On Tuesday I got into the church office and was inundated with requests for benevolences. I spent three hours listening to stories and trying to help them. I was able to fulfill all the requests – I gave away almost $300 in various forms of aid including grocery store cards, a telephone card, and bus tickets. I do not give people cash; I have a check made out to a specific vendor. The rapidity of the requests were unprecedented for me. Frankly, they left me a little exhausted.
One woman needed two bus tickets to Lakeville, CT, just south of the Massachusetts border. She said it was for her and her daughter. The bus from Pittsfield, however, doesn’t go to Lakeville. The closest it gets is Canaan, CT. I told her that. She insisted though and said that they would walk the 19 miles from Canaan to Lakeville if they had to.
I’ve worked out an arrangement with the people at the bus depot to sell me bus tickets, which I turn over to the person making the request. I then get re-imbursed by the church.
When I went to the bus station today for some business with the local community college, which has a downtown facility on the second floor of the depot, the two people who sold me the tickets yesterday told me that the woman did not get on the bus with her daughter. Rather, the woman got on the bus with her boyfriend. As the ticket was actually made out for her and her daughter, the driver questioned it, which is how they knew what she did. They also learned that the woman was trying to get the driver to get them to somewhere other than Canaan.
The two people who sold the tickets were mad. I wasn’t surprised, but I was a bit ticked off, too. (At the woman who lied, not the people who sold me the tickets.) I told them that had the woman said she needed a ticket for herself and her boyfriend I would have bought them the ticket anyway. However, I told them that I don’t appreciate being lied to and that should she ask for help again, that I would call her out on it and then decline to help her. (I would not be surprised if she came back for more help. Her daughter has come for help from me at least a couple of times this year.)
I know people try to scam churches, which is why I don’t give out cash and why I rarely (very rarely) make out a check payable to an individual. When I tell people that I try to help people in need, I often get a disdainful remark, “Well, they’re just trying to get some money.” I reply, “Look, I know people try to scam churches because we’re an easy mark. But we also don’t give a lot of money out either. So, there’s a sadness to this. That they scam the church is bad. But that they have to scam a church means that they have to be in pretty bad shape.” So, I don’t lose a lot of sleep by it.
But I do expect that the person making the request is telling me the truth, and I give them the benefit of the doubt. When I catch them in the lie, however, I have no desire to help them again. I guess one could argue that I should forgive them for their lie, and I can do that. But I don’t see where I have to give them financial help again. Given that I have so many other people who ask for help for all sorts of reasons: utility bills, back rent, food, medications … and I cannot meet all the requests anyway – I turn down many requests because our fund, which is replenished each month, is usually gone by the end of the month. I’d rather help someone who I believe is honest with the small amount of money that I have at my disposal.
Of all the people I’ve helped only a few have come to thank me. Often they will tell me how much it meant to them and how it helped them. Sometimes, such as helping someone under the threat of eviction, they get a little more stability, which enables them to turn things around.
Using a lie to secure something … well, I think it leads to more problems. It’s really too bad, isn’t it? Honesty. Gratitude. That’s all. And practicing that consistently will make this world a better place.