You never know when and where you will see a good news story just crying out to be spread. Such a one was in the back page of the January 2015 issue of “The Costco Connection: A lifestyle magazine for Costco members.” It is about Costco member George McDonald and how as a wealthy businessman in New York he was so moved by hearing of a woman freezing to death outside Grand Central Station on Christmas Eve that he, “the former altar boy,” and a friend began buying and handing out food on a nearby street corner. They did so for the next 700 nights, feeding a line of 500 people. He engaged them in conversation and became convinced that they truly didn’t want a handout but a job. With the help of the mayor’s office he secured a city contract and founded “The Doe Fund,” (doe.org) named for the “Jane Doe” whose freezing to death had so moved him. Now with a budget of $50 million they provide program participants with food, lodging, transitional work, and occupational training. Many participants find full time employment with one of the Fund’s 500 employer partners. The article says that the Doe Fund has been “successfully replicated in cities across the United States.” Their website states that their innovative workforce training model has been fully replicated in Philadelphia and adapted in Chicago, Washington DC, Atlanta and several other U.S. cities.
You’ll want to have a look at their website, doe.org. It looks ever so much like our own Samaritan Ministry, which was created in 1986 by St. Alban’s and eleven other Episcopal churches in the DC area. The mission and programs are much the same; the main differences I see are the differences in funding level: $50 million for the Doe Fund and 1.1 million for Samaritan Ministry, and the Doe Fund’s 500 employer partners and Samaritan Ministry’s 53 partner parishes and schools.
Samaritan Ministry receives financial support from St. Alban’s through the grants distributed by the Workers of St. Alban’s and by individual donations from many member of St. Alban’s. A few members of St. Alban’s are long time volunteers, most notably Peter Spalding and the late Adrian Loftin. Samaritan Ministry is always in need of volunteer workers. They make up 75% of the staff. See http://www.samaritanministry.org/volunteer for more information on that.
If there is an inspiration we at St. Alban’s could take from the George McDonald story, I think it is this – not to take his example to try to start something new, but to double down on what we started in 1986 and to see if there are some ideas that we (and by “we” I mean Samaritan Ministry and its partner parishes) could borrow from The Doe Fund.
I close with an adaptation of the prayers for the Poor and the Neglected and for the Unemployed in the Book of Common Prayer.
Almighty and most merciful God, we remember before you all poor and neglected persons whom it would be easy for us to forget: the homeless and the destitute, the old and the sick, and all who have none to care for them. Help us to heal those who are broken in body or spirit, and to turn their sorrow into joy. We remember also those who suffer want and anxiety from lack of work. Guide the people of this land so to use our public and private wealth that all may find suitable and fulfilling employment and receive just payment for their labor. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 20-January-2015.