The Catholic Church Speaks out on Charity


by Shirley Collingridge

Near Christmas more than ever we are filled with the spirit of giving. Brightly wrapped gifts wait beneath tinsel-draped trees; creamy shortbread materializes in busy boardrooms; coins clink in "Santa's" donation pots. Giving is fun and everyone including the church wants to be generous. But proceed with caution, warns Francis Maza, Co-ordinator of the Inner City Ministry.

Maza is neither Grinch nor Scrooge. In fact he is predisposed to generosity, but he is first and foremost pragmatic. Maza found that indiscriminate giving can lead to co-dependent situations. Co-dependency occurs when the giver, in his case the church, becomes perceived as a second food bank-required rather than choosing to help-and not requiring accountability.

Maza's proceed-with-caution attitude led to his proposed strategy for three levels of involvement by the church.

Step One

Share Information and Make Referrals

Part of the strategy, says Maza, is to share information with other parishes-information about who comes for help and why-to ensure that people are not taking advantage. Make referrals to other agencies to avoid duplicating services. Maza created a booklet itemizing many helping agencies along with their hours, services, criteria and contact people.

People don't always understand the full role of these agencies but they are fulsome. "The Food Bank is mainly known for food. They do way more than that," said Maza, adding that the Food Bank also provides a clothing depot, cooking class and learning centre.

Step Two: Remember your Role as Christians

Step two is to remember your role as Christians. See the poor as an opportunity to serve Christ. Welcome them, for they are "our ticket into heaven" said Maza citing Luke 6:35: "do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great."

Use this opportunity to bring new members into the church and to allow other parishioners to help. Collect food as a parish. Keep basic emergency hampers on hand.

Step Three: Create a Relationship

Step three is to create healthy relationships. Help wherever possible but make it clear that this help is for emergencies only. To encourage accountability, keep confidential records and refer to those records in the applicant's presence. Practice a "no questions asked" policy until the fourth visit, then gently ask the individual why he or she thinks the emergencies continue to arise and what other options have been pursued. Urge them to ask workers or counsellors whether they are receiving all the support available.

Helping Agencies

Here are just a few of the helping agencies available in Saskatoon.

At the Salvation Army, for a nominal fee men can access twenty-four hour services-a hostel and three daily meals. The facility serves as a half way house and a centre for AA meetings and counselling services. Women and children can access similar services through the YWCA.

EGADZ, a former bar by the same name, provides services for twelve- to nineteen-year olds. EGADZ provides free supper six days weekly, laundry and shower facilities-even a weight room. Its programs include teen parenting, Back to School and Operation Help. Youths handle the meal preparation and clean up demonstrating, said Maza, "Wherever there is a program, there is always a reason-to provide people with life skills."

The twenty-four hour Mobile Crisis Service, Maza says, "you call when everything else fails, [but] use them only as a last resource." Other resources include Equal Justice for All, the Friendship Inn which last year averaged 500 meals daily, and the Gathering Place where, according to St. Mary's Father Keindel, you pay only "Four dollars for all the clothes you can haul out!"

People often turn to the Department of Social Services, says supervisor Ian Colvine. But the agency's powers are limited (workers must follow the "Social Assistance Handbook") and its resources are stretched to the breaking point (the Saskatoon division alone has about 10,000 active clients). In Colvine's twenty-worker Family Unit, each worker handles about 175 families. If this number makes you gasp, better take a deep breath - it has decreased from 260 only four years ago. "There is no easy solution, says Colvine. Allowances have not increased for a decade, yet the cost of living continues to rise.

However incentive for employable clients to seek work is increasing. While Social Services continues to reduce payments when earnings exceed exemption amounts, Saskatchewan's new Employment Supplement program (toll free at 1-877-6-WORKING) counterbalances that deduction. With the Supplement, says Colvine, "the more you earn, the more assistance you receive under the plan." The Solution Focused program also helps clients become independent by encouraging them to define the problem themselves and come up with workable solutions.

And while he acknowledges there is some abuse of the system, Colvine finds there is "not that much." He encourages churches to give wherever possible because, unless they are regular parishioners, Colvine says, "most are in desperate need by the time they turn to the church for charity. . . . They're trying to survive."

So do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, but proceed with caution. Don't duplicate other agencies, welcome this opportunity to serve Christ, and create healthy relationships that foster independence.

Originally Printed in "The Prairie Messenger"

by Shirley Collingridge, Wordsmith

Created by: Shirley Collingridge, Wordsmith