Three Questions People Ask about Community Service


1.  How do I start a community project? 

Short answer: A community project is any organized effort to bring needed change to the community, whether it’s direct service (donating) or direct action (protesting). The six steps are

  1. Identify an issue
  2. Communicate your message to mobilize people
  3. Build partnerships with others (including agencies) who can help your cause
  4. Take direct action to achieve your goals 
  5. Consider ways to incorporate advocacy into your action by asking how laws may need to be changed
  6. Use sustainability strategies like training programs or spiritual practices to keep the campaign going.

2. How can we improve or expand on our food or clothing ministry?

Short answer: Try adding add fresh food to the menu by planting a row for the hungry or offering food coupons for buying fresh food at farmers’ markets. Or give referrals to free or low-cost health care and social service in your area. The people you serve often need support services, not just food. Or include patrons of your soup kitchen or food pantry as volunteers. One food pantry patron said, “After I came for a while, they asked me to serve as a volunteer, and I felt so much better about myself. It felt good.”  Or start community discussions on hunger, poverty, and food security. Groups such as Bread for the World ( can provide resources for faith groups wanting to change public policy related to food.

3. How can I serve the poor without disrespecting them?

Short answer: The key here is self-awareness. Recognize that you, as a middle class volunteer, may be harboring assumptions that come with economic privilege. Watch for hidden attitudes or messages you convey when offering volunteer help.  Consider recruiting an expert (such as a social worker) to inform your group about special challenges in the community you are serving.  Find opportunities to talk one-to-one with low-income people, explaining that you want to learn about them, and then just listen. Usually it turns out you don’t know as much about being poor as you thought you did.



Photo:  Rajiv Patel, “Questions?”  Taken June 13, 2007.  Flickr Creative Commons.


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