Our clients always seem to have the Gimmies (or give me if you prefer regular English), and why is that? I was asked this question recently and it made me wonder, why are we asked?
Talk to anyone who works with low income clients, and you’ll probably hear a groan and a lengthy story about some client always asking for diapers/formula/food/bus tokens/etc. During a conference some time ago, client needs was the topic of a group discussion. Other practitioners in the room were actually angry that clients would ask, and they were sharing stories about clients asking frequently for tangibles (but I had just taken her a WHOLE BAG of diapers two weeks ago). The moderator moved the discussion to using appropriate boundaries, ways to gently turn down a client, and ways to open the conversation with parents to help them plan out their finances a little better to avoid these shortfalls. While learning those things are great tools for us to have in our toolbox, we’re still avoiding the root cause of the ask. Why do they keep asking when I only produce what they need occasionally?
Poor folk have a Rolodex. Not usually a real Rolodex- maybe a piece of paper, maybe a mental list- but a list of people they can turn to in times of need. There’s friends and family, but they are usually reserved for needs like transportation and childcare. Then there’s the list of agencies. Ask someone in poverty and they can tell you where the food pantries are, how often you can receive food, and which ones have the best selection of food. Then there’s agencies that provide things that fall into other categories like utility assistance, clothing, cleaning supplies, or feminine hygiene products. Again, someone in poverty can tell you where to get these items and how often they can be received.
And guess what, you are in that Rolodex. They know you have diapers, and you probably don’t have posted rules about how often diapers can be distributed. Even if you do have posted rules, you have something they don’t get from other agencies- a personal relationship. You’ve probably made them feel safe or helped them through a troubling time. You’ve made them feel like they can hope. Congratulations, you are on the top of the list, you are #1 on that Rolodex. Saying no doesn’t remove you from that list, the ask has just checked off one resource from the list for whatever it is they are looking for. And none of this goes to speak about financial education (why do they buy cigarettes when they need diapers) because that is another blog post all by itself.
Think of yourself and your own mental Rolodex. It’s probably not be for resources like food and clothing, but I’m sure you know who to contact to get things done. You know who to call to help plan fundraisers, which dry cleaners are the best for getting grass stains out of baseball uniforms, and who has the best takeout egg rolls. We have resource lists too, we just have different people on our lists.
So how abut you, dear reader, who is on your Rolodex?