The Gift Card Project

The great thing about volunteering at a soup kitchen or a food pantry is the proximity to those you are helping. My Mom Marie Bilodeau, who ran the food pantry at our church, returned home each week with personal stories about the people she helped. Her experiences always reminded me about a book I read in college called Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne. The book had a profound effect on my view of the notion of philanthropy because it called to task any system of charity that necessarily insulates the gift-give from the receiver.

That isn’t to say that we don’t need checks written or canned goods dropped off by people who never meet those whom they help. And I’m not labeling the attending of a dinner benefit aimed at raising money for the poor “a bad thing”. Rather it is to say that we should always at least try to decrease the distance between us and those we help. It is more comfortable to attend a charity banquet than to help bathe the homeless like did Mother Teresa. The vision for which I am arguing is, therefore, one that injects a ministry not just of things but of people, namely a ministry of presence.

So I’d like to start a project called The Gift Card Project, where the gift isn’t as much the monetary donation but the person himself, namely YOU. I’d like to challenge people (myself included) to carry with you at all times several $5 or $10 gift cards for local restaurants like McDonald’s or Burger King and keep your eyes open for those who need help. It is amazing how many people around us are actively soliciting assistance during your weekly walk into Walmart or while leaving the gas station.

The challenge of The Gift Card Project is the string attached to the gift card — to have a real conversation with the person to whom you are giving the gift card. Ask them how they are doing, what has brought them there. Your ministry of presence is worth more than the money itself.

My long term goal is to work with restaurants like McDonald’s and Burger King to create custom gift cards that, when cashed in by someone who is homeless, allow the person to return later that day for another meal.

The Gift Card Project helps the homeless in a practical way while also reminding them of their own dignity, which is not depleted because of their current state. Pivoting out of poverty first requires a person to believe in that dignity. That is the real goal of The Gift Card Project.

Let’s encourage and learn from each other. And I’m curious about your experience with this challenge. Please let me know What has been your experience while partaking in “The Gift Card Project”?