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Monday, January 23, 2012

Why These Needs?

Some of the needs on the Benevolent site don’t seem to conform to the over-a-hurdle type of need, like a tuxedo to enable someone to work as a banquet waiter or a sewing machine for a seamstress. Where do needs like beds, clothes, and school uniforms fit in?

Time after time, I’ve seen people forced to make decisions that impede their own progress towards greater sustainability because they need to meet basic needs of their households.

We know, for example, that Anne would have continued to purchase one cheap air mattress after another as they popped over and over, because that was all she could afford with her cash flow. Her goal, however, is to save up so that she and her son can get their own apartment. She was spending more on air mattresses over the course of a year than what it took to get her a bed through Benevolent. Staying with a friend while she gets back on her feet, now Anne is in a better position to reach for her goal and save the money to get her own place.

Facing basic need challenges while pursuing the next level of sustainability has the power to derail someone completely.

Monique is an interesting example of this potential. She is working and in college and asking for help with school uniforms and school supplies. The uniform is a good example of something that pops up in someone's life and can actually derail her. Monique bought her son a uniform for this school year in August, but by December he had outgrown it - something she didn't foresee or save up for.

I've seen mothers in this situation do one of several things…

  • go to a payday loan store with catastrophic results
  • borrow money from someone unscrupulous,
  • get a second job and have to quit school,
  • have sex or stay in a relationship for money,
  • move into an unsafe or unhealthy place to save on rent.

These are things have happened in the lives of people I’ve worked with across a variety of settings. I’ve also seen (this was back in 1991) a mother who could afford only one school uniform for each of her children and so, like Anne buying air mattress after air mattress, this mom went to the laundromat every school night to wash her kids’ school uniforms.

Over time, of course, the things people do to meet basic needs or their skipping critical needs like vision-care can cost more than an up-front investment to meet the need would cost, but without taking one of the drastic steps above, how would the low-income adult get access to the liquid funds to pay the up-front cost?

That’s where we come in. That’s where we get to be a part of the story and to bring dignity and self-determination back into reach for those who invite us in.

Will our helping Monique with this unforeseen school uniform expense help keep her in college and on an upward path? We can’t know for sure. What we can know is that the person who knows her and validated her need has faith that Monique knows what she’s doing, what she needs help with, and how essential this help is to her ability to stay on her path. Our faith in Monique’s determination of her own most pressing needs might be the key to her continued success towards her goals.

- megan kashner, founder & ceo

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