Please Don’t Despise Poor People

She came to my office in tears and showed me a cut-off notice for her electricity. A lot of people passed through our small town and stopped at church to ask for help. We tried but we often had to turn people down because of our limitations. However, this woman was a local whom I often saw working at two different jobs: one at the convenience store, the other at the café. I also knew that she cleaned several houses in the community. 

But as hard as she worked, she couldn’t pay all her bills. She applied for food stamps and had been turned down. 

I arranged for the church pay her bill and then I went with her to the Department of Human Services to help her apply again for aid.

The ridiculous amount of paperwork was daunting, even to me, and I was a college graduate.  The forms were in English and while the woman spoke the language well enough, she didn’t read it well.  When we waded through it all and turned it in, the case manager glanced at it and immediately gave her some emergency food stamps, then arranged for her to get regular aid. 

I’ve been hearing from some of my friends that they are tired of their tax dollars being used to enable people who were too lazy to work.  But this lady wasn’t lazy in the least. She worked as hard as anyone I knew.

There are many working poor in this country, as well as unemployed people who aren’t lazy. 

These days, I’m a cashier at the grocery store and people often buy their food with funds from the state.  They have to shop carefully because the state will only buy certain brands and amounts.  If they pick up the wrong brand or size of package, it holds up the line until we can resolve the issues.  Many of them are young women with small children and English is not their first language.  They’re often tired, frustrated, and embarrassed.

I often share with them that if it hadn’t been for food stamps when I was a young father, my own children would have gone hungry, even though I often worked two jobs at the same time. I never have the time to tell them that my wife’s family had to have help when her father became ill and couldn’t work anymore. Plus, I have a friend who often tells how her family depended on government aid when she was a child—she grew up to be a teacher and a counselor. 

I’ve been hearing from friends who are expressing their outrage that they work very hard, making it on their own, and they don’t expect the government to bail them out. Why should they be expected to share with others?

First, they’re not sharing that much.  The percentage of our taxes that go to caring for the poor is quite low compared to the cost of military expense, Social Security, Medicare, and even administrative costs. 

Second, I want to point out to people who are able to pay their bills aren’t really doing it on their own. They often have deep rooted family and community support.  Plus, we all benefit from government funds through public education, police protection, as well as a vast infrastructure that provides highways, electricity, and communication. 

Finally, I want to ask specifically some of my longtime friends: What about your Christian values? Your Bible talks a lot about caring for the poor.  Do the words of Jesus mean something to you, or is it just Sunday morning chitchat? By the way, I can tell you that your churches aren’t getting the job done.

I know that life is hard even those who have enough money (for now). But I wish folks would speak of their frustrations with more precision and knowledge without insulting people. Those people have names and like you, they’re doing the best they can.

And if you want things to change, do your homework and get in touch with your elected officials, rather than quoting wildly inaccurate, as well as hurtful, things on Facebook. 

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