Twenty-seven years ago, after Hurricane Hugo, Barb Mains and two friends went out into the country intending to do “a little volunteer work.” But, as Barb describes it, “We found a whole different world from our own. We found people living without bathrooms or running water – with holes in their roofs and floors – people so poor they had no beds, no stoves, no shoes. Until that day, I had never imagined this kind of poverty – right next door to our own snug and comfortable lives.”
Barb Main’s life changed that day – and the lives of countless others have been changed as a result.
When Barb arrived at one home in the country, she found a family cooking outside over an open fire because their stove was broken. She went home, unplugged her own stove and brought it back to that family. Coming across a young girl without shoes in the dead of winter, Barb asked the girl’s shoe size. Hearing the answer, Barb simply took off her own shoes and gave them away. Headed to an area to drop off sandwiches, Barb saw a young boy running up to her. He hugged her and said, “Oh Barb. I prayed you would be here today. I haven’t had anything to eat since yesterday morning.” She fed him.
Barb Mains is not a woman who blows her own horn or wants to hear others blowing it for her. She is not drawn to the spotlight. Rather, she prefers to go about her business quietly, unnoticed even, just doing all she can to help the children of Horry County make a better life. She doesn’t like to speak in public, but her friends have shared some of her thoughts with us. So today, I will tell you a little bit about her philosophy – using her own words.
On Finding the Poor
The truly poor won’t be at our church services. They won’t be at our committee meetings. They won’t be at the supermarket where we shop. And they aren’t here today. We have to reach out and find them where they are.
For years, she says, I got exasperated with people because I could not get them to plan ahead. I wanted to help them today and have them plan for the next week when I couldn’t be there. Then it dawned on me that some people can only deal with today. Tomorrow can be too frightening. I understand the “Teach a Man to Fish” story, but I don’t get the part about not feeding him if he is hungry. If he lives 30 miles from any place to fish and has no car, do I punish him and not feed him until he figures out how to get to those fish? What if he is ill or disabled? Do I throw him away if he can’t fish?
On Blaming the Poor
I’ve heard a lot of negative comments about the “undeserving poor.” “They make bad choices. They have been helped before and it didn’t change anything. They expect us to bail them out and never say thanks.”
But even if every comment has a kernel of truth in it, remember this one thing – poor children cannot and should not be blamed for mistakes adults make. Sure – if you spend a lot of time helping others, you might get taken advantage of at one time or another. But remember the lesson on forgiveness? We are supposed to forgive seventy times seven, not toss it out of our lives if we do get stepped on. Please – if a good deed goes without reward, don’t let it keep you from knowing that there are innocent children who truly need your help.
Have you ever thought about what would happen if, before birth, children could choose their parents and their families? Wouldn’t they choose a two-parent family? A nice, cozy house? A full pantry? Bedtime stories? Good schools? How many do you think would choose poverty, abuse, and hunger?
Finally, a few notes about Barb Mains’ organization. Help 4 Kids is an all-volunteer 501(c)3 organization that provides more than 3,000 children in Horry County with food, clothes, shoes, school supplies, personal hygiene items and sometimes even support for a field trip or school photos. Why? Well, we all know that education is the best way to break the cycle of poverty. But children without enough food, decent clothes, a pair of shoes that actually fit – those children aren’t thinking about how important school is, or about college being the best way to get out of such an environment.
But as Barb says, change those basics and you make a great start on helping kids be what they have the potential to be – if only they had been born into our families instead of theirs.