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Casseroles for the Bereaved. Secret Santa for the Poor.

     When someone dies in the South, Southerners know exactly what to do.

     Make a casserole.

     In fact, as we age and experience death more frequently, we keep at least two in the freezer at all times.

     While our motive to comfort is authentic, does the bereaved person really need or want a casserole? Maybe instead she needs someone to clean the kitchen mess created by the food that was delivered; or to take her kids to play, so she can have time to grieve alone.

     For many, caring for the poor follows a similar pattern. At Christmas, we solicit toy donations for delivery by a secret Santa. We fill red plastic tubs with “needs” provided by anonymous organizers at church. What if a mother desires the dignity of purchasing the gifts for her children, but can’t because the family car needs a repair? What if we paid to repair the care, so she can buy those gifts?

     These are the kinds of lessons that are hard to learn when our hearts are in the right place. But they are lessons we must heed if we genuinely desire to alleviate poverty.

     When Carey and Rick Moore founded My Cup of Tea, it was because the overt needs in the community were jobs. They purchased the tea company and began hiring women from Orange Mound to package and sell tea. It didn’t take very long, though, before they began to discover a seemingly bottomless pit of unspoken needs not being met.

     Steve Corbett, co-author of the best-seller, When Helping Hurts says this:

     “If we reduce human beings to being simply physical—as Western thought is prone to do—our poverty-alleviation efforts will tend to focus on material solutions. But if we remember that humans are spiritual, social, psychological, and physical beings, our poverty-alleviation efforts will be more holistic in their design and execution.”

     At My Cup of Tea, we strive to be more holistic, but by “holistic” we don’t mean every unmet need is being fulfilled. Instead, we are intentional about considering the spiritual, social, and psychological as well as the physical. We are continuing to employ new approaches to discovering how we can assist Orange Mound women in the ways they need and want.

     Every spring, we survey our customers to understand how we can improve. While gathering that data, we also survey our employees. The surveys are anonymous and administered by a third-party. No one in leadership or management knows how anyone answers, and co-workers only know if they share with one another. The typical questions about job satisfaction and process improvement are part of the drill. But we also dig deeper. We ask if the ladies have unmet needs My Cup of Tea can address. We probe to learn what more My Cup of Tea could do to support them in their neighborhoods. And we ask them how we are failing to meet our mission and what we can do differently.

     Truthfully, the first time we asked, everyone said all their needs were met, and all answered My Cup of Tea was doing everything right. We know this is not true. Over time as we continued to ask and listen, desires and concerns have surfaced. We have taken steps to engage in the places they have identified both for their benefit and to solidify trust.

     Later this year, we will formalize the mentoring that has been occurring informally for a few years, now. These Orange Mound women are volunteering to be matched with women volunteers with whom they have developed a relationship or with whom they share multiple common interests. A primary goal is understanding – understanding struggles and obstacles the ladies face and how they would desire, or even if they desire, for someone to intervene.

     And we continue to pray together. Prayer happens daily at the House. Sometimes in a large group or a small group, and other times one-on-one spontaneously. When an employee feels safe and unjudged, she shares the circumstance for which she desires prayer, and that opens the door to conversation – the kind of conversation where she talks and we listen.