Local is better
Locally grown, locally owned. The new popularity of emphasizing “local” is a good thing. It focuses our attention right here in our country, in our state and in our community.
“Local” creates a sense of pride, ownership and comradery for what our friends and neighbors do individually and collectively.
ECCO is a local non-profit that provides safety net and health services for the poor and working poor with the intention of moving people out of poverty. Too many times the idea of safety net services is tied only to those who ‘use the system.’ However, the majority of those in need are the working poor.
The involvement of the local community is essential to address our community concerns about poverty. When a community must join hands and address the problem with long-term solutions, it makes an impact. This cannot be left up to one agency. One church cannot do it alone.
So can a local community non-profit be more effective in helping the poor and the working poor than the government or a single agency? I say “Yes!”
First of all, the government should not solely bear the responsibility of subsidizing the needs of the working poor. There are many problems the poverty stricken face when entering into the bureaucratic arena. For example, services are often decentralized and impersonal. It is a full time job to navigate the system, like spending hours a day on the bus, dropping children off at school or daycare or dealing with the intricate healthcare system and this is all on top of other day to day responsibilities.
Usually, low-income people have multiple needs requiring multiple services located at multiple locations. Standing in line and waiting for hours is the norm. The numerous ID’s and wage verification papers are often forgotten. Then another trip is required only to return and go through this frustration another time. ECCO has multiple services in one location which prevents those, who have little money for gas in the first place, from traveling timelessly across the county for services. Also, our services are designed to serve as a place for people who have fallen into hard times, a place to land and get back on their feet.
There are many reasons why our system at ECCO works. First is the public’s compassion for one another and their desire to see everyone live in a successful, thriving community. All communities, regardless of wealth or poverty, want to see their communities thrive, care about their fellow man and his well-being.
People know that when a community has gaps in filling basic needs, other problems often follow - including violence and crime, child neglect and abuse, and poor nutrition and health. A chain is as only as strong as its weakest link and it benefits us all to strengthen every link.
Second is the biblical mandate to help the poor. It is a God-given privilege to help our fellow man. In Deuteronomy 15, God says, “I command you to be openhanded towards your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.” Jesus said in Matthew 25 “when we help the least of these, we are helping Him!”
We all know from experience that reaching out and helping someone gives a sense of satisfaction. There is a personal reward for helping someone. When we contribute our time, talent and treasures, it makes us feel good about ourselves. We are happier. We are fulfilled.
Third is the high return on investment. A community-based effort is more cost effective. Careful spending and utilizing volunteers saves the community money and provides a great return on even a small investment. Centralizing services saves money for all because of the sharing of property, buildings and equipment.
Having the same location provides a collection of services and saves the recipients time and money on gas and transportation. Strategic collaborative partnerships can provide a wide variety of services.
Strategically selected specialty providers share comprehensive services. Duplicating services makes little sense today when resources are limited. Services at ECCO include basic needs (food and clothing), legal services, government assistance applications, health (medical and dental) and wellness (health education and prescriptions) programs, education (GED, financial literacy), and empowerment and job readiness.
In addition, ECCO utilizes volunteers maximizing man-hours and reducing the costs of overhead. Last month, volunteers heaped up a value of almost $50,000 for their time.
Finally, local programs provide personalized service to the client. The problems of the poor cannot be generalized or categorized to one cause for all of their individual situations. Each client comes with a different situation. Many today suffer from situational poverty, losing their job, receiving lower wages or a sudden crisis in their lives.
Others may have poor health, a disabled family member or an elderly relative. The remedy cannot be one solution fits all. ECCO develops customized personal plans for each family’s specific challenges and needs in a more effective and compassionate approach.
East Cooper is changing in so many ways. You are invited to participate to help those who are the poor and working poor through volunteering or having your church or organization help us address the issues of poverty. By everyone doing what they can, glimmers of hope and remedy can be seen-one person at a time. Check out our website: www.eccocharleston.org.
East Cooper Community Outreach (ECCO) strives to provide safety net services for our low income neighbors while empowering them to create better lives for themselves, their families and their communities.
ECCO provides emergency assistance for food, clothing, household furnishings, and financial needs. As well as, ongoing services including medical, dental, prescription drug assistance, education and counseling.
(Jack Little is the executive director of East Cooper Community Outreach.)