By Nichola Torbett
Whenever an idea comes to me that does not a) make me look heroic (ego), b) have a high drama factor (also ego), or c) involve a whole pile of complex work that I can lose myself in (addiction), I figure it is probably from God.
That was the case with the Share Your Stimulus initiative. It was right after my prayer time in late December, and I was reading a think-piece someone had posted on Facebook. The piece explained that the $600 stimulus checks that had just been approved by Congress were not effective at targeting relief to those who need it most—those who have lost jobs, don’t have bank accounts, don’t have a relationship with the IRS, don’t have mailing addresses, etc. In fact, many of those people would not get checks at all.
And it seemed so simple: If the government wouldn’t target the relief, then we certainly could. Why not pool our stimulus money and redistribute it to people who most needed it? In the Bay area, one such group are people who have lost their housing or are on the verge of losing it. In Alameda County alone, there are more than 8,000 people living in the streets, 80% of whom had stable housing in the county within the past ten years.
I discussed the idea with my housemate, Carol Robison, because part of recovering from white supremacy culture for me is learning not to do things alone. She liked the idea, so I floated it on Facebook, where I got a few early commitments, and the project was launched.
Through a Facebook fundraiser and an email that went to 20 or 30 friends in the Bay Area, we have collected just shy of $20,000 in about two weeks. We’ve redistributed nearly $10,000 of that already. We wanted to be able to offer people a significant enough chunk of money that they could potentially afford first and last month’s rent and a security deposit—in other words, enough to get someone into an apartment or room—and we could only do that by pooling our $600 payments. We agreed to prioritize requests from BIPOC folk, queer and trans folk, and folk with disabilities and to work through our relational networks to find those who needed the funds.
I have all the critiques of projects like this. Our efforts do nothing to challenge the systemic injustices that create poverty or the overarching economic system that requires it, except insofar as the request to relinquish one’s windfall is a useful opportunity to confront one’s own consumerism and fear of scarcity.
We recognize that the stimulus was never really intended to lift anyone out of poverty; instead, it was intended to stimulate spending that would bolster the very economy that consigns people to poverty. And so, perhaps, this is a tiny act of resistance.
But mostly, what I am realizing in this process is that every single person means the world to God. I’ve always felt a little puzzled that Jesus didn’t talk more about systems. Why spend all the time healing individuals rather than tearing down and the systems that were making people sick? But to Jesus, every person mattered so deeply, whether the man begging alongside the road or the rich young land baron who wanted to inherit eternal life, and Jesus prescribed something specific to the needs of each. In so doing, he challenged the fundamental assumptions underlying imperial systems.
And in any case, I have to say: there is just nothing like being able to send someone several thousand dollars just because they say they need it, without asking a bunch of questions. One person texted me, having heard about the funds to ask what they “needed to do to apply for the grant,” to which I was able to reply, “Just send me the amount you need and your PayPal or Venmo handle.”
Another recipient reported received $1400 from us in her Venmo account just minutes before the landlord posted an eviction notice on her door. Her next Facebook post offered her availability to help anyone who needed it with laundry, cleaning, childcare, organizing—whatever they needed—since she now had the bandwidth to make herself available for the two weeks until her new job is set to start. We have been reminded of how generosity fosters more generosity.
If this isn’t the Kingdom of God, I don’t know what is.
Nichola Torbett is a spiritual seeker, recovering addict, gospel preacher, podcaster, writer, resistance fomenter, dog-walker, nonviolent direct action trainer, and abolitionist. Driven by her passion for both spiritual formation and social change, she co-founded Seminary of the Street, a training academy for love warriors, in 2009 and Second Acts, a liturgical direct action affinity group, in 2014. She is co-editor of Resipiscence: a Lenten Devotional for Dismantling White Supremacy and a contributor to The Word Is Resistance, a podcast from SURJ-Faith and SURJ-Action, as well as to GEEZ Magazine and other radical discipleship publications.