to make positive choices that help end slavery than you may think.
Photo credit: www.free2work.org

Do you have an iPhone? Android phone? Then you can end slavery with your purchases by downloading an app:


Free2Work is a program from Not for Sale that grades companies based on four ethical principles. Its a way to reward companies who are attempting eradicate slavery from their supply chains and products. It also provides a way for us to know what companies don't pay attention to or don't care about the people who make the products. You can read in detail how the organization rates companies on their website, but they have a thorough, detailed process to get the most accurate information possible in order to provide the grades. Just like the awesome people at Slavery Map, the people at Free2Work are really smart.

I've been able to make purchasing decisions based on Free2Work that have been easy and practical. I feel pretty good about shopping at Gap or Old Navy now, because they earned a B. I also saw a tweet from Not for Sale (NFS) the other day that Gap has been meeting with NFS to discuss supply chains, so I know Gap working hard to be ethical. I know that Adidas and Champion are great companies to buy my running gear from, because they scored a B+ and A-, respectively. And I know that if I'm going to buy chocolate, Hershey's probably isn't the way to go, they got a D.

There are many more brands on Free2Work, I'd encourage you to check it out. You can search for brands, scan products at the store, or browse via category. They have been expanding it to include more brands as well, so its becoming an even better tool. And ultimately, it is another small way you can make a big difference.