There has been a lot of suffering here in Forest Park during the past year. People have lost jobs. Folks are worried about health care. The PADS shelter is full every night. That suffering is real.

Losing a job is a painful experience, but the PBS News Hour reported that the earthquake in Haiti killed 140,000 people. Very much like an atomic bomb, the natural disaster wiped out the equivalent of more than seven Forest Parks. It kind of puts our suffering into perspective.

Like many Americans in this, the richest country in the world, you probably feel motivated to help those suffering Haitians who live in the poorest country in this hemisphere. One problem for those who want to give is to whom do you send your check for $10 or $20?

Bread for the World recommended 20 organizations which, in their opinion, will use your money well. Seventeen of the 20 were denomination agencies like Catholic Relief Services, Lutheran World Relief and Baptist World Aid.

One reason that so many of the relief agencies that made the list were run by Christian denominations is because others like World Vision have to advertise in order to make themselves known, get their message out and thereby solicit donations. And that means that up to 50 cents of the dollar you donate goes to advertising and administration.

In contrast, Church World Service (which runs the CROP Walk) – a coalition of major denominations working to feed the hungry and improve the lives of the poor – can get its message out by printing relatively inexpensive bulletin inserts and have them placed in the worship folders of millions of people sitting in the pews of the coalition’s member churches every Sunday. It’s an information network made in heaven, so to speak. And that means that up to 90 percent of the money you give will go to the Haitian people in the form of bottled water, medical kits, tents and the other resources they need to survive.

On top of that, Church World Service has had a presence in Haiti and the Dominican Republic for 40 years. It already has hygiene and baby care kits and blankets in warehouses in the Dominican Republic and has determined that because of the problems at the Port-au-Prince airport and harbor, they will transport its resources overland to Haiti from the Dominican Republic.

Because denominational agencies and coalitions they have formed put more of your donations to work where help is needed and are already on the ground and have connections with the people there, my advice is to donate through one of the local churches. They can receive your donation or tell you how to send it to their denominational relief agencies, all of which are included in Bread for the World’s list.

Nothing against the Red Cross or Bill Clinton’s organization, but you if you want to get the biggest bang for your charitable buck, go with one of these agencies.

In the long run, however, the U.S. government can provide more aid than all the charitable organizations combined. Catholic Relief Services pledged $5 million last week, and that’s great. But compared to the $100 million that President Obama promised, it’s relatively small. That’s why Bread for the World channels all of the donations it receives into lobbying Congress to pass legislation that reflects the values and good will of the American people to help those in need.

The U.S. military has resources to help the people of Haiti that denominational relief agencies can only dream of. Enlightened U.S. foreign policy can literally turn swords into plowshares.

That’s why I do both. I’m a member of Bread for the World, and every May I participate in the CROP Hunger Walk, a fund raising activity of Church World Service.

Tom Holmes has worked in Forest Park since 1982 as a pastor and as a writer. He is grateful that his children grew up in this town and finds inspiration in the personal relationships he has developed with so many.

Where to give

  • Pastor Catalano at St. Peter’s or St. Paul’s
  • Fr. George at St. Bernardine
  • Pastor Kluge at St. John
  • Rev. Kucera at First United
  • Pastor Steinhart at Forest Park Baptist
  • Pastor Pongsak at the Thai Community Church