Beyond Handouts: Moving from Relief to Development

Vegetables in Whole Foods Marketphoto © 2008 Masahiro Ihara | more info (via: Wylio)There is a food scarcity issue in our Hillside community. Most residents are not working, some do not even receive food stamps, there is no food pantry within walking distance, most do not have a car, and the closest grocery store is more than four miles away.

As I shared in my post “The Irony of Being Called a Socialist,” Embrace Richmond’s mission is community development not handouts.  I have been researching ways to address food scarcity that moves beyond emergency relief to actual personal and community development.

When doing Asset Based Community Development the first question you ask is “what does the community have to work with?”  The answer to that question is easy…time.  Less than 30% of the residents earn the majority of  their income through employment.   We also have AmeriCorps members who are eager to serve and a growing group of residents who serve faithfully every week.  In addition, we have congregations who would be willing to collect food and help with transportation.

One way that we could address the needs of the community that would move us from handouts to development would be to utilize a “Time Bank” system.  In a “time Bank” system, participants earn “service credits” when they serve in the community and those credits are then redeemed for goods and services.   Embrace utilized a time bank system early in the formation of the furniture bank and found it to be a good system for insuring fair distribution of items and a way of developing relationships.  Relationships are the key to changing lives as we discussed in a series of posts last month.

I can see how a Time Bank system could add even more value if it were implemented by a community to address community issues.  One housing complex in Shanghai is using a time bank system and I learned, “Through the Time Bank system, many residents in the huge housing development got acquainted with each other and began having more neighborhood interactions in their daily life.”

What I found exiting about this concept is that it not only required an investment on the part of the recipient of the services but it enhanced the relationships between the residents.  It utilized what people have, ie time, and allowed them to access what they need, ie food, clothing and other services.

As I shared in my post titled “Handouts do not equal Social Justice,” giving handouts as a long-term solution to a person’s need only serves to devalue the person, create dependency and fuel a spirit of entitlement.  What I love about the Time Bank approach is that the need gets met but that the person is actually investing in the ongoing success of the program.  The person’s gift of time is valued and thus the person is valued and community is strengthened as neighbors help one another.

I know this type of approach will be messy.  I know it would be easier to stand on the street corner and give away food, but I believe the hard work involved in setting up a development based system will pay off in the long-run as the residents take ownership of their own future.

In the early days of the furniture bank, we operated much this way.  The furniture bank is now run by formerly homeless men and women who we place there through our AmeriCorps program.  It also still depends on the volunteer efforts of dozens of homeless and formerly homeless individuals each week.  It is proof that this kind of approach can work.  It is in our DNA and fits well with our mission.

What do you think?  Could a time bank type system work in Hillside court?  What challenges do you for see with such a system?  What advantages do you see with this approach?  Anyone know anyone running this kind of program?  Would your church, youth group, or small group support this effort by collecting food?

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Filed under Community Development, missional church, Unity Works Reading, Urban Ministry

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