“The kids were excited, moms were gracious but perhaps embarrassed, and dads would disappear,” he said. “They were being emasculated in front of their wives and children.”
Lupton, of Peachtree City, said the program was extracting a heavy price: the dignity of recipients.
“Much of our service is dependency-producing,” he said. “In other words, we give clothes and food and shelter, and we give a lot to the poor and consequently instead of enabling folks to move out of poverty, we deepen their poverty because of the dependencies that are created.”
Lupton said “this kind of giving” erodes work ethic, fosters dependency and depletes dignity.
To reverse the problem, Lupton has spent more than 30 years working to conquer “toxic charity,” with his nonprofit FCS Urban Ministries. In Lupton’s book, “Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It,” he shares his views on the issue. He will discuss his book with the public Wednesday at Northwest Presbyterian Church in Buckhead.
“‘Toxic Charity’ is about that problem, that issue and what we can do to conquer it,” he said. Northwest Presbyterian Pastor Tim Boggess said his church was the first to financially support Lupton’s efforts to bring community revitalization to downtown Atlanta.
He said he thinks Lupton’s philosophy is mainly about building relationships, instead of just writing a check and putting it in the mail.
“Are you willing to be in relationship with these people and listen to them, instead of assuming you know what they need?” Boggess said. “When we found out about the book and had some idea about the philosophy, we thought this was something we could open the community to. … We have limited funds. We want to make the most impact we can.”
Instead of the traditional Adopt-a-Family program, Lupton said FCS figured out a way to protect the dignity of recipients.
“We asked families to go shop, get toys, bring them into the store, and put affordable prices on them,” he said. They would then invite impoverished parents to come and shop for their families. If they could not afford anything, they were offered jobs to work in the store instead. “So all parents could have the same joy on Christmas morning that most parents in our society have,” Lupton said. “We found folks would rather purchase and work to own those things their families needed, than they would stand in free toy lines.”
Aside from the holidays, he said they converted clothes’ closets, food pantries and other give-a-way programs into the same mechanisms of exchange.Now, there are “good measures” to determine families moving out of poverty instead of “languishing” in it, Lupton said, such as the increase in home ownership, the creation of affordable housing and newly developed free schools.
“In three communities we’ve been involved in, the quality of education has gone up. We created jobs and job training,” he said. “That’s our fundamental belief: that folks want to improve their lives. We are creating ways to move in a positive direction. [That] is what I feel our responsibility is."
If you go:
o What: Author talk/discussion on “Toxic Charity”
o When: Wednesday at 7 p.m.
o Where: Northwest Presbyterian Church, 4300 Northside Drive, Buckhead
o Information: (404) 237-5539.