International Day of Charity: Crossing the line between the haves and the have nots

“There’s a line in every city that separates the rich from the poor, the strong from the weak, the haves from the have-nots. It’s a street, the train tracks, a river, a sidewalk. On one side there is safety, on the other there, danger. On one side there is security, on the other, fear. It’s time to cross the line.”

So begins the manifesto of Serve the City, a movement of volunteers helping those in need through regular practical acts of kindness. The non-profit organization sends volunteers all over Brussels to assist the homeless, the asylum seekers, the elderly, the disabled, children in need, and victims of abuse.

Photo by Julie Sejournet

A link between volunteers and non-profit organizations

Serve the City or STC engages volunteers and connects them to charitable organizations and humanitarian initiatives. It builds a bridge between those who need help and those who would like to help.

“We love to establish partnerships with non-profit associations and create projects that would help them. Then we recruit volunteers to be involved. Our main objective is how we can engage people in caring for other people around them,” says American pastor and STC founder Carlton Deal.

A global movement that started in Brussels

STC is now present in 65 cities around the world. But it all started in 2004 when Deal came to Brussels to form an interfaith community. “We didn’t want to be just people who meet in a building over there and singing songs. We wanted to be people who really engage in the social needs of the city,” explains Deal.

In 2005, STC organized its first one-week service in Brussels with the participation of hundreds of volunteers. “It was amazing how meaningful it was for people to volunteer. We were making a difference, but the biggest impact was probably in our hearts,” recounts Deal.

Serve the City founder Carlton Deal

Since then, Serve the City has evolved into a global movement of good Samaritans “serving cities in practical ways and inspiring people to be givers in this world.” And Deal says, practical kindness begins with a smile and a hello.

“Sometimes we think about people in a stereotype or in a category like people who are homeless. It changes a little when I meet a person who is homeless and I go and I speak with him or when I say hi to him. Now I know his story and it begins to change. I see him as a person,” says Deal.

“We know them by their needs. What if we knew them by name?”

Making charity work simple, doable, and practical

STC provides a simple, doable, and efficient system for people who would like to do something to help those in need. Deal says, “A lot of times, people struggle to get involved in charity work because the problem seems too big and it just seems overwhelming. That incapacitates people. And we want to say, no, we can be kind. So we organize ways that people can express kindness, whether it’s playing sports with kids or serving a meal or teaching a language. It’s the kind of thing that anybody can do.”

Each day of the week, STC volunteers go to different Brussels neighborhoods and extend help in various ways. They serve meals to the homeless, interact with families seeking asylum, provide support and friendship to women in crisis, help kids with their homework or play board games with them, distribute books to the homeless and the refugees, and many more.

Photo by Julie Sejournet

Every year in July, STC conducts the Big Volunteer Week, a great way for first-time volunteers to participate in spreading love, compassion, and hope across Brussels. People can also join the Big Volunteer Day, an opportunity to serve once a month on a Saturday and bond with fellow volunteers and project leaders.

“Once you’re involved, you see the harmony between – this is good for the person I am serving and it is good for me. I think there are three components: what it does for the people I serve, what it does for me, and the friendships you build with other people,” says Deal.

“It’s in our soul, it’s something we’re meant to do. And it gives us joy and meaning.”