Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Well-intentioned, but extremely short. . .

Last week I found the press release below in the local media. I've omitted the true identities by substituting "Company XYZ" along with other particulars so as not to single out any one person or organization. Actually, this is a story about us all. And, I mean, the folks back of this effort are surely good-hearted and downright sweet, but. . .well, read on:

“XYZ Cover-up” takes advantage of Post-Christmas opportunities to help others stay warm. . .Gently used blankets can help growing number of Anywhere, Texans in need

ANYWHERE (Monday, Dec. 22) - Post-holiday opportunities aren’t limited to sales. Company XYZ is holding “XYZ Cover-up,” a unique opportunity to put to use those “gently-used blankets” for the growing number of needy in Anywhere, Texas. From Friday, Dec. 26 through Saturday, Jan. 3, gently used blankets will be collected at Company XYZ's headquarters at 123 Avenue A here in Anywhere, Texas, for distribution to those in need.

“With the winter’s cold upon us, we realized how fortunate we were to have a warm home and business despite the challenging economy,” said XYZ General Manager Tom Smith. “It is vital that in this day and time we support those in our community who are not as fortunate, but truly appreciate anything that we can provide.”

With blankets being given as presents and being purchased at post-Christmas sales, households may find a blanket or two that could be used by someone in need.

“We decided to take full advantage of that time period between Christmas and New Year’s for folks to do some housecleaning and share their extra blankets with those in need,” said Mr. Smith.

A report released on Dec. 12 by the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that homelessness has increased an average of 12 percent in major cities nationwide in the last year. In Anywhere, the number rose 14 percent over the year ended Sept. 30, the report stated.

Working with area churches, homeless shelters and humane societies, XYZ will accept any blankets and distribute them to organizations helping those in need.

XYZ is open six days a week, from 7:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; and from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays with the exception of New Year’s Day and early closing on New Year’s Eve at 6 p.m.. For more information, phone 800.123.4567 or log onto

So, here we are safe, cozy, well-fed in our warm homes and businesses. Blessed.

The numbers of our fellow human beings who are homeless, without a home or a job, is growing at an astonishing pace annually, and right here in the heart of Anywhere, Texas. Current economic signs indicate that the trend will only turn upward in even more dramatic fashion.

The worst of winter is ahead of us. We knew it was coming, didn't we? It comes about this time every year.

The best we can do is round up some "gently-used" or, if feeling exceptionally charitable, new blankets that maybe Aunt Mrytle provided at the family Christmas tree, but we never really have liked lime green in blankets.

Rally round the flag folks! Blankets for the really poor! Cover ups for the freezing! Now, here is something we can feel really swell about. What a tribute to the generosity, the vision, the civic vigor of our city! Gather the kids, pack the SUV and let's go see some homeless people who are cold!

"Let 'em have blankets!" Sounds like a motto with real potential.

Throw-away items for our "throw-away" neighbors. Practical gifts for those who have nothing. Useful crumbs for those "living" at the margins.

My, my, don't it make you real proud?

Under a bridge or in back of a building tonight. . .sitting, hunkering down, lying down on the hard pavement, the wind whipping around the corners and into one's bones, I expect the homeless would appreciate a blanket, even if "gently-used," if that is all we have for them.

Still, in view of everything else I know about Anywhere, Texas, it seems a very short position for any of us to take.

Couldn't we do more?

Couldn't we actually make things so much better that no one would know what to do with their old blankets? But then, what would we do in ourselves this time every year?

Just wondering.


Anonymous said...

I understand what you're saying, Larry, but I'm not sure criticizing this effort is fair. This one company can't single-handedly change the society in which it finds itself. Blankets alone certainly aren't the whole answer, but at least they're doing something. That's usually better than doing nothing. Until we fix this problem at a policy level, blankets are a good thing.

Larry James said...

You make my point, Anon 9:45 AM. What if this very important and influential company engaged policy makers regarding the sort of "investment" strategy that it believes would make our entire city a better place in which to live? What if they argued, as they could, that getting people off the streets would improve the nature of their own business? What if they basically joined other business leaders in calling for a more comprehensive, effective community approach to the problem? What if they told their customers that a certain % of their sales for 2009 would go into a privately managed housing trust fund that would be administered by their real estate pros and competent non-profit and for profit developers of housing, permanent housing for the homeless? I say that would be much better. What we often don't realize is that our acts of compassion simply delay the coming of real solutions, while salving our consciences and making us feel as if we are doing something that will address the problem. I know this firsthand because we do a lot of things like this! My criticism is actually self-critical. My point is that efforts like this delay policy changes at best and leave us with a feeling that such changes are not really needed at worst.

Anonymous said...


In this post you just come across as mean spirited and jaded. Are you really this mad at the world? These are words from someone who thinks you are one of the most effective leaders on behalf of the poor I have ever encountered.


Chris said...

If that first photo is for real, child protective services should take that baby.

Larry James said...

RC, thanks for your post. One of the real downsides of this media is that you can't adequately communicate tone or attitude. Again, thanks for the reaction and criticism. That said, I am really not mad at all--though I can see where my sarcasm is a bit overdone! My intention was not to attack the good folks behind the blanket drive--as I say, I've done the same thing often! My point--and here I at times overreach for empahsis--was to ask again, when are we going to get together and really do something? We have it within our reach. This is what is so frustrating to me personally. I apologize if I "sound" angry or jaded. I don't feel that way. I am frustrated, and I guess I am tired, but not ready to give up, nor to stop writing and talking and trying to convince us to take a new approach. Charity won't get it done.

And, Chris, I agree, CPS should interven, maybe they did, maybe they didn't. In Texas they likely couldn't due to lack of funds and then there is the law--not sure what constitutes "abuse" in the eyes of our legal system. More reality to cause us upset. As I say, no time for "short" solutions.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure people thought the OT prophets were mean-spirited and jaded, but they didn't let those accusations prevent them from calling people to the true will of God.

Dean Smith said...

This company and these responses remind me of Jim Collins' observation in his book, Good to Great, that "good is the enemy of great." People and companies that are inclined to just do "something" lack the incentive to ever do anything that's life-changing or great. Perhaps if we applied the values of CDM (and Jesus) to treat the homeless as WE would like to be treated it would be the first "great" step to actually eliminating this problem instead of just perpetually "addressing" it.

Every time I read the story of the rich man and Lazarus I'm reminded of how important it is to get on the right side of that great gulf BEFORE it becomes eternally and irreversibly established.

Anonymous said...


I know how right you are about the limitations of "this media." I think that there are many companies and people that feel a burden to do something, but lack the guidance and yes, often the desire to take a more systemic approach to poverty. You are an amazing person with a heart I could only hope to have. You have created a blog where people feel free to express themselves. This is why I visit everyday.


Anonymous said...

I do not know what this company does, but I'm guessing it has little or nothing to do with the homeless. What you are suggesting they do is get into a business they are not in - cures for homelessness, etc. That may be (thank God!) the business of CDM, but it doesn't seem fair to suggest that, say, a toaster manufacturer, expend significant resources lobbying for the homeless. It's just not what they exist to do. I must stand by my previous assessment - until there is a broader solution, at least they're doing something.

Jeff said...

To the degree that businessmen are asking that government need not tax them to help the poor, when they can do it themselves just fine, thank you very much, and to the degree that these businessmen claim Christ as their own, it is inconceivable that they can fail to work hard to permanently help correct the conditions of poverty. That was a longer sentence than I intended.

My point is that you can't claim government has no right to tax your income to help the poor and then release them from exactly that responsibility.

Larry isn't being jaded, just broadcasting what the guy in the NT in red letters said.

Larry James said...

Anon 2:14, thanks for your post and I understand your point. It is just that I don't accept it or the limits it imposes on business or on our thinking as people. We live in a new world, calling for new ways of thinking.

When rock star Bono gets involved with world hunger or AIDS interventions at the public policy level, we all cheer, or most of us do! What does he know about either? Only what he has learned. As a cultural hero, when he speaks, people listen, even heads of state.

So, with American businesses and their leaders. I can assure you that if the leader(s) of the business in question here in Dallas got involved with this issue and its possible solutions, things would change big time. I am not suggesting that they change their core business. What I am saying is that businesses can bring their considerable voice and resources to issues like homelessness. If they can call for blankets, why not letters, donations to more systemic projects, joining coalitions, creating new funding sources for housing development.

We must think and act more creatively. And, frankly, business doesn't get a pass on these issues.

Anonymous said...

High profile celebrities like Bono can do as they please - their time is their own. While what he does is great, I don't know how many boards of directors would take kindly to their CEOs speaking for the company about issues that have nothing to do with the company's business. I would certainly applaud those same CEOs personal support of worthwhile agendas. Many do so. Even Bono does what he does on his own; he does not do it as a spokesman for U2.

Larry James said...

When the owner of a business decides to call for customers to donate blankets or anything else, he or she has engaged the issue(s). He or she may be acting individually, but the public doesn't see it that way necessarily. The action of the leader transfers to the corporation and can be interpreted as an expression of the values of not just the individual, but the leader. All I am saying is we need to think in new ways.

Here's an example. Currently, CDM is in negotiations with a large, multi-national corporation to joint develop and operate an enterprise that will benefit the poor via jobs, benefits and community health improvement. The business sees it as a for-profit opportunity, but emerging from the corporation's awakening values realtive to justice and poverty. They are willing to live with smaller margins in exchange for the social/community investment that they are planning to make. The corporation's board of directors is strongly behind the effort. If we are successful in Dallas, plans are to roll the model out to many other American cities. If I told you the corporate name, you'd be surprised.

There is no reason for us not to consider new models, partnership and strategies that actually drastically reduce poverty by using businesses to get us there. Businesses can have a social vision and they can act on those values rather than settle for traditional charitable approachees that only maintain the status quo.

By the way, Bono and many CEOs chose to use their position and power to do the right thing, even when it involves them in debate, discussion and personal chit liquidation! Maybe U2 isn't on board, but you could never prove it by how they act. The same is true of a growing number of CEOs, refreshing in view of recent events on Wall Street and in many corporate headquarters.

Anonymous said...

Cogent arguments, indeed. I'm almost convinced. You must have been a lawyer ... or maybe a preacher ... in a past life.

ecosavvy said...

We always called those items Jesus know, throwaway items for thrown away people :o(