It’s on my way to work every day — the little row of old-school efficiency apartments, one of many that dot downtown Phoenix. They were built many decades ago, just one small basic room with a bathroom. The stucco is peeling, windows have boards, and there’s some trash in the yard.
Right now one unit is sporting a big “For Rent” sign. Out of curiosity, I checked the rent on Zillow. I was shocked to see the price listed at well over $500 a month….plus one month’s security deposit required.
I’m supposed to be middle class, and a $1000-plus hit to my bank account takes good planning. How could someone living below the poverty line — especially someone who lacks the cushion of a previous security deposit — even afford to buy into the system for the first time? It must be tough.
A chance to move up
I’ve seen personally how Food for the Hungry (FH) helps people buy into the system. On one level, it’s easy. There are one-time gifts that act as catalysts, that help the marginalized find economic security:
- A single mother in the Democratic Republic of the Congo receives seeds and tools that help her grow a garden. With the profit from even the very first crop, she sends all of her children to school for the first time.
- A group of Ethiopian young adult men with no farmland, reclaim land from a river bank and plant fruit trees that FH provides. They then sell the fruit for income and feed their children.
- A mom in Bangladesh learns how to save money so she can start her own business, to support the family. That means her daughter doesn’t have to work and can stay in school. Which means, the daughter is much less likely to become a child bride, and more likely to earn a sustainable living when she graduates.
The tangible giveaways that made these dreams come true are small and inexpensive. Fruit tree seedlings, a packet of vegetable seeds, and a little savings diary don’t cost much — just a few dollars. It seems so simple.
Stuff + change
FH could just do the equivalent of paying the first month’s rent and security deposit and say, “You’re in the system now! Congrats!” But we don’t, and that’s one reason I’ve been with FH for nearly 20 years.
Leader mothers with FH often receive uniform items like T shirts or nifty wraparound skirts
Instead we help change attitudes and behaviors. I remember a story about one mother who said that when two women in her community approached her about working with FH, she let them in the door because she had observed FH gave its community leaders some nice T-shirts. By the time they left, though, she’d realized there might be something else they had to offer: to help her feed her baby, grow a garden, and learn new hygiene habits. That very first meeting brought a change in attitude, which is essential for lifelong personal and community improvement.
FH helps form friendships and build unity that last far beyond FH’s departure from the community. We change the mindset of the next generation so when they become adults, they can help their children lead healthier lives. We train experienced moms to teach younger mothers in the community, providing an example of mentoring that can be passed on to daughters and sons alike. We help churches learn to reach out to those in physical and spiritual need beyond their walls — behavior change that has eternal impact.
How can you help people get into a new system –and stay there?
- Notice your own world around you. What are the barriers right in your own neighborhood, like sky-high inner city rents, to people climbing out of poverty? Who is solving problems already — whom could you partner with to help?
- FH’s gift catalog is full of items that are catalysts to something big. If the items are out of your price range, you can give any amount to the matching gift, shipping and disaster funds. Even $5 is enough to buy tree seedlings or vegetable seeds for one family.
- Consider channeling your giving toward initiatives like training. A good way to do this is giving to our “where needed most” fund, which very often helps fund life-changing programs that bring long-term community development.