This touching article from a worker at a convent in Yekaterinburg speaks to those who donate to her center. But probably Christian help centers all over the world experience the same things.
We meet many people in our lives and have lots of interesting stories about these meetings to share. But hardly anybody has experienced as many wonderful meetings as a person whose work is to help people in need has. The Director of the Social Service in honor of St. John the Merciful at St. Alexander Nevsky-New-Tikhvin Convent in the city of Yekaterinburg has accumulated many observations based on personal experience over the eight years of her work. These are stories of miracles that God has performed using the hands of donors, stories about how a simple package of food and clothes can save a whole family from despair… Our staff worker, offers practical tips on the best ways to help the needy.
How God helps people using our hands
There are amazing stories. Sometimes God’s help is so evident that our souls rejoice feeling that we are instruments in His hands!
One day a man named Sergei who had gotten into a mess came to the Social Center. In most cases people are the “authors” of their own misfortunes. Sergei lived in a village. When a stranger came up to him and offered him a temporary job in a cottage in Yekaterinburg, Sergei without a moment’s hesitation and without warning his mother got into the car right in his tracksuit pants and running shoes. The stranger drove him to a suburb of Yekaterinburg, and when Sergei got out at a gas station the driver suddenly left, taking Sergei’s cellphone (that he had left behind in the car) with him. No words can describe Sergei’s rashness and his “employer’s” dishonesty. At times you think: “How can such outrageous things be possible?” In reality, they are possible! If you work a lot with people, you can easily discern when a person is telling the truth and when he is telling a lie. As for Sergei, it was clear that he was telling us the truth despite the absurdity of the situation he got in.
Sergei reached Yekaterinburg on foot and walked around the city for two days, utterly confused, hungry, and chilled to the bone. Fortunately, somebody recommended that he go to our convent. While Sergei was drinking tea and telling us about the incident, I was thinking what to offer him as we didn’t have men’s clothes at the department at that moment. The man looked pitiful. Though it was in June, it was so cold that Sergei caught bronchitis.
And when we were talking, somebody brought a package full of good men’s clothes and shoes that fitted him perfectly, with a jacket, underwear, and a small sized carryall into the bargain. All of it suited him well, and items of clothing in reserve were folded up and put into his bag. Since I kept a reserve of good medicines, we provided Sergei with some. Through social media we found a friend of Sergei’s, got his mother’s phone number and called her. First she reproached him bitterly, and then burst out crying. I gave Sergei a small amount of money and instant food for his journey home. As he was leaving our center decently dressed, with a bag across his shoulder, and a quiet face, our guard spread his arms in amazement and followed him with a joyous smile.
What are the most needed donations?
Many people want to help someone else, but with minimal costs. The simplest and most accessible way of donating is giving things, shoes and clothes that you don’t use any more. Our Social Service is short of men’s clothes and footwear of any kind. Men are particularly prone to wearing clothes and shoes until these are really worn-out, but even when we get even the most worn-out men’s items, they go like hotcakes. If you don’t have an opportunity to donate men’s clothes, then share this idea with those around you, post an announcement on your social media webpages, speak with your family friends, neighbors, and relatives. Believe that the things that you donate really save people from the cold, illnesses, and despair, and give hope and comfort to those in the most desperate situations.
“Guess what I’ve brought you? Look!”
I have received clothes at the Social Service for eight years and seen many people coming from all over the city with packages… And it is possible to judge their character within the several seconds of meeting them!
One family brings us clothes five to six times a year. They consider it necessary to teach their kids to share their things with those less fortunate. Two boys aged about six and nine respectively usually carry the packages. The younger brother holds his packet tightly till the last minute; he is obviously reluctant to give its contents away. His mom asks him, “Let us leave this for other kids who have no toys.” The lad agrees and looses his grip. It is really moving. On the contrary, the elder brother readily hands his bag to me and says: “Guess what I’ve brought you? Look! Here is a toy car, its door opens this way...” We write down their names to be commemorated at the prayer service and I treat the younger boy (who furrows his brows) to a sweet as it will make the child feel happier.
Very young ladies usually bring us small packets with two or three items of clothing in them, which went out of fashion in the previous season but are in perfect condition. These sweet girls laugh a lot and they give their things away with pleasure, wondering: “What else do you need? I also have a teddy bear, what about it?” Oh, these teddy bears! They sit on our pianos and sofas for many years! Big, cozy, kind bears of our childhood; beloved, but so dusty! We receive them in great numbers and are under the impression that each teenage girl of the city has brought us her teddy bear she’s grown up with! Everybody is welcome to do this, but only after dry-cleaning and washing. Kids take all these bears with pleasure. But, of course, they need them clean!
Our beloved parishioners normally bring a little at a time, but they do it very often, namely once a week on their way to church. They ask me to hand their things over to specific people and I make records. It means a lot to me that some parishioners help other parishioners through me. They could hand these things to recipients personally at church, but they are afraid to embarass them. They trust me to do exactly as they wish. No, dear friends, I won’t mix things up. I value your contributions too much to handle them without due care! I am learning love, humility, and tactfulness from you…
St. Maximus the Confessor said, “I really possess only the things that I have given away.” This is the real truth. Not only God Almighty, even the Social Service’s staff workers also see what is in the hearts of those who bring us clothes.
How to save a whole family from despair
Quite a few people appeal to our Social Service for children’s clothes, shoes, writing materials, diapers, etc. Many always lack for things for children. I have noticed that if a family with children has got into a difficult life situation, they cannot handle it; they find it hard to sort the problems out and need two to three years of permanent support. But little by little they overcome their difficulties and their lives return to normal. It is important to help people when they are going through tough times. Some people are socially weak so any blow will knock them completely off balance, as it were. A person can lose heart when circumstances get the better of him – for example, he has lost a job, his wife has fallen sick, etc. And first and foremost such misfortunes affect children: there is no money for stationery sets, the kids have grown out of their clothes over three months so they have nothing to wear at school. I assure all of you that the donated children’s clothes literally save whole families from despair, depression, and help them survive when times are tough.
Once the phone rang at our Social Center. A worried female voice began telling us how cold it was outside and that she had no warm clothes. It turned out that the woman had been subjected to administrative arrest and taken to special custody. Individuals who let their documents expire or await deportation are usually sent there. The woman ended up in detention in summer, and there was nobody to visit her. It was late autumn; she was required to labor but had only summer clothes on… It is amazing how it occurred to her to appeal to us—she went online on her cellphone and thus found our Social Service and its phone number! I inquired about her size, collected some clothes and shoes and brought her a package. The custody’s staff workers were very surprised! They kept asking me: “You haven’t met this woman before, have you?” I answered: “No, I haven’t.” “But why have you brought all of this for her?” They wondered. “She asked me...” We were standing in front of each other for some time, unable to understand one another. They didn’t want to accept my package because I inadvertently mentioned that I was a “perfect stranger” to that woman. “You don’t know her, then why have you brought these things here?” I was very perplexed and said: “Since she asked, I decided to share these things with her.” They went on: “The clothes are so good… Why in the world have you done this, if you are a total stranger to her?!” I responded: “But why do you think I should have wasted time bringing rags instead of normal clothes here?” At last the staff member relented and accepted my parcel.
Who receives aid?
These people can loosely be divided into several groups:
- Thirty percent are those who live in a “permanent crisis” and always get into a lot of trouble. Although they are unwilling to change their way of life, they still need support. Among them are the homeless, sick and those who refuse to work on principle.
- Thirty percent are those who are suddenly faced with difficult life situations due to their job loss or a relative’s illness. These cases require from two to four years of support; little by little they overcome the crisis and set things going.
- Thirty per cent are families with many children, the handicapped, and pensioners with low incomes. Judging by their outward appearances, they are successful people, while in reality they need long-term support. There is no crisis situation as such, yet they have to live from hand to mouth for years. I like this group the most. They are always grateful to us for our aid and never despair!
- Nine percent are people who are seeking aid without really needing it. It’s an illness: they are taking things just for the sake of it. Sometimes their children and grandchildren call us later and beg us not to give anything to their mom or granny, since she has already brought so much stuff from the garbage cans, that it is everywhere in the apartment. You can easily spot such people, and we are trying to limit their appetites.
- One per cent is professional fraud. Verification of information reveals dishonesty.
To sum it up: the vast majority of help-seekers really need aid. Dear contributors, you are doing God’s work by rendering aid to them through our Social Service!
People kiss your gifts
I am very sorry that people who bring their offerings—clothes, shoes, writing materials, food and so on—cannot see the “infinite ocean” of gratitude of those who receive all of this! I don’t know how to improve the situation, but, please believe me that on receiving a pair of shoes, or a satchel with stationery supplies, or a jacket, or a bag of food poor people say: “Glory be to God!” By the grace of God I can see people transformed by the aid they’ve received, see them breathe a sigh of relief, smile, and shake their heads, unable to believe their own eyes! Somebody can even clasp a gift against his breast or kiss a well-worn pair of sneakers! Dear donors, I have no idea how to show you all of this… I can only assure you that all the aid reaches people in need…