In the large scheme of things, Humanitas is a very small life preserver for people who are living under difficult circumstances and are struggling to keep their heads above water. Critics of the giving of alms use another metaphor, suggesting that it is just a band aid. They are right. It is. A band aid reminds us we have a sore to tend; a band aid protects a wound and keeps it clean; a band aid allows healing to take place; a band aid is--simply--timely care. For example:
Edgar needed shoes. His only pair had holes in the soles. He was living temporarily in clean and sober housing, he was taking classes at Good Will to train to be a cashier, and he had no way, other than walking, to get from place to place. We gave him a voucher to purchase a pair of shoes so he could do so in reasonable comfort. His gratitude was humbling. Such a small thing--a leak-free covering for his feet.
Neat, clean, sober and well-educated, William needed minutes for his cell phone. New to Bellingham, he already had a sponsor in AA, had a bed at the Mission, and was very actively seeking work. He needed his phone to communicate with prospective employers. We gave him some bus passes so he could get around town plus a voucher for a monthly, prepaid phone card. William actually proclaimed that we had offered him a lifeline.
Glenda and Rob were living in their car, parking at night in public rest areas. They had been out of work for several months and could no longer afford their apartment. Now, though, filled with optimism, they were both due to start a new job, at the same place, in two days time. In addition, Rob had secured a second job working at night. They needed gasoline to make sure they could get to work. We also gave them our laundry packet to enable them to do two loads of washing beforehand. This timely band aid enabled them to start their new jobs in fresh, clean clothes.
We are always taken by surprise when so much gratitude is expressed for these small services. Calling what we offer a band aid is certainly one way to describe the giving of alms. It is the word "just" to which we take exception.