At the crux of most faith traditions lies service to others. As Dr. David King wrote in a 2017 Insights issue, “While different faiths may address giving in various ways, at their core, there is most often a shared sense of the necessity of giving, to care for one another and in particular the poor, the refugee, and the marginalized.”
During the holiday season, which is in full swing here in the United States, several faith communities come together, inspired by their faith, to give to those in need in their larger community.
One example is Interfaith of The Woodlands, a coalition of several congregations that provides programs and services to meet the needs of the community of The Woodlands, Texas. For the past 45 years, Interfaith of The Woodlands in Texas has helped thousands of families and seniors in need with their annual Holiday GIVING programs. Each year, around 6,000 individuals are serviced by Interfaith of The Woodlands.
In 2018, according to its Facebook page, “Interfaith served a record of over 7,000 individuals, children and seniors this Holiday season! More than 28,000 meals were distributed through the Food Pantry and thousands of toys were shared with children and Blankets, slippers and gifts delivered to seniors in South Montgomery County.”
In Salt Lake City, Utah on Christmas Day, hundreds of volunteers gathered to pack—and later hand-deliver—boxes full of basic necessities and holiday treats for over 500 seniors and nearly 100 refugee families. The two-day event called “Shalom, Salaam, Tikuun Olam” was first started over 27 years ago by Scott Klepper and Eileen Hallet Stone as a way for members of the Jewish and Muslim community to relieve St. Vincent de Paul workers so that they can be at home and celebrate Christmas with their families.
In the first few months of 2019, while the federal government was under a partial shutdown, houses of worship opened their doors to help as furloughed members of their congregations faced uncertainty and mounting bills and expenses. As Terry Lynch, executive director of the D.C.-based Downtown Cluster of Congregations says, “A lot of people thought, as with other shutdowns, this was going to be done and over. But the longer this drags on, the more that congregations are starting to realize we’ve got to speak out, we’ve got to urge the shutdown to end, and also how do we help those who are directly impacted?”
For example, The Islamic Community Center of Potomac donated $4,000 to assist government workers who haven’t been paid in weeks. In addition, it also collected about $2,000 worth of in-kind donations. The Center also waived tuition payments for furloughed workers whose children are enrolled in its Sunday school.
Alfred Street Baptist Church, a black megachurch in Virginia, spent close to $100,000 from its “Poor Saints Offering” to help about half of its parishioners pay rent, mortgage, and utility bills. The Washington National Cathedral used $8,800 in donations from its “poor boxes” to distribute 400 bags of food to four different churches in Virginia, Washington, and Maryland. The food was designated specifically for federal employees and contractors.
While giving to others in need is a practice that is encouraged and acted upon throughout the year, it seems that just as Americans tend to spend a bit more during this season, they are also giving a bit more as well. As the year winds down, the holidays are an auspicious time for members of different faith traditions to pool their resources collectively as a way to enact a core tradition and teaching of their respective faith commitments.
Will you be part of an interfaith giving tradition in your community this holiday season? Let us know in the comments!
The author originally wrote this post for the Giving to Religion section in Giving USA 2019, but it was removed from the final report due to length restrictions.