Why People of All Abilities Volunteer at Salt & Light

Why People of All Abilities Volunteer at Salt & Light

If you ever volunteered or visited at Salt & Light during the years we were an emergency food pantry, you would have found many people with various types of disabilities standing in line for food. This is a reflection of the face of America’s poor. Only around 30% of the people living in poverty in our country are considered able-bodied, fully employable people who are searching for work. The other 70%, while it also includes children, the elderly, and others, is comprised of a significant number of people who are considered disabled and unable to be employed.

In the United States, people who have a documented disability can qualify for permanent disability benefits and receive an income from government support systems. But the disability system, like many others, has drawbacks. The income received is usually barely sufficient for survival, and then only when used in combination with other benefit programs. And if recipients find a way to bring in any additional household income, benefits are cut in response, resulting in no net financial gain—in fact, people often experience a significant financial loss in this situation, since not only disability income can be cut, but other benefits the person was receiving will be decreased as well as a result of any new income.

When we began our system of member credit at Salt & Light in 2014, the first explanation of our system of volunteering to prospective members was often met with the answer, “Oh, I can’t do anything—I’m on disability!” I lost count of the number of times we heard the phrase “I can’t do anything”, almost always said with genuine fear and distress. The fear created by these systems is obvious and understandable, when people are confronted with the thought of doing anything that could jeopardize their survival, or cut a family off from their only systems of support. The other, less obvious effect is the communication of the message that disability means you are not able to do anything, especially not anything that will make a meaningful contribution, either to change your own situation, or to benefit others.

Now that we are no longer operating as an emergency relief organization but instead are a development-oriented community model, one of the main ideas underlying what we do is that every human being has skills, talents, gifts, and abilities given to them by God. There are no exceptions—disability is not a dis-qualifier. In other words, every human, no matter their age or ability, has some important contribution to make to the world, and everyone’s contribution is equally needed and equally valuable. As a result, there is a place for everyone at Salt & Light.

For our members, volunteering here earns store credit that supplements their household income without threatening their systems of support, so we can allow people to help themselves and their families without fear. But even more importantly, we are putting the lie to the message that any disability makes a person incapable of contributing meaningfully to the world. We are often thanked for the opportunity to earn the credit that helps many families move from surviving to thriving, but most often, we are thanked for the opportunity to work. Among our members and volunteers, you will find people with wheelchairs and walkers, oxygen tanks, canes, hearing aids, and a variety of other assistive devices. Our Salt & Light family includes those who are recovering from stroke or head injury, who live with autism, blindness, PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and the list goes on, with many other physical, developmental, and cognitive delays and disorders. These are the people who run our stores every day. Alongside their friends, neighbors and community members, they bag groceries, stock shelves, sort donations, answer phones, manage data, greet customers, and welcome donors. We could not operate a single day without their efforts. No one’s work is more important or more valuable than another’s. Each person’s unique gifts, smile, struggle, heart, are what come together to create the place that makes our work possible. We would not be Salt & Light without each one of them.

So why does this matter to you as a customer in our stores, or a donor in our drive-thrus? There are two reasons. The first is that the expectations for what you encounter in our stores should be a little different than those in other retail settings. As you drop off your donations or browse through the clothing racks, you’ll notice that our team is made up of this beautiful, wide, diverse array of people. As a result, our environment is saturated with grace, because sometimes we need it. Sometimes we operate at a slower pace; sometimes our social interactions are a little awkward; sometimes we need a little help. But also, all the time, we are grateful. We are appreciative. We are happy to be here. This grace is what makes our stores a happy place. In our buildings, you’ll find more patience, more weirdness, more acceptance, and more joy.

The truth is, everyone sometimes moves a little more slowly. Everyone has bad days, limitations, weaknesses, quirks. Everyone needs help. And that’s the second reason why all this is important for you. The grace that is present for our volunteers and members is available to everyone, and that means you too—there are no exceptions. The contribution you make with your presence is equally valuable, equally needed; you will be equally accepted and equally loved. There is a place for everyone at Salt & Light.

PATTI HAND

Volunteer Spotlight – Patti Hand

Patti has been a valuable member of our volunteer team for the last nine months. Starting in our clothing processing area, Patti has moved into a volunteer administration role, helping our team with scheduling, reports, and so much more.

Patti says, “Salt & Light is my family. I came here out of a rough season in my life. I had lost all self-esteem and felt alone. The staff has never looked down on me or expected me to be someone I’m not. I know that I am valued and cared for now. My self-esteem is back! I have made true friends at Salt & Light.”

To learn more about volunteering at Salt & Light, start here.

How Your Dollars and Cents Help Salt & Light Make Change

The changes we have undergone at Salt & Light have drawn a ton of attention because of our unique approach to access to basic to resources like food and clothing. For many, our developmental model is all they need to know to believe in supporting our work. The fact we are creating jobs while building towards a self-sustainable model through people shopping in our grocery and thrift stores is icing on the cake.

As more and more people learn how shopping in our stores help to support the programs and services at Salt & Light, our challenge is the community thinking we no longer need their financial contributions. While our one-of-a-kind model is treading into uncharted territory for a nonprofit by finding ever-increasing levels of self-sustainability, it is important for us to communicate that we aren’t there yet.

Our annual budget is approximately $2.75 million. Based on our current sales projections, about 85% of that will be funded by people in the community shopping in our grocery and thrift stores. While it is unheard of for a nonprofit to realize this kind of self-sufficiency, it leaves about 15% ($412,000) we still need to raise from financial contributions.

Certainly, we should celebrate and shout from the rooftops this social entrepreneurial model for what it is becoming, but we have to be careful we’re not so loud people can’t hear our need for help.

We anticipate the contributions made will primarily go to cover the store credit our participants earn, with proceeds from grocery and thrift sales used to cover the cost of operations. In the first eight months of this year alone, our participants have earned and spent over $230K in store credit, with 75% of that being used to buy groceries.

These aren’t people standing in line waiting to be handed a pre-selected bag of groceries. They are working as part of a community and experiencing the fruits of their labor as a result. This was made possible through giving, but also through people shopping in our grocery and thrift stores—where buying groceries for your family actually helps someone else to feed theirs.

Historically, we have been an organization funded through the support of a community deeply concerned with helping those in need. Whether it’s $10 or $100 a month, we need people who want to see lives transformed, believe in our model, and want to see us continue to grow something I believe will transform how communities across the country engage poverty.

In order for this kind of transformation to take place a person first must believe they are capable. They have to begin to see themselves as someone of value and worth with something to offer. This kind of life change was recently touched on by one of our participants while watching a video we shared discussing our capital campaign:

“I’m crying right now because Salt & Light has literally given me back my self esteem. I want everyone in our community to realize that those who were broken are getting healed through helping others.”

As simple as this may seem, for someone who has spent much of their life feeling marginalized—often treated as though they have nothing of value to contribute—this is a monumental first step.

If you want to be a part of bringing help and hope to people in our community, click here to find out how you can help.

 

faithfully standing in prayer for our community

Faithfully Standing in Prayer for Our Community

Violent crime is nothing new to our twin cities, here in central Illinois, especially the last 5 years. While we may grow calloused to being bombarded constantly with news reports of tragedy, it hits a nerve when a child or teenager is struck down as was the case recently.  As people try to solve issues on the political level, what is the spiritual role and responsibility of the Church?

Throughout history, God’s people have had a habit of getting off track.  In those moments, He sought to raise up a servant with a prophetic voice to return them to their proper place to fulfill their purpose.  We see Ezekiel as one of those people charged to call the Israelites to attention: “I looked for someone who might rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land. I searched for someone to stand in the gap in the wall so I wouldn’t have to destroy the land, BUT I FOUND NO ONE” (22:30)

In those days, cities needed to be defended.  If there were no natural defenses they built walls, sometimes 15’-25’ thick and 25’ high.  Walls were an indication of a city’s strength and ability to fend off attacks.  Atop these walls were watchmen constantly scanning the horizon who would warn of impending danger.  They were the first line of defense.  But due to corruption and wickedness in Judah, no one was found to fulfill this crucial role.  They weren’t available to perform their duties and failed the people of the city who relied on them.

In the same way, much of the Church has grown worldly and apathetic.  Not only have we failed to diligently stand on the wall, we’ve been negligent in protecting anyone except ourselves.  The WALL is the prayers of the Church lifted up for the people of the city from the weakest to the strongest, youngest to the oldest.  The voices that cry out against moral decay and compromise, leading the way to true repentance, and multitudes seeking after God.  Then we will experience His justice and peace.

God is searching out the courageous who will stand on the wall and fight for their city–against an enemy who is ruthlessly trying to destroy His people.  Individuals, small groups, congregations…all are being called up for active duty to drop to our knees and pray.  Our cities don’t need our programs and one-time events which are ultimately self-serving.  They need us practicing 2 Chronicles 7:14 and Matthew 28:18-20.  Until then, the enemy is free to do what he wants.

Stewarding Your Donations Through Recycling

With a spent Pepsi can in hand, a customer asked, “Do you recycle?”  I quickly responded, “You have no idea.  Yes, we recycle.  I won’t say we have a recycling program; it’s more that we are a recycling program.  Every donation that comes through the door goes through a recycling process.”

All thrift stores recycle to some extent.  Thrift stores give used items a second chance.  Salt & Light is all about this.  We make every effort to move your donations to our sales floor so that someone who needs it has a second chance to get it. 

Honestly though, not every item will make it to the floor.  Donated items compete for limited space.  The best items make it because our customers demand it.  If an unusable item does make it to the floor, it will be rejected by our customers…and eventually pulled from the shelves by our staff.  We have a second secondary route for the following items:    

  • Metal
  • Cardboard
  • Books
  • Purses/belts
  • Household decorations
  • Kitchen Items
  • Clothing
  • Linens

Even if these items can’t be used here, many places around the world can use them for a variety of reasons.  Metal and cardboard can be molded into something else.  Wearables, linens, household items are shipped overseas to be worn or used.  It’s good for our environment, our employees and participants, and makes a more complete use of your donations.

Recycling reduces what we send to the landfill. 

Garbage is a real expense for Salt & Light.  Even with our massive recycling program we spend thousands every month to throw away items that can not be used or recycled.  This has an impact to the ministry.  Dollars spent on garbage removal cannot be spent on education or credit to purchase food. 

Salt & Light redirects 200,000 pounds a month away from the landfill.  That’s over 300 thirty-yard dumpsters a year!  Not only does this have a positive impact on our our environment, but it also saves us over $39,000 a year.

Recycling allows Salt & Light to maximize your donation in this community.

Yes, recycled items are used elsewhere.  I believe that’s a good thing.  We also see a huge benefit here because in addition to cost savings listed above, we generate a substantial income from our recycling program.  These dollars help fund our ministry and keep the lights on.  It is safe to say that Salt & Light would not be able to exist as it does today without these funds.   

Recycling creates jobs.

Geoff Mulgan said, “Recycling is an area where jobs could be created at low cost.  Green collar workers.  That’s not very sexy.”  It’s true on all fronts.  You don’t see it when you walk into the store, or hear a lot about it when we do speaking engagements, but simply operating a recycling a program is beneficial. 

Over 80 staff hours a week are required to run our recycling program.  This does not include the dozens of volunteers who are earning credit, fulfilling their service commitments or simply volunteering their time. This is real income generated that didn’t exist before we expanded.  Your donations create recycling jobs. 

I took the customer’s Pepsi can.  I walked it off the sales floor and in to our back processing area.  I placed it in one of our two 40 yard metal dumpsters.  A metal dumpster that had replaced a plastic tote that we used to collect metal hangers just 4 years ago.  So yes, we recycle.  And it continues to grow.

Thank you for your donations.  We promise to be a good steward of it. 

Volunteer Spotlight – Chris Harrison

Chris has been volunteering at Salt & Light for about 2 years. He performs multiple tasks including working in the admin office, handing out locks and vests, makes copies and keeping the copier filled, restocking the restrooms, cleaning and organizing our break room, accepting donations, and helping on the truck.

But Chris’s biggest job here is talking to people. He loves getting to know their stories. You can always find him talking with someone and joking around with them.

Chris loves serving with our team and can be found in our Champaign store regularly.  On the wall in our our processing area (also shown in Chris’s picture) it says, “Let the light shine by helping those in need”. Chris says that’s why he is here…to help others.

The Potential of Those in Poverty

Jim Nowlan recently wrote a piece entitled, “Poverty Doesn’t Limit Your Potential.” In this editorial, he provides many examples of successful individuals who broke the cycle of poverty. I’m sure we all know someone who, despite humble beginnings, became successful. James “Cash” Penny comes to mind. J.C. started off far worse than most people on welfare today. His hard work benefited the masses and made him millions. I like these stories.

If all other things were equal, and if poverty was just a matter of insufficient income, as some suggest, I’d have to agree with Mr Nowlan.  Sadly, things are not equal; life is not fair. I believe that there are many contributing factors to poverty. Access to a good education, proper role models, parental involvement, internal motivation, micro-cultural attitudes toward success – it’s these factors and more that threaten a person’s potential, not just a lack of money.

An individual’s potential is limited to their knowledge, skills, expertise, and maturity. The more these areas are hindered, the more likely a person is to be unsuccessful and live a life in poverty. Jim Nowlan gave us anecdotal evidence of those who busted out of that poverty. I like the stories. But they are stories, and simply not the norm. A 2009 study by The National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University found exactly that. Those who grow up in poverty are more likely to live in poverty as an adult and the odds increased the longer they lived in poverty as a child. Why? Childhood is a critical time to learn the knowledge, skills, expertise, and the maturity needed for success in adulthood.

Take something as simple as the daily interaction between children and parents. On average, children in a professional family household hear over 2,100 words per hour. A child born into a “working class family” hears 1,200 words per hour while a child living in a welfare family environment may hear only 600 words per hour. The cumulative effect of this is significant. A 10-year-old child growing up in a welfare home will not hear as many words as a 3-year-old whose parents are working professionals. While I reject the idea that one is more advantaged than the other, it’s clear that one has a marked disadvantage.

Many see poverty simply as a lack of income and a solution to the poverty problem is to throw money at it in a variety of ways: welfare, a hand-out from a benevolent church, redistribution of wealth, or even the most recent idea of a universal basic income. I’ll let others debate the validity of these approaches. I have my doubts, and so does history. I will argue that this is not enough. Even if we were able to subsidize every family living today in such a way that they lived above the poverty line, we’d be robbing them, and the rest of us, of their full potential.

What, after all, is potential? When and how is it realized? J.C Penny reached his potential. He not only met and exceeded his physical and financial needs, he also reached the point that he was able to serve others. The potential of those living in true poverty is beyond our imagination. Our investment in them must be more than in dollars. It must be a lifelong walk developing the whole person.

Only in that way we do we ALL reach our full potential.

WHY IS SALT & LIGHT OPENING A CHILDCARE ROOM?

Why is Salt & Light Opening a Childcare Room?

This fall, we’ll be opening a child care room at Salt & Light Urbana, staffed by volunteers, that will offer a safe, fun space for preschool-aged kids to play while parents volunteer, or attend a class or program on site. We’re starting small, with limited hours and resources, but we hope to grow as soon as it’s possible to offer this service during most, or even all, of our open hours. It’s not a community or staff day care; it’s not a preschool. So with such a narrow focus, it seems like a nice “extra” for volunteers, but you might wonder, is it really important?

Everyone knows that raising a child is expensive. This year, the estimated cost of raising a single child born in 2017 is just over $10,000 for expenses related directly to that child’s needs alone. And this figure only represents the costs for kids in a two-parent, two-income household—for single-parent households, child-related costs rise to more like $12,000 annually. This is particularly challenging for single parents, over 80% of whom are mothers, when the typical two-parent household brings in more than three times the income of a single-parent home. As many as 40% of the U.S. households headed by single parents are living in poverty. Many parents and families could use an extra measure of support in providing food, clothes, and all the other things their household needs. A member account at Salt & Light is an opportunity to do just that—but for parents who don’t have or can’t afford safe, reliable child care, volunteering here to earn credit for groceries, diapers, and all the clothes and shoes that kids outgrow so quickly just isn’t a possibility.

Without a child care space, we have always tried to make it possible anyway for parents to come and volunteer by bringing children with them. This has often worked all right as long as little ones are small enough to be held in a sling, or to ride in a grocery cart while a mom or dad is working. However, as soon as they are old enough to take off in their own direction, their active, curious play makes them anything but helpful to accomplishing their parents’ desired tasks. As a result, when parents come with toddlers and preschoolers, we are often required to give them volunteer jobs that allow them to be in an enclosed area, safe for their child to roam without wandering away, but separate and apart from other volunteers. This allows parents to earn the credit that helps support their families financially, but it fails to allow the opportunity to work alongside, talk to, and form relationships with others, which is an enormously important part of the benefit of membership at Salt & Light for everyone, but particularly for parents with young children, for whom isolation from other adults is already a significant issue. Without a safe place for kids to play on their own, parents can be engaged here as providers, but are still extremely limited in their opportunities to spend time with anyone other than their own child.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed about working at Salt & Light is the way that kids have been an integral part of our community, particularly when they have come with their parents like this to volunteer. If you’ve come for a meeting with me in my office, during which we were joined by a preschooler coloring or a toddler demanding to see the bubbles on my screen saver, you know what I mean. But if children are to be truly a part of the Salt & Light family, that means it’s necessary for us to give them the same regard that we aspire to for adults. They deserve to be in a place that is safe, that considers their needs, in which they can be the focus of attention. It’s incumbent on us to think about what will give them dignity and show them respect, and to create an environment that lets them demonstrate their capacity, build their confidence, sharpen their skills. Riding them along in a grocery cart, while it’s sometimes fun and entertaining for us, can never do this in the way they need.

Salt & Light is intended to be a place for everyone, of every age and every ability, to learn and grow. Every person’s presence is an equally important contribution to creating our community, and the community can never be complete unless we make a place for each unique, irreplaceable, individual person. For moms, dads, kids, and all of us, the child care room is one more way we continue to work toward that every day.

To donate, volunteer, or for questions about Salt & Light’s child care room, contact Child Care Coordinator Dorinda Prince at dorinda@saltandlightministry.org.

 

Why Should You Attend Financial Peace University?

One of the opportunities we provide to empower our participants and community members is Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.  This nationally acclaimed program gives individuals resources to take control of their finances, work towards being debt free, and the privilege of being generous.  Statistics in America show us:

  • Average Household Income: $56,516
  • Average Household Debt: $187,187 (Mortgages, Student Loans, Auto Loans, Credit Cards)
  • 76% of people live from paycheck to paycheck
  • Average household wastes 24% of their take-home pay on consumer debt.
  • 64% can’t cover a $1000 emergency
  • Money problems are one of the top 3 reasons for marital problems and divorce

FPU has proven to be a game-changer in helping improving people’s financial outlook.  Dave uses conventional wisdom along with Biblical principles to spell out ways to experience freedom in this area of their lives.

  • God wants us to be wise stewards. “Honor the Lord with your possessions and with the first produce of your entire harvest” (Proverbs 3:9).
  • God doesn’t want us to be in debt. “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave” (Proverbs 22:7).
  • God wants us to be generous, and to allow our finances to be a part of His plan in the world. “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed” (Proverbs 19:17).
  • God wants us to prosper. “Then the LORD your God will prosper you abundantly in all the work of your hand, in the offspring of your body and in the offspring of your cattle and in the produce of your ground…” (Deuteronomy 30:9).  [*NOTE: “prosperous” doesn’t necessarily mean “rich” and doesn’t only apply to finances]
  • God want us to experience peace. “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’…For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6: 31-33).

Every paid participant will receive an FPU membership kit with the student manual (9 sessions), course CDs, FPU “wallet,” and other valuable money management tools.  Read here to learn more about our next course, starting September 20th. 

4 WAYS SALT & LIGHT PARTNERS WITH CHURCHES

4 Ways Salt & Light Partners with Churches

Our mission here at Salt & Light is sharing the love of God by fighting poverty with opportunities that empower people for lasting change. As we work to accomplish this mission every day, we partner together with many groups, individuals, and organizations in the community, and some of our most important partnerships are with churches.

A partnership, by definition, is an arrangement in which both parties make a contribution, and both parties reap the benefits. As churches enter into partnership with Salt & Light, the contributions they make are often easy to identify—financial support, material donations, and volunteer service—and these have clear benefits for the organization. But it’s often less clear what contribution Salt & Light is making in these partnerships that would help to benefit churches as they fulfill their own mission. Here are four important ways that Salt & Light wants to partner with your church in the shared work of Kingdom-building in our community.

Salt & Light can help the people of your church:

  • develop spiritually healthy attitudes toward material wealth, poverty, and possessions. Our culture views poverty as the simple lack of material things. For people of faith, a close study of the Scripture paints a picture of poverty as much more than a solely material affair. Poverty of status, poverty of relationship, poverty of being, are all treated as an equal part of true poverty in the eyes of God. In their book “When Helping Hurts”, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert paint a picture of poverty as a brokenness that can apply to any of our foundational relationships with God, others, ourselves, or our possessions. Author Bryant Myers describes it as “the absence of shalom in all its meanings.” Working together with our participants at Salt & Light, truly getting to know those who lack material resources, helps bring a real-life understanding of the way those resources fail to define our true poverty or wealth. With this understanding, we can know that our material possessions can never truly make us rich. Therefore, having them or losing them isn’t of primary importance in our lives. Mutuality and generosity become more important. We can understand that fighting poverty means more than just helping others accumulate money. We can hold what we own more loosely. We can walk away from the need to control others in the area of their material possessions, or value them based on their material wealth.
  • develop a spiritually healthy view of themselves. If poverty is actually something we experience in all areas of life, and not just a material lack, then poverty is something we all experience. All of us carry some degree of brokenness—none of us are in the place of fullness that God intends for us. Understanding the true role of material possessions in determining wealth and poverty will not only help prevent us from undervaluing others based on their material lack, it will also help prevent us from overvaluing ourselves based on our material abundance. Our financial gifts and material donations are important and helpful contributions, but as we volunteer and shop alongside others in Salt & Light’s buildings, we’ll see many others who are making contributions just as valuable, with their time, ability, wisdom, joy, and the sacrificial giving of the limited resources they have. We’ll begin to understand that it’s not our gifts that cause lasting life change in others, but the opportunities they help to create for others to use their gifts as well.
  • develop spiritually healthy relationships with others. No one wants to be someone else’s project. But if poverty is something we are all experiencing, then the path to abundance—material, relational, and spiritual—is something we are all walking together. The ability to grow and learn from each other in relationship is most effective when it is mutual—when each person knows that they are accepted by the other as they are, as equals, who both have something to contribute and something to learn. Salt & Light’s model is built for community participation on equal footing; it is a not a system that requires impoverished recipients and wealthy benefactors. Every person in your church who gets involved here will be part of a system in which everyone is making a contribution that is equally valued, as they shop, volunteer, and share. This means everyone is also a recipient of all the benefits of the relationships, learning, and community that are built here.
  • develop a spiritually mature understanding of the gospel. The message of the gospel is the message of reconciliation—of coming into right relationship. God wants to bring us into right relationship with him, and as a result, into right relationships with others, with ourselves, and with material creation. As believers in Christ, we’ve been made ambassadors of the Kingdom, but to effectively fulfill that responsibility, we must understand the nature of our message. The good news of the gospel is that we are all poor and broken, and we are invited into a Kingdom that is offered only to the poor. Through our work here at Salt & Light, we are able to see ourselves as all equally broken, all equally impoverished, but all equally loved, chosen, and sought after by God. The practical ways that we work together here to create opportunity, sharpen skills, build community, and meet needs, are all ways that we move together toward that reconciliation in all areas, as we learn to more fully live out the heart of the gospel.

The staff at Salt & Light works with churches to do small group presentations, tours, special events and projects, monthly engagement, and even sermon series that can support your congregation’s work in these areas of discipleship, generosity, and spiritual growth. We would love to talk with you further about opportunities to partner with your church.