Saturday, December 6, 2008

Support, Part 2

In 2006, our family contributed to the Kinship Caregiver Coalition's Christmas basket fund. They distribute baskets of toys, books, and food to help kinship caregivers pay for this most expensive holiday. This year, however, we received a Christmas basket--well, trash bags actually--filled with toys, books, clothing, and food. Our benefactor is a ministry called Project Help. Does our shift in position from givers to receivers reflect a change in our economic status? Or is something else going on?

After I attended the support group meeting I wrote about in Support, Part 1, we started getting offers of --well, assistance. Not just the Christmas basket but another group offered to give us a Thanksgiving basket a few weeks before. I don't remember supplying any financial information to or requesting aid from the organization that sponsored the meeting. Yet, here we are, on their list to receive -- assistance.

I have to admit, it felt odd to be "in need of assistance," as in "so and so charity provides clothing and toys to families 'in need of assistance.'" BD and I declined the Thanksgiving basket. "Certainly there are other families who need food," I condescendingly explained to the person who called to deliver our basket. "We have our Thanksgiving dinner, thank you. So, just give our basket to a (needy) family." I did not say "needy" to her; I said "another." But needy is what I meant.

Why is it that accepting charity, assistance--financial or otherwise--should make us feel ashamed, embarrased, needy?

It's not like we haven't received assistance before. When we first brought Sun home, a place called Hannah's Closet sent baby clothes, plush toys, crib linens, a car seat, a stroller, bottles, and diapers to us for free. When the children were infants, we received WIC program coupons for formula (expensive stuff!), milk, and juice. Our state offers a monthly grant to kinship caregivers based solely on that fact, regardless of income. It is not much, but I got a letter today stating that, come January, the amount will be increased. In these tough economic times, it's incredible that the State of Ohio affords even a minimal increase. In these economic times, it's good news for us.

But somehow "needing" a basket at Thanksgiving and Christmas carries a connotation that made me uncomfortable. Why? Years of indocrination, I suppose. We're supposed to beleive that anyone who needs and accepts assistance is lazy, a cheat, of low value in society. A leech sucking money from the hardworking taxpayers.

I know that's not true for us. We're two of the hardest-working people I know. I don't believe it's true for other kinship caregivers. Raising children is the hardest and most worthwhile work you can do. I doubt it's true for any of the other (mostly) women lined up along with me in the freezing cold and falling snow to receive our Christmas baskets from Project Help this year. Some of those women could not even stand in line. They were on canes or had arthritis so bad they had to be escorted along the "shopping" areas. All of them--every one--had children they had to get back home to. One woman I talked to is caring for four foster children, all boys. Whew!

So, yes, I accepted this offer of Christmas toys for our family, though BD was not 100% for it. I accepted not because we can't afford to purchase some gifts for Sun and Raine. (But any money we save now is only going to benefit them in the future.) I went there today because here was another chance for me to get the kind of support I do need: the company of people who are experiencing the challenges we're experiencing; the chance to share stories, make connections, get information; and, most importantly, the evidence of the good and loving impulses in our species in the fact that so many volunteers gave up hours of their life to make accepting assistance an efficient, pleasant, humanizing experience. Not at all like mall shopping.

Not just those volunteering today, but the many people who worked in the weeks leading up to this day, gathering donations, sorting, boxing, labeling. And not just the people doing the physical work, but also the stores, organizations ,and individuals who donated food, toys, clothes and school supplies. And not just the donors, but also the spirit of the woman who started Project Help 22 years ago--Mrs. Claire Lilla Waters. By accepting their assistance, thier gift, I am touched by and connected to them all.

Mrs. Waters' daughter, Sandy Waters-Holley, is carrying on this annual event now that her mother has passed. I can't help but feel good after just a few minutes in her presence. She is spirit-filled. "This is not about Santa Clause," she told us. "This is about Jesus."

Where is the shame in accepting such help as this?

I read a prayer recently, written by a
17th Century poet: "Thou that hast given so much to me, Give one thing more, a grateful heart."

It's not an economic shift, but a spiritual one that allows me to accept this charity with a grateful heart. Thanks to the volunteers with Project Help Clothing Ministry, FirstLink, the State of Ohio, and taxpayers (of which I am one), for this wonderful Christmas gift.

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