Charity begins in the heart, extends to the hands and often exits the body through the wallet.
This is the tale of two types of charity and an exploration of why one type is suffering and the other flourishing.
Flourishing is My Brother’s Keeper in Brockton, Mass., where our son Josh works.
Twenty-two years ago Keeper’s founders, Jim and Terry Orcutt, answered God’s call and made their first Christmas deliveries to 14 families. This Christmas Josh, who is in charge of deliveries, and his many volunteer helpers will deliver beautifully wrapped gifts and certificates for Christmas dinners to 2,500 families in the Brockton area.
The program runs on volunteers with big hearts and generous spirits. On Dec. 10, when Linda and I joined them, volunteers from 42 communities and six states jammed Keeper’s headquarters in Easton. Many were families. The Keeper’s mission is “to bring the love and hope of Jesus Christ to all we serve.”
Throughout the year, Keeper delivers furniture, household goods and food free of charge to those who seek assistance. There are no prerequisites for that assistance.
That’s right, there are no questions asked, no forms to fill out, no background checks performed. Josh says there is also no abuse of the program — and he would know, because he is in those homes, delivering, almost every day of the year.
There are also no federal or state funds driving those deliveries — the program flourishes through the generous donations of time, talent, and money of thousands of people, all of whom contribute willingly — indeed enthusiastically.
Delivering Christmas to families in Brockton on the Dec. 10 and 11 was humbling for me — a guy who has everything he wants. I stared into the faces of poverty — and saw neatly dressed smiling children — lots of them.
I walked up three flights of stairs to an apartment where a mother struggles to meet the needs of her three kids, looked into her eyes, and knew the blessing of giving.
At one stop, I was thinking of how hard it must be to call for help after losing your job — or suffering ill health — and acknowledging that you can’t provide for your family this Christmas, when I looked into one guy’s eyes and saw that pain.
And then we returned to Maine to a different kind of pain, the pain of 65,000 people who Gov. Paul LePage wants to remove from their lifeline, MaineCare, and the pain of legislators who must hear the testimony of those people and act on that proposal.
We can’t afford to help those 65,000 people, the governor says. We’re more generous than other states and that has to stop, he contends.
The charity of helping others through our taxes is long gone. We are fed up, believing too many are cheating, gaming the system, taking advantage of us. LePage claims the system suffers “rampant fraud.” Many agree.
We are convinced that these MaineCare recipients could do more to help themselves, instead of helping themselves at our expense.
On the one hand, I offer a program where people receive help, no questions asked, and others deliver that help, joyously. On the other hand, we have a program where people must meet strict income and other guidelines, and we resent and want to stop helping them.
I’ve asked quite a few friends in the last week what the differences are in these two situations, and here’s what I heard.
* We don’t see MaineCare recipients. We have no opportunity to look into their eyes, see their needs, and feel good about helping them.
* We do see able-bodied (even young) adults in our towns who don’t seem to be working, and we suspect they are taking advantage of MaineCare and other government assistance programs.
* We’re forced to help MaineCare recipients. There is no sense of generosity in that.
* We’re mad about the high tax burden in Maine. We can’t fix that without cutting the Health and Human Services Department’s budget.
* We don’t understand why Maine has to be more generous than other states where incomes are higher and people are wealthier.
That’s what I am hearing. And this may be what you are feeling.
All I am able to do is pray that you might find a Maine program or project like My Brother’s Keeper, and see firsthand the abundant needs of so many of our friends and neighbors, and experience the goodness of helping meet those needs.
George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or georgesmith [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.