In a community struggling with poverty – in which many people simply will not have enough money – the greatest wealth we can help people uncover is their self-value. Knowing that one’s life is valuable is a source of happiness. It gives meaning to our lives, no matter what those lives look like to others.
Many of the families Neighborhood Place serves, live without. Often their homes – if they have them – are simple affairs. Some live in scrap-wood cabins or under tarps and tents. They may not have consistent electricity. Refrigeration can be a luxury. Much of the food they eat is canned or prepackaged. The ability to cook may be limited by the cost of propane or the lack of a car to drive to the store.
Most are good, caring parents struggling to survive in difficult circumstances. They have had few “advantages” in life and are always tottering on the edge of ever deepening poverty. While they certainly may need help with the basics of life, what is often most appreciated is friendship and respect. Thus a key tenet of Neighborhood Place of Puna’s mission is valuing “each person’s uniqueness.” As an organization we strive to build strong relationships based on respect and value for each and every person.
Of course, having enough food to eat and a safe and stable place to live is essential. It is hard to feel valued when you are being ground down daily by hunger and homelessness. To address these most basic of needs, Neighborhood Place of Puna runs a food pantry and works directly with families to help them remain housed. It is hard work done against a social tide of increasing impatience and intolerance of the “poor.”
Contrary to public opinion, research continues to show that so-called poor – who know privation through experience – are the most generous members, dollar-for-dollar, in our society. Compared with those who are more financially well off, the poor consistently donate a larger portion of their income to those in need.
Neighborhood Place of Puna experienced such generosity this past Friday when we received a gift of fresh Lychee from a family that often comes to us for help with food. Though having little in the way of money, it did not prevent them from expressing their gratitude through this generous gift. It was not something they had to do. Neighborhood Place of Puna gives out food freely, expecting nothing in return. Yet it was deeply moving when this family, that is struggling so hard to survive, decided to share their abundance with us, who are so fortunate. It hints at something precious in the inner life of the donor. Generosity does not arise from material riches, but rather is the fruit of compassion and empathy.
Neighborhood Place of Puna cannot do this work alone. The families we serve need your help. Please consider making a donation to our Emergency Food Pantry or our Family Strengthening Program. Together, we can help the families in our community raise safe and healthy children, in stable loving homes, with access to sufficient food and water.
Paul Normann, Executive Director