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During my time as deacon, one thing we have really struggled with is how to answer cold calls (people we don't know). The existing practice was to give out grocery cards, but at the start of my term it became really clear that people were taking advantage of that practice.

We tried a number of different things, and in end we decided to ask for ID, and then offer them a bag of groceries. In the bag is a list of all the local resources for help (eg. local Food Bank, Salvation Army) and free lunches and dinners in the community. When we do have extra money in the diaconate we look for ways we can help existing local organizations like the local Food Bank or women’s shelter. 

How does your church handle cold calls? Have you found anything that works well? 



Hi Rene--I am in downtown Philadelphia where I have served as Diaconal consultant for 30 years. Check out  my "Setting limits" at For more guidelines, FAQ, etc., I'd suggest my book, Not Just a Soup Kitchen. Blessings.

As pastor of a small church I had this happen all the time.    I will attempt to put down my rules.

1.  Listen carefully and compassionately.  This is a person whom God brought into your life and this is an opportunity to treat them in the name of Jesus.   Always pray with them about their situation. 

2.  I used a three red flag rule to try and weed out the scammers.  If they said, "My car is out of gas up the street and I need money for gas."  I would ask them to show me the car.   If they said, "I am on my way through to ____" I would say, where did you stay last night and call that place for verification.  If they could not back up the story, a red flag.   In other words, I would engage them enough to figure out if they were lying.  If the story did not check out I would ask them why not.  I would on occasion say, "I have a three flag rule.  Your story did not check out with me.  I am responsible for the Lord's money, and only move forward if the story holds up.  Sorry.  I want to help people and show the compassion of the Lord, but I also need to be responsible."

3. I have a list of agencies in the area and know what they can do.  So I refer them there for additional help.  This is especially helpful for connecting with shelters.  We have a Love in the Name of Christ that screens for scammers.

4.  We always had leftovers in the fridge from church potlucks.  We kept a small food pantry to pack a few days groceries.  Those would be available for meeting hunger needs.

5.  If a person resists what you are offering them, they are probably trying to scam.   The more they resisted, the less likely I was to help them.

6. If a person or family need was greater than I was comfortable with, then I would act to get them to Sunday, but then they would need to meet the deacons after church to address greater needs.   If that didn't work for them, I would try to hold the line that said, "Well, that is how it works for us. So you know where we are."   I had to learn to partner with the deacons as much as possible. 

7.  I kept a sleeping bag on hand, and I could let a person know where some good spots were to spend the night.

8.  On occasion I would open up a classroom for an overnight if children were involved.

9.  I would sometimes go with a person to purchase gas. 

I'm eager to hear other's input.  Jon Westra

Both of the comments are good resources, check them out.  My church keeps dry goods on hand at all times and hands them out to those come in and ask.  We also have a food pantry that we direct them too.  The food pantry will have fresh produce and meat very often so it is a good incentive for folks to come to it.  We do not make any judgments about the truth of their stories but limit the amount we give away.  We also have gas cards we give out to folks, but we keep track of who gets them and set limits on our giving of them.  For instance a person could come in and ask for a gas card anytime but only receive one per month (30 days apart not a different month on the calendar) and they can only receive 3 of them per year.  Again we don't judge the truth of their statements, we simple limit the potential abuse.  If the person begins investing in our church and have need that we can assess truthfully, then the deacons begin working with them.  I hope this helps.  Rog

We have an arrangement with the local Salvation Army ministry, whose appointment list for the month fills up in about 2 hours. They have a lot of overflow, so we agree to take one referral from them per week, as time and money allow. In return, we take the information from a "cold call" and with their permission submit it to the Salvation Army for guidance as well as a certain level of screening. We think that if there are people misusing the system, the Salvation Army will know about it. With their advice, we will offer assistance to the individual. We limit our assistance to about $300 per individual, though we may adjust that. We usually limit our assistance to rent/mortgage and utilities, leaving the requests for food for the many food pantries and ministries in town. When there is enough money and time, we can handle about 1 cold call and 1 Salvation Army referral a week. However, when there is not enough, we tell Salvation Army to stop referring for a time, and we tell cold callers that we are out of resources.

Thanks for your comments, everyone!   It's good to have our experiences validated, and to get some great new ideas/ thoughts.

Some additional information to what was posted originally:  we had a lot of help from Deaconal Ministries Canada - their Helping without Hurting workshop is excellent and they have a lot of great online resources.  We developed our own Guidelines for Benevolence document based on an older version of this document:  .  Developing the guidelines took a couple of years, but it was a very useful exercise as we determined what would work best for our community.  As deacons, it also helps to keep us on the same page, and is very useful for new deacons.

Something that I haven't seen in the comments that I also found helpful:  we are blessed to have members who are connected to our local police forces.  They have a unique perspective on the community, and a better sense than the average person of what situations are safe or not.  If you're able to include them in your benevolence discussions it's very helpful. 


Thanks again, everyone!

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