I remember sitting in the pastor's study at Grace Temple. A former member left the church a very large sum of money and I was looking over the documents when the bell rang. Sitting across from me, was a man who claimed to need $20 for a prescription.
I remember thinking, "How in the world could this church, who had just been given money, turn away this man who has this need?"
We gave him the funds he requested for the prescription. Sometime later, he came back to my office, and openly admitted to me that he had not used the funds appropriately, but at that moment he needed something to eat.
I walked with him over to a 7-Eleven and bought him two hot dogs, a bag of chips and a coke. For several years, even after moving away, he would call me just to say, "Thank you," because we had helped him that day.
Through this, I learned two lessons.
- If at all possible, do not give cash to someone who comes to the church door. Consider having certain things on hand at your church for people who have need rather than cash.
One suggestion would be to provide bus passes to help people in need, however it is important to be careful because you can become known as the place to get passes. Limit how many you give at a time, how many one person can get in a month, etc.
Food vouchers are another benevolence gift to consider. You may work out a deal with a local restaurant to get folks a meal when they need one. Having a bit of food on hand is also not a bad idea.
At Grace Temple, we supported two food pantries close to the church and would send people there for big needs, but we also had some on hand when people came with an immediate need. I would recommend getting together with other ministers in the area and talk through what a food ministry might look like for your area. We are seeing areas that once did not know much about poverty, but are now dealing with it. Texas Baptists are available to help you understand how to begin something like this.
- Keep your heart open, even if someone misleads you, it is still possible to have a ministry with them.
If you would like to talk about how to handle this in your local church, I am available to you by emailing me at ryan.jespersen [at] texasbaptists.org or by calling (214) 828-5278. If you would like to learn more about how Texas Baptists respond to hunger statewide then please contact my friend Ferrell Foster with the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission by emailing him at ferrell.foster [at] texasbaptists.org or by calling (512) 473-2288.