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What Is All This About Band-Aids?

Q.: What is “band-aid” work?
A.: It is a word invented by those who believe we shouldn’t help poor people with things, but focus on the structures that cause their poverty. Giving them things is “band-aid work.” To those who believe this, the only real help is changing structures. Mother Teresa does not appeal to them.

Q.: How do you respond to the “structurites'” story about bodies in the river and band-aid work?
A.: We tell our own story:
There is this community along the river that keeps finding seriously injured people floating in the river that passes through this town. They are really busy pulling these people out of the river and taking care of them. They had to build a hospital. It was expensive. A local leader full of wisdom suggested one day that instead of doing all this “band-aid” work, we go upstream to see where all these bodies are coming from–go the source of the problem.

Well, they discovered the source of the bodies. There was this community full of highly educated, progressive, liberated people–all college graduates. They were very sophisticated and ahead of their time. They read only very progressive magazines and newspapers. They really believed that “band-aid” work was wrong, downright silly and lightweight, unsophisticated and not about justice at all.

Thus everyone in the community was working to change structures, so much so that no one was left to do “band-aid” work, to take care of those in need. They threw the hurt, the injured and the needy in the river where the current was swift, a very fast and efficient solution–their final solution to the problem.

Q.: Where do you stand on “band-aid” work and changing of structures?
A.: We think they cannot be separated. “Band-aid” work brings you to the poor and is an essential ingredient in changing structures.

Q.: Do you do band-aid work or change structures?
A.: We try to do both.

Q.: Does your band-aid work do any good?
A.: A battered woman and her five children came to live with us recently from Casa Maria, our Catholic Worker house in Southwest Houston, after working up courage to leave a battering husband. Her battering husband purchased beer and milk–that’s all!, over a period of several years. The only food the mother and children had was what they received from the Casa Maria weekly food distribution (Thanks, Food Bank). Ditto, clothing. The only clothing they had was what they received from Casa Maria’s clothing distribution.

Q.: What is your most difficult “band-aid” work?
A.: Providing hospitality. When you receive people into your home, you also receive their illnesses and problems and must respond no matter how much you believe in changing structures.

Q.: You write a lot about women. Do you provide hospitality to men?
A.: Yes. Recently, there were 8l men in the Padre Jack Davis Center.

Q.: What do you do with 8l men?
A.: Basically, “band-aid” work: Beds, food, clothing, medical care, transportation, jobs, English classes, etc. A place to rest a little and begin anew.

Q.: Aren’t you afraid of working with poor people–you know, they may be violent.
A.: No, what we fear most is crossing Shepherd and Durham during the rush hour.

Q.: Do you work with homosexuals?
A.: Yes, we work with whoever comes to our door. We have no sexual test.

Q.: How can you do so much?
A.: We practice voluntary poverty. No one is paid.

Q.: How do you know if you are practicing voluntary poverty?
A.: If you offer your shoes to the poor and they refuse them.

Q.: What will happen to immigrant dialysis patients if the county cuts off treatment?
A.: They will die, but slowly.

Q.: What keeps you going after fifteen years?
A.: If we didn’t study and pray, we would be dead.

Q.: Aren’t you ashamed of bringing all these “foreigners?”
A.: We have never brought anyone to the U.S. We think the people should stay home with their families. But we can’t expect them to stay home and starve to death, however. The millions used for border control and prosecution of immigrants should be spent on providing people decent jobs in their countries to keep people at home.

Q.: What is xenophobia?
A.: Fear of “foreigners,” condemned in the Bible.

Q.: What upsets some people?
A.: When we use old-fashioned ideas like: We must be in love with God, must love God passionately, love him in his Poor. People are not sure how to respond.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XV, No. 4, May-June 1995.