Local charity might not attack “root problems,” but it can solve problems in one person’s life—and to them, that feels like the whole world.
When it comes to charitable giving one of the biggest questions we have to ask ourselves is, “What do I want to give my money to?” The number of worthy causes are plentiful, but we cannot give to all of them.
One answer to that question is to give to causes that get to the root of issues—so, trying to “solve” world hunger rather than feeding one homeless person. The goal here is to “increase” impact, to get the biggest bang for your charitable buck. This approach—effective altruism—unfortunately leaves important local issues in our communities unresolved.
There’s no shame in wanting to fix problems, but ignoring local need is not the best way forward—so responds “philanthrolocalism,” an approach to giving that privileges the local. Philanthrolocalism may not labor toward “systemic change,” but it can have an enormous impact on the world of the person it touches. We see this all the time from small charities serving the needs of those in their neighborhood.
LOCAL OUTREACH SERVING NEIGHBORS
In the Chicago suburbs you can find a small, evangelical church called Sanctuary Church. Sanctuary has a membership of less than 200 people, but the influence it has in its community far outweighs the number of attendees on Sunday mornings. This small congregation has put together an incredible charitable outreach program: a clothes closet they call the “Storeroom of Blessing.”
Storeroom of Blessing (or Storeroom for short) was first a product of the 2008 economic recession. The current pastor of the church was a member of the congregation at the time and was struck by a desire to help those in his community experiencing economic hardship. This led him to start a free clothes closet to meet the basic needs of those in the community. The original goal was to offer gently used clothing and lightly used household items. Little did this man know how great a need he had discovered.
Today Storeroom serves anywhere from 200-300 people during the year, which is a truly remarkable number since this is almost as big as the congregation of the church itself.
Over time, Storeroom has also grown to meet additional needs of the families, not simply providing clothing. During special seasons of the year, Storeroom takes up donations to purchase items like new school supplies, Thanksgiving meal baskets, Christmas trees, and Christmas presents to offer visitors. With the congregation’s generosity, Storeroom provides the support that people need to lead lives of dignity, and often to help them when people face their most dire life circumstances.
SERVING ACTUAL NEED, NOW
Perhaps what is most striking about this local philanthropy is the ability to meet sudden need. Recently, Sanctuary’s pastor received a call that a house fire had destroyed all the belongings of a family in the community. Storeroom wouldn’t be open again for some time, but the family was given multiple bags of clothing out of Storeroom’s resources, meeting their immediate needs.
In another instance, a mother, whose family had recently come into financial hardship, came into Storeroom around the holidays with her children and was given a Thanksgiving meal basket. This simple gesture of having a meal provided for her family meant the world to her. There are, of course, countless stories like this, where Storeroom meets actual (not perceived) needs without delay introduced by “impact goals” or efforts to eliminate “root causes.”
A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE—HERE
What Storeroom of Blessing shows is that local giving can make all the difference in the world of the person whose life it touches. This church ministry is not going to eliminate global poverty, but it will relieve the pains of financial hardship for actual persons. Storeroom helps real people, not “humanity” or statistics on a spreadsheet.
If giving is only focused on impact metrics or root causes, then programs like Storeroom would cease to exist, and so many people would go on suffering because of it.
Philanthrolocalism will not immediately solve the root of all societal problems, but it can change everything for one person in need. Local giving makes all the difference in the world when it is your world it touches. So when asking the question, “what do I want to give my money to?” we should remember that real people—not numbers on a spreadsheet—are the reason for our charity.