Charity Not Under Duress: Doing It Right

Almost six years ago now I lived in Oklahoma with an ex and his son. We were poor. We were very poor. We were on food stamps, housing assistance, disability, etc. We had several outstanding loans with family. Come the middle and end of each month, we traded twenties with our dear neighbors because their assistance checks came in on opposite weeks than ours. Even with all of this help, some months we still couldn’t manage to make ends meet.

About a year after I moved to Oklahoma, I had to go to a food bank for the first time in my life. My pride smarted fiercely. I had a fight with my ex the morning I had to go. My heart broke. My soul ached.

As I am legally blind and cannot drive, our dear neighbor, who was also in need, drove us both to the food bank. The charity was run by a local church of nondescript Christian denomination. In order to receive food, you were required to fill out an application asking basic questions like your name and address, how many people lived in your house, and your relationship to them. I was honest and answered that I was living with a man to whom I was not married, though I worried my honesty would prevent me from receiving assistance.

On the application, there was also a question asking if we would like them to say a prayer for/with us. I checked “no.” I worried a prayer might lead to proselytizing, which might lead to a requirement to come to church, which might lead to a demand to accept Christ as my savior. Knowing what I know now, I wish I had accepted the offer. Lord knows we needed as many prayers as we could get.

Despite my honest yet not ideal answers to the questions on the application, I was not denied food. In no time at all, a church member brought a big basket of food for both my neighbor and myself, (there being four in her family and three in mine, the basket near overflowed). This blessed soul even asked if he could load it in the car for us, which we gratefully accepted.

When I got home and unpacked the goods, I saw they were bountiful. This church had held back nothing. There were the canned goods and dry goods you would expect, but there were glorious extras as well. There was cereal in individual serving cups. There was a sweet honeybun for each of us. There were two pounds of fresh ground venison, obviously donated by a hunter who belonged to the congregation. There was also a huge bag of fresh chopped red bell pepper that must have come straight from someone’s garden.

As I put the items away, I sobbed. We would make it through another month. Praise the powers that be, whomever they may be, we were going to make it through another month.

In my last post, I wrote scathingly about charity only offered to those under duress with strings of accepting Christ’s salvation attached. I wrote scathingly also of some tendencies I have in that direction. Today, I write about my experience at the food bank in Oklahoma to give example of charity done right, in the true spirit of Christ or any other benevolent deity.

The goodness and reward is always in the heart of the giver when the giver gives unconditionally and with both hands open. This is the standard which we should all strive to meet.


About M. Ashley

Essayist and poet, my work has been rejected by some of the finest journals in America. Fortunately, it also gets accepted from time to time and has appeared in equally fine journals such as Word Riot, Inlandia, Brew City Magazine, and SageWoman among others.. In 2002, I was awarded the Academy of American Poets Prize for Vanderbilt University. For no good reason, I possess an unnecessarily dark humor which is why being third generation California Inland Empirian delights me so. My gods are weird. I once received $350 for writing a smartassed essay on “why the wise use of water is important in my daily life”. I am undoubtedly the Greek god Hermes’ special snowflake. I’m pretty sure I got into college via a series of fortuitous clerical errors. When I had to grow up and get a real job, I decided against it and stayed a writer. I have worked many odd—and I mean odd—jobs to support my habit: Commercial writer for country music hopefuls, resume massager, WalMart fitting room attendant and switchboard operator, telephone psychic.
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