January is Poverty Awareness Month. Different people can have a different idea of what “poverty” means and looks like, but the Federal definition in the United States is an individual making less than $13,590 or a family of three making less than $23,030. Worldwide, the World Bank defined “absolute poverty” as anyone living on less than $1.90 a day as of 2018.
I thought about this and poverty while preparing to write this newsletter, and I also thought about a lot of charities I like that help people who are impoverished. A favorite of my family, especially my mother, is Heifer International. It reminded me of a story.
When I was a kid, my mother worked as the Christian Education Director for our church, and as a homeschooled kid with a single mother, it meant I was involved in a lot of what she did. One of her tasks was Vacation Bible School every summer, and one year, she decided to focus on people in need and on Heifer International. It helped that one of the elder, foundational members of the church was a long-time volunteer for the organization.
In case you aren’t familiar with Heifer, they help people to help themselves. A donation goes to “buy” a goat, or a variety of other animals, which means that an animal from a Heifer farm is given to an impoverished family, and they are taught how to take care of it. They help make sure the animal can be bred and have offspring. They get this with the agreement of returning the first offspring to Heifer so it can then be given to another family.
This not only helps one person but a family, not just a family but a village. The future offspring can be passed on to others, as well as the training. Whatever the animal provides is used for food, for farming, for trade, for manufacturing, for selling.
My mom decided we’d buy a goat. It was a total of $120 to do so, and we devised a task each day for the kids to do that would raise money. Other activities they were given revolved around what Heifer did and why their work was needed.
Our Heifer-volunteering elders even brought one of their own goats to pen outside, since rural churches have that space, and the kids could see the tangible goal before them. They could see where their tasks of “do chores to earn money” and “collect spare change” were going to.
Then something amazing happened.
The kids were so engaged that parents really took notice. The kids worked hard, and the parents joined in. We filled a Poland Spring bottle, the kind for office water coolers, with change. Envelopes came in every day. Checks.
At the end of five days, the final tally came in.
We hadn’t just bought one goat; we’d bought over seven. We hadn’t just helped one family; we’d helped over seven. The joy of all those kids was a miracle. The joy of their parents, of my mother and I, the elders who helped… It was miraculous. To this day, my mother calls it our very own loaves and fishes.
We put a face on poverty for those children, but we also put a face on how to help. It was about awareness, and that’s what this month is about as well. Awareness makes it real, makes it human, and makes us turn toward one another. Many of us are closer to being the ones in need than we realize or want to acknowledge.
Together, we can help each other. Together, we can move toward the abundant life we all deserve and have made possible for us.
If a group of kids in a tiny town in Connecticut can raise $900 in five days for the sole purpose of helping kids around the world, who they’ll never meet, then we can all become more aware of those around us in need.
Care in abundance. Help in abundance. Live in abundance.
Path To Publishing,