There are a lot of irresponsible charities out there. Some create dependency, and others hurt local businesses by dumping free supplies. Too often, charities do more harm than good when all is said and done. But as a critic of the bad economic models adopted by many faith-based charities, I’ve found it easy to forget the good that some charities, like soup kitchens, can do for the soul. In “Defending the Free Market,”Father Robert Sirico tells a story about his experience working at a soup kitchen in Anacostia, a poor neighborhood in Washington, D.C. He describes the faith-based operation as good and generous service. But one day after working at the soup kitchen, Fr. Sirico decides to eat at the fish and chips shop down the street, which is when he realized the soup kitchen could be harming local business:
My best guess was that [the owners] lived nearby, and probably had saved up sufficient funds to open this shop only with great sacrifices. […] And it struck me: we were this family’s competitors!He goes on to explain that the soup kitchen had an unfair advantage over the fish and chips shop since it was run strictly on a donation and volunteer basis. The soup kitchen owed no rent, paid no wages and didn’t even pay for the soup. Plus, the price they were offering food was very competitive: It was free. Though Fr. Sirico is very careful not to diminish the good work at the soup kitchen, he suggests there is a better charitable alternative for two reasons:
- Solidarity is key. The soup kitchen has room to improve in building relationships. It takes more than just a little chitchat over a bowl of soup to really understand how to best help the people you serving.
- The local economy must be considered. Certain charities do more harm than good by flooding the market in the community they intend to help with a free product, which effectually destroys local business.