The Truth About Private Charities Caring for America’s Poor

Typical Shotgun House in South
Typical Shotgun House in South

I served as Executive Director of three non-profits helping poor folks in the rural south and I’m going to tell you the truth about private charities caring for America’s poor. Short version: It is a delusional pipe dream.

Libertarians like to advocate this so the government can further be reduced to the point it will fit down the bath tub drain. Then, the theory goes, people will voluntarily give to charities so that the poor will be kept alive. If voluntary giving will accomplish this I challenge you: DO IT! Do it now and the welfare state will wither from lack of use. Why don’t you do it? Why don’t the Koch brothers do this with their billions?

Because it will never work, that’s why, and everyone with over three brain cells knows it. The real plan is to just cut away at public benefits and the devil take the hindmost-the hindmost being the least of these, who can’t afford a lobbyist, are most often working or are children or elderly so busy trying to stay alive they have no time or energy to defend themselves.

I realize that most people have no idea of the scope of the problem or the human stories of the poor in America. The corporate media won’t cover the story and a thick blanket of silence covers America’s shame. I’ve written a few stories about real poor people I have known and could probably write 30 right off the top of my head.

Are you worried about welfare, as in cash assistance? Don’t be, Bill Clinton killed that with WIA-the Workforce Investment Act. I love the names of cruel laws, like Bush’s Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 which HURT consumers right before the world economy crashed and so many found themselves without the funds to even file for bankruptcy. On the other hand, banks going bankrupt, that’s another matter. That’s unacceptable.

I first became aware of The Poors when an affluent friend asked me to accompany her to distribute Christmas gifts to the children of prisoners under Project Angel Tree. Children of prisoners would write a letter saying what they wanted for Christmas and church folks chose a name, got the gift and it was delivered with a tag, “From Daddy.” The idea was to maintain family ties until the guy got out-and to give kids presents, something the south has enjoyed doing since the slaves were invited up to the Big House for a ham on Christmas day.

The first house we stopped at did not look inhabitable by human beings; the porch was falling off for one thing. Inside was a weary mother of six, grateful for the gifts. I sat next to a baby dozing in a car seat on the couch. The kerosene heater barely kept the temperature above freezing because the spaces between the floor boards were so wide I could see the ground under the house.

The house was furnished with decrepit couches and chairs but was spotlessly clean. I noticed movement all around. Cockroaches were crawling everywhere, in an out of crevices. This was alarming to me (I got more used to it as the years went by) and I had to mightily suppress an urge to scoot the roaches off the baby as they crawled up his blanket toward his face. What good would that do? I was only here for fifteen minutes; the baby lived here all the time.

The rest of the homes were similar eye-openers. “This is outrageous,” I told my friend. “I’ve got to do something.” She encouraged me to try. I started a non-profit and moved to the hood to live with the people, like Jesus did. We had a little food pantry. If someone was without food, we could provide two bags of groceries. Unlike the “food gestures” of many private charities-two bags of donated canned corn and out of date beans, I insisted we actually provide some meat and took fruit out of my own fridge. It was only two bags, but darn it, at least it was two bags of healthy food.

Local food ministries were strapped even then, in supposedly better times. Things just got worse and worse. I disagreed with a few other Christian ministries on how I treated those in need. I treated them with respect, not as victims needing rescue. I did not attempt to ascertain who were the “deserving poor” since I never saw Jesus mention any such criteria for giving. Requiring people needing help to go to church is manipulative and prying into their personal lives is humiliating. With all we did, it was a drop in the ocean.

I ran two other charities, one which worked with the regional food bank to provide a meal every day for kids and one that coordinated all the local charities to increase efficiency, which included an in-house food bank. Local charities cannot do any better than provide a couple bags of groceries a month.

Please do an experiment. Go get a couple bags of canned goods, eat only that and tell me how you are doing at the end of the month. You will become an advocate for SNAP, even though SNAP benefits average under $5 a day for food.

Cutting benefits for these folks is cruel. It is, I believe, cruelty based on ignorance. The Poors are not taking all of America’s money-if so, they would no longer BE poor now would they?

I challenge you-before you comment on The Poors, at least have the decency to learn the truth about them. VOLUNTEER right now. Volunteer at the local food bank, soup kitchen or homeless shelter-they always need help.

Do it. Look up their number and call them and say, “I want to volunteer.” Then go and work and watch. Listen.

Meet a Real Poor Person-Marisa

Meet a Real Poor Person-William, a Veteran

Tax-Funded Poor Relief-American as Apple Pie


  1. First off, you just exposed the entire hypocrisy of Liberals. Half of this nation identify with yourself. You guys claim to care about the poor, but in the end, you don’t help them one bit. If you did, they wouldn’t be starving. You guys only like to help if it means getting government to steal the food from my kids mouths. Then you sit back and glaot as if you saved the world.

    Oh, the misery of eating for less than $5 a day! Wait, I have been doing that for years. But alas, that is because I pay for my own food with hard work. Tonight, I will have chicken thighs that were on sale for 65 cents a pound, sweet potatoes at 33 cents a pound, and some nice dried beans I cooked up. But I prepare my own food and know how to balance a budget.

    Let me tell you my own story about charity. My Grandfather owned a trailer park back in the early 1980’s. He kept bringing over sealed blocks of cheese and peanut butter in white cans. I asked where he got it. He said many of his tenants got free food from the government and would throw it out. He asked them to instead place it by their door and he would donate it to the food bank and church. The church and food bank could only take so much. If we went back to that system, and handed out only healthy food that Michelle Obama wants us to eat, I can bet you 80% of those on SNAP won’t take the food. They want junk food.

    1. “You guys claim to care about the poor, but in the end, you don’t help them one bit.” You seem to enjoy making global statements. I personally spent over 20 years helping poor people in the rural south, so I do not make global statements. Some poor people are scoundrels, just like some middle and upper class people.

      I appreciate that you are working and budgeting to make ends meet. Real wages have been falling for the past 30 years while the top .01% have amassed great piles of wealth. Poor people have not taken your wages, the .01% have and are feeding you propaganda to distract you from that fact.

      I remember the nasty government cheese. I am told it was well-nigh inedible. It was a subsidy for dairy farmers by the way-to which I don’t object, having grown up on a farm myself.

      You don’t know all about poor people. You don’t know that they are lazy moochers who just want to buy junk food. You only “know” what you have been told. Try volunteering at a food bank or homeless shelter and get back to me.

      By the way I admire your working and caring for your family. Your financial struggles are the result of economic policies made by human beings favoring the already-privileged. These can be changed by human beings.

  2. I’ve noticed that stigmatizing the poor has almost become a national pastime lately. Many people don’t seem to realize that they are only one unfortunate incident away from ending up in their shoes themselves.

    I didn’t plan on ending up a single mom in my 20s, or getting hurt at work while working my hiney off doing 60 hour weeks trying to support said kids, only to be denied workers compensation because it was only a temp job. It took me two years of scraping by and having to have my kids stay with relatives while I almost ended up homeless myself to finally get approved for SSI.

    Unlike some would have you believe, SSI is not much to get by on. In the state we live in it is $710 a month for a single person, or a maximum of $1066 for a married couple regardless how many dependents you have. Myself and my family are not living high on the hog. Even now that I am married my also disabled husband and I between the two of us cannot even afford an apartment of our own. We must make do in a very overcrowded apartment with roommates, we and our son have to share a room here. The waiting list for housing assistance is over a decade long in our area. Our son, who is still in diapers may be in fifth grade before our turn in line comes up.

    Everything seems to go up but our income. Our rent jumps at least a hundred dollars every year, while the supposed cost of living increases don’t even begin to keep pace with it. Our food stamps got slashed in half in November, a lot more than the supposed “36 dollars per family” decrease that the cuts were supposed to mean. Even with WIC formula is still running us over 100 dollars a month because I was physically unable to breastfeed after our son was born, and most food pantries don’t carry formula, because WIC already provides it. Like most parents would do, the baby eats first, and we plan what we have to spend on ourselves for food accordingly afterward.

    Unlike the stereotype people on facebook and in the media would have you believe, we are not addicts or criminals. We don’t waste our money at strip clubs or casinos. We surely aren’t driving fancy cars, nor can we afford a car at all. We aren’t buying lobster, t-bone steaks and expensive junk food. Personally I subsist mostly on pasta, I don’t think I’ve had meat in weeks, not even on thanksgiving, mostly to make sure the baby gets a good balanced diet.

    We were once very much like the people who think it can’t happen to them. I was once a factory worker with a decent paying job, and my husband was once a teacher, before he lost his hearing and in his late 40’s found himself let go by the school system before he had been there long enough to qualify for the pension he had been paying into all the years he’d worked there. We can’t afford the “re-training” he would need to re-qualify as a teacher for the deaf. We can’t take out student loans we may never have a way to re-pay, when especially in this economy, his getting the training is no promise of him having a job once he is finished.

    So we are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

    Many other people are too.

    1. I FEEL YOU SISTER>May I print your comment as a blog post? I can change your name to protect your confidentiality.

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