Like a chalk drawing in a rain storm.

mary poppins

Today a colleague and good friend got into the office a bit late. Kelly came straight to my office, sat on my little sofa, buried her head in her hands, and started sobbing.

Had she been in a wreck? Had an argument at home? Gotten some bad news?

I joined her on the sofa and patted her back, and quickly her story came out.

This morning the temperature here in Kansas City was below zero F, with a wind chill of -18. As my friend had come into the building, she brushed past a woman who was just leaving; she’d come in to ask for one of the sack lunches we give out to folks who need them to get through the day. This woman had nothing over her clothing but a thin bed sheet wrapped around her shoulders. No coat. No gloves. No hat.

Turned out, she didn’t speak English. Kelly managed to get the message across that she should stay put for a moment. She dashed to our warehouse, where we have a few coats left from our charity Christmas shop in December, at which low income families come to pick out gifts for everyone living in their household, free of charge. All she could find was a men’s coat, but she hurried back to the waiting room with it. The woman accepted the coat, with tears and many repetitions of “Gracias!”

It seems like a happy ending. So why was my friend so distraught? I knew without asking, but she said it anyway.

“What we do is just chalk drawings in a rain storm.”

She’s right.

Kelly and I have had this conversation before. One day in December she and I made Christmas gift deliveries to seven of our agency’s homebound clients. It was an afternoon of driving through neighborhoods we’d never dare visit after dark. So much need. So little hope. Poor schools. No grocery stores. Few jobs. Very effectively segregated, 60 years after the civil rights movement.

We wished we could feel good that afternoon, making Christmas a little brighter for seven individuals/families. Instead we finished the day emotionally exhausted and incredibly discouraged. How many hundreds of crumbling homes did we pass by that day, where that same help – and more – is needed?

The church-backed nonprofit organization Kelly and I are employed by does excellent work. It’s a well-respected force for good in our city. Even though there are significant down sides to my new job, I’m thankful to be there, doing work that I know is meaningful to the people we’re able to touch. And yet, no matter how much good we do, it’s only a tiny drop in a distressingly enormous bucket.

Charity is not enough. It will never, ever be enough in this greedy capitalist nation. It will never, ever be enough as long as our government officials follow the cruel philosophy of Ayn Rand (I’m looking at you, Paul Ryan) and Confederate heroes (I’m looking at you, Jefferson Beauregard  Sessions III). Nothing will be righted until every single child in many successive generations receives a top-notch education. Until every single person of every color, religion, sexual orientation, and gender expression has the same economic rights, the same voting rights, the same dignity.

Until that day comes, we watch the chalk drawings we hastily scribble on the sidewalk wash away with every rainstorm.






8 thoughts on “Like a chalk drawing in a rain storm.

  1. Yes, charity is not enough. And it will never be enough. But sometimes it is the only way to keep people going – to keep them ALIVE – while we are working and campaigning and voting to make all the other changes happen. For that woman, the coat was not a pretty chalk drawing. It may have been the only thing that got her through the next painfully bitter night.

    I think about the same issue sometimes when I’m volunteering for my weekly shift at the food pantry. There’s the trite adage, “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” And on one level, it’s very true — those big systematic changes and job/educational opportunities need to happen. But on another level, some people are already fishing but not catching enough; some are not physically or mentally capable of fishing; some have caregiving or language barriers to fishing. Sometimes, people just need someone to give them the fish.

    Even Christ knew that “the poor you will always have with you.” It wasn’t a reason to only help in big important ways. And it wasn’t a reason to despair, if you’re helping in smaller ways. Every single person, and every single way you can help them, matter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right, of course. I often think of the “sphere of influence” concept. I, personally, cannot save the world. But it’s my responsibility to respond to the needs of those whose sphere touches mine.
      An important part of our agency is our “family empowerment” programming, in which the “teach a man to fish” part comes into play. I’m glad we do that, and yet the deck is stacked so incredibly heavily against such a large segment of the population that they’re unlikely ever to reach a completely stable life. It is a broken world we live in.


  2. Yes. I completely agree. In our school district, we have watched the number of low income families rise drastically. Our total number of at-risk students is at an all-time high. Something has to give.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s happening everywhere. In our very affluent suburban KC county, poverty has doubled in the last eight years. I’m certain the direct cause is the demonization of the poor and all the efforts to kick people off “welfare.” Providing provided education, supports, and justice takes time and money, but brings lasting results. Instead those in power rely on calling the poor “lazy,” mandating drug testing, taking away benefits, making up “work for medicaid” plans in the name of cutting the budget, even though none of those actions make a dent in the problem. It makes me absolutely furious, especially when that crap is housed in religious language. It’s the very definition of evil.

      Liked by 1 person

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