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  • Rev. Barbara Ballenger

Rector’s Note: Meeting immediate needs and addressing root causes-5.16.24

One of the roles of the parish rector is to make sure that alms are distributed to people in need in the parish and the community. I regularly receive calls and visits from community members seeking assistance.

At St. Peter’s we meet specific needs through a discretionary fund that is fueled by undesignated or “loose” offerings in the collection plate, support from our Community Partnerships Committee, and donations that are made when I preside at a funeral or other service.

In 2023, I filled 18 requests totaling $3,850 for assistance of various kinds.  In 2024, so far, I’ve responded to six requests for assistance with support of $1,191.

The greatest needs that I see are for help paying rent, groceries and bills.  Housing insecurity is by far the biggest issue, as there is little shelter support in Montgomery County, rents are very high, and there is little recourse for people who can’t make an increased rent payment. Often the only option is to stay at a hotel, and to seek help in paying for those nightly stays. According to data.usa about 14.1 percent of residents of Montgomery County live with severe housing problems, such as cost burden, overcrowding or a lack of amenities.

In a suburb that looks pretty stable from the outside, Montgomery County’s housing problems, food insecurity and financial struggles can be quite hidden. Those seeking assistance often must look beyond their immediate neighborhood for help. I get calls from throughout the region.

I follow these guidelines when distributing funds:

  • I do not write personal checks or give out cash, but will pay for bills directly.

  • I prioritize people who live within five miles of St. Peter’s.

  • I limit support to $300 per person over the course of a calendar year.

  • I keep a supply of Giant gift cards on hand for people in immediate need.

As a rule, clergy are not social workers who can help people navigate the daunting social welfare system or assist people in taking the steps they may need to stabilize difficult economic situations. To assist with this, I was grateful to learn recently of the Hope and Help Network, co-founded and run by Marian Stroup. This organization provides intake, assessment and advice for people in Montgomery County who are experiencing housing insecurity or addiction. I often refer people seeking assistance to Hope and Help to receive supports in addressing the systems that are undermining their economic stability. And the organization helps me determine the best way to offer support.

Additionally, Episcopal Community Services reaches into our area with counseling that assists people reaching economic stability. I look forward to working more with ECS on how to connect the people that I encounter to a richer array of resources and services.

The act of almsgiving is a biblical imperative. Ancient Israel understood that it was judged by God on how well it treated the poor, both members of the community and strangers. St. Peter’s lives out this obligation to share wealth with those in need through our Food Cupboard, our Community Partnership Grants and programs, and the rector’s discretionary fund.

 But, we also bear the responsibility as faith-based members of a wider civil society to understand the root causes of poverty and the housing and food insecurity that flow from it. And we are called to use our political power – through vote, advocacy and civic engagement – to help form communities where people can thrive and not merely survive.  The word alms has its roots in Old English, Latin and Greek words that mean mercy and compassion.  Economic stability for all is perhaps the best act of mercy and compassion that we can contribute to.

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sam hogg
sam hogg
4 days ago


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