Columnist: Charity that helps, hurts or indicts

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 28, 2015

Jeff Brown

Contributing columnist

The purposes of this article are to offer some tested ways of being helpful with your charity, to discuss toxic charity and to caution about the dishonest.

There are sound organizations that help kids who lack adequate support, or to reduce the deplorable high school dropout rate, or are addressing the devastating effects of teen pregnancies and others working with prisoners who have paid their debt to society but meet all types of problems as they attempt to earn an honest living. All of these organizations say the most effective help is to mentor for as little as two hours a week. So if you really want to make a difference volunteer your time.

Over 40 years ago psychologist Bob Lupton moved his family into inner city Atlanta and has ministered to that community ever since. Recently he wrote a best seller “Toxic Charity” based on his years as “an urban activist.” As we approach Christmas I suggest you Google his “Pride for Parents” gift exchange vs giving presents to poor children “which exposes their parent’s impotence.” A simple understanding of toxic charity is the adage, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Unfortunately increasing numbers of people are taking advantage of our desire to help with phony pleas via Facebook. One such example is to post that he will pay off your delinquent utility bill if you will give him half of what you owe. He explains that with your check and his knowledge of the system your bill will be reduced. This brings to mind the statement that “if it is too good to be true it isn’t true.”

Another use of Facebook to entice you to help is to post a significant problem. Kind but naive people will start a dialogue with these people. In most such cases I encourage you to not even do this. However you could offer sound advice and resources which may help those with a legitimate need. But do not give money; contact information, which you may have already done by responding; and for sure not to meet this person!

We have all heard stories of some older people who are more vulnerable to these dishonest approaches. My advice is to simply tell your parents and older friends to hang up on telemarketers. Also by whatever means they are being enticed to spend money to check with you first. It can be of great help to offer to take over their finances if you are a trusted relative or friend and they are increasingly unable to make good decisions. However when doing so give them the dignity to be involved in the decisions. Also you should have a reasonable checks and balances system.

Regardless of the above you may decide to give money. If so I suggest that you give a check and always make it out to the utility, landlord, mortgage company, etc where the person supposedly has the financial issue. Another rule of thumb is to only help where the issue is temporary so you are not funding a chronic problem. Yet another response is to say you’ll make out a check for the final $ _____ part of what is owned.

Other suggestions include never giving money to a stranger nor any money to any telemarketer or internet approach that you haven’t thoroughly checked. Instead there are many charities such as United Way that have wonderful reputations and very little overhead which means most of your money is going to help those who need help and the need has been verified.

You may have read this far and say, in essence, “I got to where I am by hard work but those in poverty have made bad choices so they need to face the consequences.” My comment is you have overstated how much you have been the contributor to your “success” and you don’t have a clue as to why many in trouble have been victims through little or no fault of their own; more in a later article.

To those of us who call ourselves Christians I also suggest the books “Generous Justice” and “The Hole in Our Gospel” and most importantly the approximate 2000 Bible verses telling us to be involved with the “the least of these.” Hopefully the above will help to make your involvement more effective.

Jeff Brown

LaGrange, GA

PS Chief Dekmar, Sheriff Woodruff and District Attorney Skandalakis will be on a panel addressing the topic of “What Christians can do about crime in Troup County” Dec. 6 at 9:45 a.m. at First Presbyterian Church. All are welcome.

Jeff Brown is a retired Georgia state representative where he served as chairman of the House Health Appropriations Committee.