News / USA

US Faith-Based Organizations Increasingly Care for Poor, Elderly

David Azrak was once a highly-paid lawyer.  But after a series of medical and financial setbacks, things are so bad that he cannot afford to feed himself.

Every other week, he receives free groceries at a food pantry in Cherry Hill, a suburb of Philadelphia, run by the Jewish Family and Children's Service of Southern New Jersey (JFCS).  "If it wasn't for their help and their friendship and kindness to me in every way, not only financially, I couldn't make it," Azrak says.

Government cutbacks and a poor economy have led the U.S. government to rely increasingly on faith-based organizations to help care for the elderly and those dealing with economic hardship.  In many areas, few if any social services are run directly by government agencies.

In southern New Jersey, JFCS provides social support for people at every stage of life -- from child adoption services to hospice care for the elderly.  Its programs rely on government funding and private donations.  But last year, a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for its food pantries was cut in half, says Executive Director Jennifer Weiss.  "We're now having to sustain more and more people at a higher level because when the grant goes away, it doesn't mean that the needs are going away," she says.  Weiss says her organization provides care to 2,800 senior citizens in southern New Jersey, including social activities and home-based medical care.

She says these services save taxpayers money because they prevent the elderly from having to be institutionalized at a much higher cost to the government.  "I do not want to go to a nursing home," says 95-year-old Ethel David, who drove ambulances for the Red Cross during her younger years and still drives a car.  She says she only needs JFCS workers' help to fill out forms, but that "just knowing they're there without you needing them - that mental safety - is worth everything."

Ram Cnaan is a professor of social policy at the University of Pennsylvania and a leading expert on faith-based organizations.  He says they can deliver services cost-effectively because they rely heavily on volunteers and donors, in addition to government funding.  "For every dollar that the government pays them, it's 30 to 40 percent less than they pay for their own services.  So they basically subsidize the government," he says.

Cnaan has studied what he calls the "replacement value" of social services delivered by churches, synagogues, mosques and other faith-based groups to their communities.  He estimates that in the Philadelphia area alone, these services are worth $500 million annually.

But Cnaan says there is no evidence that faith-based organizations are better at providing services than a government-run social safety net, adding that they have a reliability problem.  "The problem with congregational social services is the congregation can decide overnight, 'We don't do it [perform a particular service] anymore.  End of story.' It's not a public program that is legislated," he says.

Still, Cnaan says churches, synagogues, temples and mosques are so prevalent in America that there are more of them per square mile than any other public or commercial establishment.  "To disregard them and say no no you're in the fringe, we're not interested in you, we are government, and you are religion. It's a mistake."

Cnaan says his research has also found that people are happier when they receive help from faith-based communities than than from the government.  "Clients tell us, 'This is where they ask me about myself; this is where I'm being treated more holistically; this is where I feel that people are interested in who I really am,'" he says.

Back at the food pantry, David Azrak says he is more comfortable seeking assistance from an organization run by his own faith than from a government agency.  "What a difference!  You're not like a number.  You're not like a beggar in the street.  You're not like a homeless person," he says.  "Here I'm treated like an equal."

And at the Jewish Family and Children's Service's food pantry, Azrak finds a can of one of his favorite foods in his grocery bag - a Jewish classic, gefilte fish.


Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fairi
X
Brian Padden
May 29, 2015 1:27 PM
With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs