Kokomo Urban Outreach retools its approach to charity
BY CAELE PEMBERTON
Feb. 16, 2018
KOKOMO, Ind. (AP) — The Kokomo Urban Outreach is undergoing major changes to further help people out of poverty, rather than through it.
As part of these changes, the Kokomo Urban Outreach will no longer offer its regular pantry and instead will offer a class, called Food Co-op, where people will learn prepare meals they can cook throughout the week for a $10 fee.
Over the last two years, the Kokomo Urban Outreach has worked to reshape its connection with the community. Rather than simply providing handouts to people in need, the organization began programs to help people become self-sustaining.
One way they did this was by requiring those visiting the pantry to list ways they could help other people, such as by teaching sewing or guitar classes. By doing this, the organization saw an array of classes pop up, each taught by a person receiving food from the pantry.
The organization also started new programs to help empower people to work for themselves. ManUP and StepUP4Girls are geared toward teens, and these programs provide mentoring as well as an opportunity for young people to earn paychecks.
These new initiatives began after Jeff Newton, director of the Kokomo Urban Outreach, read the book "Toxic Charity," by Robert Lupton. In the book, Lupton argues charities can actually hurt those in poverty by creating dependence, rather than helping people climb out of desperate circumstances.
"What Americans avoid facing is that while we are very generous in charitable giving, much of that money is either wasted or actually harms the people it is targeted to help," Lupton writes.
Part of the problem, Lupton writes, is mission trips that cost well over the cost of actual work. While groups spend hundreds to thousands of dollars to travel to far-away cities or countries, that money could have hired locals to repair homes or build orphanages, he writes.
Another part of the problem, he continues, is that people simply give money without getting involved in meaningful results.
".In the end what takes place in the community, on the street, in the home, is what will ultimately determine the sustainability of any development," he writes.
The book changed the way Newton ran the Kokomo Urban Outreach, he said. He began to see that the organization was not helping people out of poverty, but simply providing handouts.
"We're trying to help people out of economic despair instead of helping people through it," Newton said. "It's not just handing people a basket of food, it's actually talking to people, working with people, listening to people. . It's working with and not for."
Since adopting the new philosophy, Newton said he's seen success with the local community. People who used to visit the pantry began volunteering there after being able to provide for themselves. Others became mentors for youth, helping empower young people to earn their own wages.
"We're discovering everyone has gifts, skills and abilities to share, and it's invisible, so we're trying to make the invisible visible," Newton said. "It empowers them to be the best they can be."
Newton said he's seen how some changes over the last year have already affected the people who use the Kokomo Urban Outreach's services. The organization used to serve a Sunday night dinner in neighborhoods across the city, at one point serving as many as 600 to 800 people weekly. But by August of 2017, they were seeing fewer and fewer people.
"I began to ask why they stopped coming, and the response was 'We have jobs; we can cook for ourselves,'" Newton said in a newsletter.
So, the outreach stopped serving the weekly dinners and started Kitchen Co-op, which will now be known as Food Co-op.
The name isn't the only thing to change with the food program, Newton said. The program will now have an advisory board, made up of a handful of the program's members. The board will make decisions on recipes and procedures for the program.
This program will, in a way, replace the food pantry. The pantry will officially close on Feb. 28 at noon, and the building will be used to store some food and house classes. The front of the building will be turned into a store front for the crafts created in StepUP4Girls. The organization will take the funding used for the pantry and move it to funding Food Co-op, Newton said.
Amye Britt has benefited from the Kokomo Urban Outreach's services for over a year. She attended Baby University, a program for new or expecting parents, and has participated in Kitchen Co-op for several months. Her oldest daughter is also involved in StepUp4Girls.
"They're amazing," Britt said. "They really help, and I've learned so much from them."
Britt said she's excited about the changes happening at the organization, including with Food Co-op; she's even one of the new advisory board members. She said she's glad to see the way the organization is empowering people to be more involved.
As a single mother of two girls, paying $10 a week for seven meals is a life-saver, she said.
"This is a very good deal," she said. "I think it's a great idea."
A rolling food pantry will still be available through a partnership with the Kokomo Rescue Mission. The rolling pantry visits different neighborhoods each Wednesday, and under the outreach's new plan, the program will expand and visit the Garden Square community, whose residents previously visited the Hoffer Street pantry.
The organization will also continue its Buddy Bags program, which delivers bags of food to about 1,200 students around the county who might not otherwise receive food over the weekends. Newton believes these bags help students focus better in school because they aren't worried so much about food, leading to better test scores and retention rates.
Source: Kokomo Tribune, http://bit.ly/2Ci4ucq
Information from: Kokomo Tribune, http://www.ktonline.com