Poverty still exists in the summer

After six years of working with folks in poverty, I am getting tired of the Christmas spirit.

Im tired of gently communicating to donors who get offended when I wont let them volunteer for an hour in December unless they are willing to volunteer the rest of the year. Or who get mad at me because I dont have a project to teach their kids how lucky they are. 

Im tired of rationing the socks and underwear donated in December for 11 more months. And Im tired of rationing my patience to every donor who doesnt receive enough saccharine praise after theyve offered their half-eaten Chinese food leftovers from this years Christmas party.  

Dont get me wrong, I am really thankful for the generous donations we receive during the month of December. (Who doesnt love leftover Chinese food?) But I still genuinely believe in the ability of the body of Christ to live generously the rest of the year, too! 

We serve a God who came to earth to spend a lot of His time loving the most marginalized and vulnerable members of society. If we want to be more like Jesus, maybe our earthly existence could involve more of that as well. In fact, I have a hunch that when Jesus said to love our neighbours, he didnt mean exclusively during the holiday season.

Here are a few thoughts and donation ideas you might not have considered for your neighbours who are experiencing homelessness in the summer:

1. The heat can be as dangerous as the cold.

Dehydration and heat stroke are real risks for those without shelter and clean water. Most of us have homes, workplaces, and cars to cool off in, as well as the means to buy a water bottle. But many homeless folks don’t.

2. Summer means no school.

That means no lunch programs, and nothing to do if your parents work. Find out whether local summer camps in your area have programs to sponsor a child to go to camp who can’t afford it.

3. It still gets cold at night.

Speaking of camping, it might be a fun summer activity, but don’t forget about our neighbours who camp all year because they have no other options for safe housing. Sleeping bags are important in the summer too.

4. Think about what you give away.

Spring cleaning produces a lot of donations, but make sure to donate your clothing seasonally. Many organizations aren’t able to store off-season clothing, so donate your clean, gently used shorts and sandals in the summer, and save your winter threads for donations in the fall.

5. Stop one-time volunteering.

Become a regular volunteer and commit to showing up on a weekly or bi-weekly basis for a year. You might be surprised how making the time to build relationships for longer than an hour at Christmastime changes your perspective.

6. Just ask.

When in doubt, the best policy is to ask the person or organization you are interested in: what donations are the most helpful at this time?

I think Christians should start celebrating Christmas every month of the year. Not for the turkey, the presents, or the parties, but for the spirit of generosity that accompanies the Christmas season. 

Folks who are experiencing homelessness and poverty dont just suffer during December. And poverty doesnt pick and choose when to affect people the same way we pick and choose when to be generous.

Originally published in the summer issue of Converge Magazine.

Photo (Flickr CC) by kPluto.