It normally doesn’t occur to good-hearted people that charity can cause harm. For many, the solution to a need is to simply give a gift. The need is eliminated isn’t it? Robert Lupton points out that gifts that are indiscriminately and regularly given erode the recipient’s personal dignity and initiative. A more useful approach is to take the time to understand and address the root causes of the need in community rather than just temporarily meet the needs of individuals.
Ease of administration lures churches and other organizations into creating impersonal giveaways because they are the easiest to administer. However, they do little to affect lasting change. The messiness of establishing relationships is sacrificed to give at least some help to the maximum number of people.
More effective is to create a “doing with” rather than “doing for” approach through solutions like creating a micro-loan program, business mentoring, skills training, or food co-ops rather than food pantries. The key is to go, listen, and learn and then work with the resources already in the community to partner with them meet their own needs.
If you are involved in any kind of ministry to the needy or are considering getting involved, this book is worth reading.