A Call To Share Our Abundance

By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, March 15, 2009

At 66, Connie Neuman is doing okay financially. So when she found out a friend was out of work, she offered to send her $40 every month.

The friend, also 66, lost her long-established bookstore. Like so many other small businesses across the country, the store went out of business.

"I worked out my financial plan over the next three years," Neuman, a Maryland resident, said in an e-mail. "It appeared I could offer some support. It won't prevent a foreclosure, but it is a bag of oranges, a lunch, some bus fare or a gas-up."

Neuman's modest bailout wasn't a loan but what she called a "PIO," or pass-it-on offer. As it turns out, the friend, who lives in the Midwest, doesn't need the money because she found a job at another bookstore that pays less than when she ran her own business but still enough to get by.

"I told her just to let me know how things go," Neuman said. "I had planned to give her the $40 a month for two years if the economic crisis takes that long to sort out."

Neuman said she's still going to set aside the money in case somebody else needs the help.

While many people are carping and complaining about the federal initiatives created to try to keep people from losing their homes or jobs or health care, all across the country, there are others who are helping -- without judgment, without requiring that people prove they weren't irresponsible before being considered worthy of aid. These folks, although also frustrated about the economy and the people who pushed us into this crisis, are pulling money out of their own savings, taking relatives or strangers into their homes or creating programs to help the financially broken.

Geneva Pearson had an idea to help people save money during the downturn. Pearson, who attends my church, First Baptist Church of Glenarden, recently coordinated a household item exchange. Women brought in fine china, cutlery, top-of-the-line crystal, small appliances, bed linens, comforter sets, and lamps, not to sell but to pass on.

"Sisters also came in with floral arrangements, towels, fine art, photo frames and accessories, wall art, window shades and curtains," Pearson said. "There was even a chandelier and a brand new toilet seat. It was wonderful to hear ladies as they exclaimed about items being an answer to their prayer or 'just what I needed.' "

During the giveaway, one woman was presented with accessories for an entire living room, another got a needed queen-sized bed. Someone moving into her first apartment got a television.

"We historically have shared second-time-around clothing, food during the holidays, and coats during the cold months, but we hesitate to give up our good household stuff although we no longer use it," Pearson said.

I love what Pearson said about the event's vision. It was an opportunity for people to "share out of their abundance."

So what are you doing to share out of your abundance?

I want to hear your stories because I'm tired of the constant drumbeat of bad economic news. The latest foreclosure report from RealtyTrac found that foreclosures rose again -- 30 percent from a year ago -- despite federal efforts to slow mortgage defaults.

In his second inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln called on American citizens to have "malice toward none" and "charity for all." Those words are just as appropriate now when so many want to demonize the many people who bought homes they ultimately couldn't afford or didn't save as they should have.

Whatever the reason, if your neighbors, friends, co-workers (or former co-workers), sisters or brothers are in need, are you being charitable toward them? Or is your ire at their irresponsibility getting in the way of reaching out?

Once a month, my husband and I, along with a team of wonderful volunteers, meet with people struggling to recover from money mistakes that have left many of them beaten down.

Long before the economic downturn, my pastor, John K. Jenkins Sr., and his wife, Trina Jenkins, gave me the green light to create a program, Prosperity Partners Ministry, to help those who needed someone to walk along with them as they climbed out of financial trouble.

Volunteers called senior partners work one-on-one with junior partners who are deep in debt or are close to foreclosure or just need to know they can lean on someone to help them overcome past money blunders. And while the ministry is helping them, they also learn how to make better financial decisions in the future.

If you or your religious organization, club, community association or classroom are reaching out to help individuals or families affected by this recession, write to me. Send your stories to colorofmoney@washpost.com. In the e-mail subject line, put "I am my brother's keeper."

I want to highlight the stories of people across the country who are willing to give their time or resources, or both, to be their brother's keeper.

-- On the air: Michelle Singletary discusses personal finance Tuesdays on NPR's "Day to Day" program and at http://www.npr.org.

-- By mail: Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.

-- By e-mail: singletarym@washpost.com.

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