Rob Burgess, EPF National Treasurer
Benton Harbor, MI
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people,
and respect the dignity of every human being?
I will, with God’s help.
"Poverty is a Pre-existing Condition"
Rob Burgess, EPF National Treasurer
For me my busy time extends beyond Lent annually and runs about 90-100 days from early January through mid-April. This is my fourteenth year as a volunteer and twelfth as Coordinator for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program in two counties in Southwest Michigan. In the past couple weeks, as the coronavirus has taken over the news and Michigan’s Governor has ordered that we all stay-in-place, I have received many calls, texts, or e-mails from or for folks who had appointments to complete their taxes, but since we have closed all our tax sites we had not yet assisted.
The tax payers we assist through VITA are the poor and near poor. Most get a refund this time of year. For some, their income tax refund may be a lifeline that helps them catch up on a variety of past due bills or maybe they think of it as a once a year bonus. Some of our poorest clients don’t even have to file federal taxes, they may be disabled and solely live on $771 monthly they receive from Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and possibly some food stamps. Fortunately, the Michigan tax code may provide them some assistance in the form of a renter’s or home heating credit.
But that is at a standstill now. I hear from my fellow volunteer tax preparers throughout Michigan (and, no doubt, other states as well) that most such volunteer sites are closed. Do me a favor. Pray for the poor and near poor who rely on their tax refunds to keep their heads above water.
I have been blessed also to serve on the Boards of two local non-profit organizations. One is financially viable and has adapted to the virus emergency fairly well. The other is financially struggling and may not survive the next several months.
First the good news, at the Benton Harbor Soup Kitchen we no longer are serving a hot lunch daily (we normally open 365 days). Instead, the church and other groups who volunteer at the Kitchen have been asked to prepare sandwiches and other items suitable for a paper bag lunch to go. I am most thankful this year for our outstanding Soup Kitchen Executive Director who has rallied all volunteer groups to ensure the Kitchen can still provide sustenance to some of the poorest in our community on daily basis.
However, Emergency Shelter Services (ESS) of Benton Harbor is struggling. Our Executive Director resigned without notice a few weeks back. Unfortunately, our finances were already stretched as we operate a family shelter which primarily serves women and children who would otherwise remain homeless. In addition, part of our services are Rapid Re-Housing and Rental Assistance for those who may be or are at-risk of homelessness. With the virus problem wreaking havoc on unemployment in our country, I am afraid this is the worse possible time for ESS to be financially struggling. The other favor I would ask is to pray for the women and children we serve at ESS and for the dedicated employees who assist them.
Having more than 40 years of financial experience, I have seen Michigan go through many difficult ups and downs. I often have found myself the last few weeks praying the Serenity Prayer and hoping that our decisions as a Board at ESS will be in the best interest of the homeless we serve.
Beyond that, I try to practice social distancing and am thankful for the Internet, e-mail, texting and video chat like Zoom or Google Hangouts which make it a little easier. Technology allows me to keep up with my son who lives just outside of New York City as we are saddened that his Alma Mater, the Michigan State Spartans, won’t have the chance to make a long run in March Madness this year.
Still, I have taken joy in watching my grandson (and myself) play with the new puppy beagle that we have recently brought into our household. And as a lover of music, I often find myself turning to my favorite radio station which has a tag line “Motown and More”. I look forward to this summer, when I hope life will return to normal because I think we all are ready for a brand new beat:
Calling out around the world
Are you ready for a brand new beat?
Summer’s here and the time is right
For dancing in the street
– Martha Reeves and the Vandellas
While our actual pilgrimage for EPF is on hold by reason of the COVID-19 pandemic, several members of EPF’s National Executive Council have offered to write inspiring messages for us each week in Peace Out! I am grateful to Rob Burgess for this week’s mediation, and for Bob Davidson’s from last week, which was later picked up by The Episcopal Cafe (you can read that here). After Rob sent me this week’s offering, he followed up with this message:
"A woman who has been a tax client of mine from the volunteer tax assist program for quite a few years contacted me because her tax appointment was cancelled. She always has been "hands on" in terms of needing more attention than most.
"Her husband has had significant health issues for more than a year and lost his job last year and almost one of his legs.
He’s always been something of a curmudgeon, although as a fellow veteran we somehow relate.
"The two of them now rely on her fast food worker income. She is especially anxious to get in whatever income she can. So, remotely she was able to get documents needed for their tax return. Between text messages and emails, I was able to submit her return just today.
"My Governor is on the View right now. (Hon. Gretchen Whitmer, photo above.) I have tears in eyes right now as she just called "poverty a pre-existing" condition. A few years ago, she made a heart felt speech as a state senator about her sexual assault in college, during a debate about severe restrictions on abortion by our legislature.
"I am so glad we have a compassionate and capable leader in our state at this time."
You can see why many of us on the EPF NEC find Rob to be a compassionate inspiration; a pace car to which we wish we could catch up. If only each of us could do for our neighbors a fraction of what he is able to do for his, we could change the world. If only we could use this time in the wilderness to find the cure for indifference, we could improve the lives of our brothers and sisters across the globe.
On a video call of the Prophetic Council of The Poor People’s Campaign last night, one of our bishop leaders (Yvette Flunder — Presiding Bishop of The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries) made the point that when we are inoculated for various diseases, we are actually given a little bit of the germ that causes the disease. It is by getting a little bit of the poison that we become immune. Maybe all this physical distancing and minimal deprivation the privileged among us (I count myself in that category) are experiencing is the "little bit of the germ" that we need to become inoculated against indifference to the suffering around us. By God’s grace, let us be transformed into vessels of care and compassion; instruments of justice and peace.
Do you follow EPF on Facebook? If so, please look for us to offer a virtual pop-up Compline service on Facebook Live in the next several weeks while we are all physical distancing. Join us!
Will you be giving to EPF as part of your Lenten discipline? We hope so! The work of EPF depends on the support of those who seek to do justice, dismantle violence and strive to be peacemakers. Your contribution to EPF will ensure that your voice for peace will continue to be heard in our Church and in our world. We aim to raise $10,000 between now and Easter, and your dollars count! A dollar a day for the forty days in the wilderness is just $40! Click here to donate, and thank you!
EPF DELEGATION TO GENERAL CONVENTION,
APPLICATIONS ARE HERE! LINK BELOW!
For the sixth consecutive General Convention, in June, 2021, EPF will send young adults between the ages of 18-30 to General Convention to advocate for peace and justice by drafting legislation, testifying in committee, and building support for resolutions. Delegates will experience first hand how The Episcopal Church functions as the largest democratically elected governing body in the world. For applications for delegates to General Convention, click here!
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry
congratulates EPF on 80 years of loving action and witness,
declaring that our activity is,
"Nothing less than the work of God!"
By June 20, 2020, when this important day of advocacy happens, what will the number of poor and low wealth people be? How many more than 140 million? How many will have died by reason of lack of access to health care, to sanitary conditions, decent housing, or adequate wages? Those of us in quarantine can use this time to pray, study and act on the issues that impact the most vulnerable among us, and plan to show up and show out, virtually, on June 20. Demand that our elected leaders lead for the benefit of all of us!
Last Friday, in our Lenten mailing, I introduced Tommy McGlothlin’s EPF inspired chaplet. The link to the Etsy shop in that mailing was defective, which I regret. But, here is the correct link. Please take a look at Tommy’s Anglican rosaries. Designated proceeds from each EPF chaplet go to the benefit of EPF’s Lenten campaign. Thank you Tommy, for your generous love for EPF and for using your talent to create such a beautiful instrument for worship!
Our upcoming schedule:
Uncertainty due to COVID-19 has given us a challenge in scheduling. We are still in rural Nevada, but probably headed north to stay with friends and EPF supporters Rev. Jack and Rev. Christy Erskine in Oregon for a little while. Eventually, we will be rescheduling our pilgrimage to the Bay Area and the Pacific Northwest when the coast is clear. Meanwhile, I’ll be doing some administrative chores, trying to keep in touch with EPF supporters, leading Compline, reading and praying and taking action for those for whom EPF advocates — the people living in Palestine/Israel affected by the violence there, those affected by gun violence, those affected by war, the people being held in unconscionable circumstances in our unjust and racist criminal justice system, those being treated inhumanely as they try to find safe harbor in our country of abundance, those being trafficked and abused, our beautiful planet which often feels like she is in her own death throes, and all those who feel disconnected from the rest of humanity. With God’s help. . .