In some areas of the country, particularly in the larger cities, people seeking money may form an informal network. Pastors have learned that, in some instances, people seeking money will identify parishes that give away cash or prepaid gas cards and mark that parish. The designations will vary by locale, but a person might mark a brick with chalk on a particular corner of the building. Those passing by or even parish staff would not notice the marking, but the people in the “network” know where to look. Others put a pile of stones under the church sign to indicate that the pastor or his staff are willing to give away money to strangers who come seeking it. If a parish has not received regular requests for money for a few weeks and then, after giving money to one person finds several more people requesting money within a few days, it is likely that the parish has been “marked.” The designations are so obscure that even a concentrated search for the marking may not result in identifying it. The only solution is too cease giving money to those requesting it.
A pastor may want to assist people in need, but not want to incur the problems and potential dangers associated with keeping money or gas cards on the parish premises. Some pastors have found the local police station will cooperate in providing a solution. The pastor provides an inventory of prepaid gas cards and grocery cards to the police station. If a person visits the parish with the purpose of requesting assistance, the pastor or staff will provide the individual with a voucher and direct the person to the police station. This has many advantages for the parish. First, it removes the cash and gift cards from the parish reducing the likelihood of break-ins once it becomes known that such items exist at the parish. Further, the police will screen those requesting funds. If the person needs gas money, the police will require that person to produce a valid driver’s license and proof of insurance. The police will also check to see if the person has any outstanding warrants. Finally, police stations are open 24 hours per day, seven days per week eliminating the late hour interruptions at the parish campus.
Another solution for a pastor who would like to assist needy people but does not want to expose himself to the risks of operating the function himself, is for the pastor to ask volunteers to establish a local conference of the St. Vincent DePaul Society. The types of services provided by a local conference of the St. Vincent DePaul Society vary widely and are dependent upon a number of factors including the size of the parish, the needs of the local community, the number of volunteers termed “Vincentians,” sources of funding, etc. St. Vincent DePaul Society programs include home visits, housing assistance, disaster relief, job training and placement, food pantries, dining halls, clothing, transportation and utility costs, care for the sick, the incarcerated and the elderly, and prescription medicine.
With regards to providing immediate cash to needy individuals, while a local St. Vincent DePaul Conference may do so, the emphasis is on determining the root cause of the need and in assisting the individuals in solving their own financial problems. According to the published literature of the St. Vincent DePaul Society, this “self-help emphasis can limit the practice of recurrent handouts, which may be destructive of human dignity and degenerate into a subtle form of enslavement.”
The St. Vincent DePaul Society is a national organization. Therefore, while a parish may associate with a local St. Vincent DePaul Society conference, the local conference will not be an auxiliary of the parish. This style of organization is not uncommon and is used, for example, by the Knights of Columbus.
MR. LENELL, C.P.A., Ph.D., is the director for financial and administrative services for the Diocese of Rockford, Ill. Dr. Lenell’s book Income Taxes for Priests Only is published by “Fathers Guide.” He lectures and conducts workshops and does consulting to several dioceses on priests’ taxes, compensation, and retirement planning. Write to Dr. Lenell, c/o The Priest magazine with questions, or e-mail him at WayneLenell@fathersguide.org