The Community Ministries' Response to Potential Budget Cuts

Today we are not advocating for our respective agencies, but for the people we serve. We understand the complexities of the financial burden on the city at this time, but as the compassionate city we claim to be, we must prioritize to ensure the poor and most vulnerable do not experience disproportionate, solvable hardships so devastating that they cannot recover.

In reaction to the pension crisis, Metro Government is threatening to respond by placing the burden directly on our most vulnerable population. This significant budget reduction will permanently close doors to many vital programs. If these changes are confirmed, thousands of low-income families will lose their home, go without water or electricity, be hungry, and stay trapped in systemic poverty.

The Association of Community Ministries (ACM) serves all of Jefferson County and is the principal distributor of emergency assistance to individuals and families facing a crisis. Our informed support helps our neighbors overcome unforeseen challenges that, without attention, could quickly turn into more permanent hardship.

Through our partnership with LG&E and Louisville Water Company, we ensure that more than 10,000 families every year have running water, heat in the winter, and air in the summer. We are also joined today by many leaders of faith communities that rely on our services to help organize and distribute assistance when people come to their doors for help. We partner with more than 300 churches throughout Jefferson County, and through that network, are able to help thousands more reach stability.

We work alongside The Neighborhood Place which is itself also facing budget cuts: a third in 2020 and an additional third in 2023, leaving only two out of eight buildings open. With the proposed budget reduction, the community ministries will lose half of its funding in 2020 and then the remainder in 2022. Many of the 15 agencies within the community ministries’ network, who are connected to the neighborhoods and know the residents, will have to close their doors permanently.

Emergency financial assistance is the most tangible and effective support someone can receive to prevent an unexpected crisis from unraveling into a cascade of losses. Without these organizations, Louisville loses it’s safety net, and without that net, dire consequences will occur. What do we tell the single mother who lost her job and can’t scrape enough together for rent in the in-between months? Or the young woman recently injured and stops paying the water bill to cover the medical expenses? Or the 75-year old who has to take care of their grandchildren unexpectedly but is on a fixed income? Without community organizations who know the vulnerable, hear their stories, discern the needs, and help build bridges out of crisis, Louisville will grow in troubling statistics. How many more will be living in cars, or struggling to get by in a home without water, or feeding six with enough food for two?

This isn’t hyperbole. These are the stakes.

We ask you to remember those living in poverty and changing circumstances. Let us move forward with caution and with the compassion we’ve been so bold to celebrate. If we fail to think of the low-income community during these difficult times, then so much of Louisville’s pride and reputation will have been just for show.

I Cannot Give What Is Already Yours

While in Senegal as a Peace Corps volunteer, I received three care packages. They were few and far between, but full of precious items: bacon bits, ranch dressing packets, cured sausage, and good pens. I hid the contents under pillows and behind books where I knew my host family would not venture. To my surprise, there is an absolute obligation to share all that you have (especially if it is edible) with all the people in the room or  a crowded bus. Even if that means you only get one gummy worm when there were fifty in the bag. This is the way it is.

So I threw away the packaging of those consumed treats down the street so my family didn't suspect my treachery. These were my things. And they wouldn’t like it anyway, I told myself.

Only in my second year did I accept and come to enjoy the cultural mindset that what is mine is yours. In Wolof, when someone says ‘Thank You’, the response is nokubok, which translates to ‘we share it’. I can’t give what is already yours.

Nokubok. We are built to share what we have with one another. It is a simple yet perfect way to love one another.

Of course this can be hard to do. Especially when it is not so ingrained in our culture. I would fume when they used my one and only pot and not put it back in its rightful place, but I at least started asking for things in my care package that everyone would enjoy.

Simply, I’m still learning how to live compassionately, but my family in Senegal taught me a great deal. Most of all, to share is to love.

Our Neighborhood Fund

When asked where I live, I tell them South Louisville. Sometimes there’s a not-knowing look so I give them a hint: “It’s over by Vietnam Kitchen,” which is immediately followed by recognition.

As much as we all love VK, South Louisville should be known for so much more. Talking with a group of neighbors, some of whom have been here for a very long time, we made a list of things we loved. “There’s something genuine about this neighborhood.” “And everyone seems to have a whole lot of grit.” “There’s also a do-it-yourself mentality.” “Did you know we’re the most diverse neighborhood in Louisville?” “Have we mentioned the food?! And what about the parks?”

After a decade of bouncing around the globe, not even realizing I was looking for community, I stumbled upon this place and put my roots down without delay. This is home to me. And to serve this neighborhood at South Louisville Community Ministries is an honor.

The word “community” has been used a great deal (as any word that holds such importance) and, in time, can lose some of its punch. It’s an active word - like “gratitude” - something you are upholding constantly in order for it to be. In community, we do not only give, but we also learn to ask for what it is we need. Like a huge family we learn to be gracious and vulnerable.

This past week, the church I attend helped our dear friends who have recently arrived from Syria. Their car, which they need to get to work, had been stripped of its tires overnight. This unfortunate event would lead to crises quickly. No car equals no work and the spiral is clear from there. Or they take out a line of credit with high interest and find themselves in a different kind of spiral. Instead, tires were donated and they went to work the next day. Another friend had back surgery and with a baby and a toddler, dinner was near impossible so we scheduled dinner to be dropped off all week. Meals were delivered and emergency assistance was offered.

This is community. It’s asking for help when we need it and knowing there are people to support you when you do. This is also the greater purpose of faith communities: an insurance policy that’s built on compassion. South Louisville Community Ministries takes on that mission regardless of one’s membership or spiritual beliefs. But this work is only as strong as the community that supports it.

This is why we’re starting Our Neighborhood Fund. Right now SLCM has to turn away almost half of the people who come to us asking for emergency assistance. Funding for medication has been cut and we haven’t been able to provide simple needs such as eye glasses or bus tickets to job interviews in quite some time.

Most of us are much closer to crisis than we realize. And even with policy and programs, there are voids and gaps that neighbors are able to fill. So we’re asking neighbors to love their neighbors and give to uphold this community. Our Neighborhood Fund will be SLCM’s source for preventing crises through simple acts of kindness which might look like help with medication allowing someone to work, or extra diapers during a particularly challenging month or just that little bit extra for the gas bill in the winter. Your donation will help cover the comparatively minimal cost of these crucial items and time-sensitive bills as well as the related supporting service costs. We believe in transparency and communication so if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

I know this is a bold way to begin my time at SLCM, but it’s because I know and trust my neighbors. I know that when I ask for help in a time of crisis, I will be loved and cared for because in South Louisville, we know what community is.

We are all in this together, after all.