Recently, a very wealthy executive with vast resources from a major company walked into our social enterprise called Thistle Farms. Founded more than 10 years ago, Thistle Farms provides employment for the women of Magdalene, a residential community for women who have survived trafficking and deep childhood traumas and who also have criminal histories of prostitution and addiction.
Today, Thistle Farms employs over 35 women who manufacture and sell all natural bath and body care products. Our stores and customers demand a lot from us and rightly so. They demand we use quality ingredients, pay living wages, and buy with fair trade in mind. They expect us to be concerned about the well-being of all the women and to help with education, training, and housing as integral components of our mission. We depend on meeting all those expectations and rely solely on private gifts and sales to support our mission. We take nothing from the federal or state government and raise over a million dollars a year to support the mission.
This executive came for a tour and offered to give us some used, broken equipment her company no longer needed. I didn't want it. It was going to be stuff I was just going to have to reload in my car to drop off somewhere else. As I thanked her and carried the discarded items into our building, I felt like crying. This person had the potential to really make an impact and to partner for the greater good, and she had brought unusable stuff that I was now going to have to haul off and then write a thank you. As the founding volunteer director for Thistle Farms I have long ago bought into the myth that beggars can't be choosers.
As a professional beggar and priest for more than 20 years, I now understand beggars have to be choosy. We have to be choosers, or we are just wasting time gathering and disposing things we can't use. We have to be choosers so the relationship between giver and receiver is genuine and love is shared in the exchange. We have to be choosers to honor the place of alms in our lives of faith. The gift needs to be appropriate and honor the work of the beggar.
In my world it doesn't matter to me if the gift is big or small. That is not the point. The point is that we can't give from our excess and trash and think we have been generous. I have gotten used bras, couches soaked in cat pee, and single socks in my tenure as a not-for-profit beggar. I have also received lavish and sweet gifts from the heart that have taught me that love is sufficient. Beggars will always be with us. We are a blessing in this world, not a curse. Beggars remind the world that all we have is a gift, and when we share our resources there is more than enough. Beggars have to be choosers. That is the only way giving still has depth and meaning.