It is Day 11 of the 28-day Circuit Breaker and on behalf of everyone in our membership, our volunteers, and my colleagues, I thank you for all the warm and encouraging support that has come our way. I also send you our best wishes and kindest thoughts.
Food distribution was an ongoing challenge and when a couple of planned exercises had to be postponed because of safety concerns, anxiety levels increased. It was not just going to bed with an empty stomach but, from the few calls I received, I gathered that a comforting source of support was disrupted. In one neighbourhood, the residents who routinely distributed food were no longer allowed to do so because they were all above 60 years old. When they did not show up as they always did, their neighbours started getting concerned. With the help of younger people, the food eventually arrived at their door but not the familiar face that would have made them smile behind their masks.
Listening to anxious people is a sobering experience. We have now reached out to over 400 families and are providing financial assistance to some 200 of them to ease their challenges during this difficult period. After an afternoon’s work, a colleague shared how some members were worried about whether they would ‘qualify’ for financial assistance, with one mother painstakingly breaking down the financial support she gets. When asked how her son was coping with HBL and whether the family needed a laptop, she asked: ‘How do I qualify for this? What documents do I need?’ There was a palpable anxiety as well as expectation that she would have to ‘prove’ her neediness.
It has been both gratifying as well as sobering calling members and listening to them share about their lives during this crisis. Being able to dispense financial support to them at this critical time is something we are grateful for but giving comes with discomforting responsibilities; it has also sparked deeper reflections on how we determine ‘deservedness’ when so many are in need. How do we balance demands for accountability with an impetus to support swiftly, generously, and with trust?
Starting conversations with a posture of suspicion is not how a helping relationship begins. This is why we are adopting a general principle of ‘high trust, low barriers and good enough governance’. We call, we ask questions, we assess, we fill in forms, we deliberate with other colleagues and teams, and we rely on years of collective experience in working with low-income families to guide our work.
Dispensing different forms of aid during this pandemic, as the operating environment shifts almost daily, is a challenge for everyone. We need less obstacles, not more …
Wishing you and all at home good health and peace of mind.
“We can find common ground only by moving to higher ground.” – Jim Wallis