Helping Those too Poor to Buy Cheap

Tillie Burgin: Mission Arlington

I have a strong notion that most Americans have deep-down desires to fulfill the Biblical admonition to voluntarily take care of the poor. It’s a conviction painted with a broad brush, with no attempt to define “poor,” which requires an even broader brush. During the Great Depression, most people were “poor”–and unaware of it at the time. They got through it by taking the high road, smiling through scarcities. They were “too poor to paint and too proud to whitewash.” Some claimed being “too poor to buy cheap,” convinced that items bought needed to be good enough to last a long time. Another said, “I was born with nothing and still have most of it.”

It is gratifying to note that churches, civic clubs and other humanitarian groups tackle ever-growing challenges of poverty. Remarkably, progress continues despite a poor economic climate.

Mother Teresa: Always serving others.

Aren’t you glad that Mother Teresa remained committed to her pilgrimage of serving others until her life was spent? She trudged on, despite miserable economic conditions in India.

Arlington, Texas, citizens salute their own modern-day Mother Teresa in Tillie Burgin. This saintly figure gives virtually all of her waking hours–and probably her short hours of slumber as well– to her beloved Mission Arlington, a model charitable outreach to the community. In addition to serving thousands of daily beneficiaries, the project is a beacon to a vast number of other churches and agencies. The reps show up, pads in hands, to learn the “nuts and bolts” of the ministry. Some visit to see if Tillie really can get blood from turnips.

Some folks hone their skills of giving over lifetimes. Warren Buffett, the “oracle of Omaha” long known for his investment wizardry, has decreed that more than half of his multi-billion-dollar estate will accrue to charitable causes.

The late R. G. LeTourneau was likewise “others centered.” Credited with almost 300 inventions, he was called a “mover of men and mountains.” The industrialist’s machines accounted for some three-fourths of the earthmoving equipment used during World War II.

R. G. LeTourneau: The spirit of giving.

He and wife Evelyn tithed in reverse, living on 10% of their income and funneling 90% to others. They founded what is now LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas, providing majority funding during its early decades. Dr. Dale A. Lunsford, president, continues to hear endearing accounts of the founders’ generosity. He said an old-timer reminded him recently of the LeTourneaus’ visit to his out-of-state church a half-century ago. The philanthropist challenged the congregation to participate in the church’s capital campaign, and before leaving town, quietly left a sizeable check to help out.

I think of generous folks’ giving patterns when candidates for public office make their financial disclosures. Most “telling” to me is their commitment to charity—or lack of same—to churches and/or other worthy groups.

When percentages are anemic, such candidates seem more accustomed to self-serving rather than others-serving. One current congressional candidate has made charitable gifts totaling 1% over the past five years.

The 1% figure is lodged in my mind.

I applaud older folks for their giving records. Fund-raisers tell us that this group sets the pace in charitable giving. A good example is Ebby Halliday, a 101-year-old Dallas businesswoman associated with a myriad of great causes.

Dallas ISD recently dedicated a new elementary school named in her honor.

And she was present to take a bow.

Such a giving spirit may indeed add years to our life and life to our years. For many decades, this gracious lady has well understood that the old adage about “giving ‘til it hurts” is all wrong. One should “give ‘til it feels good!” That’s a powerful suggestion.

One “scrooge-like” man, the story goes, appeared at the pearly gates, sad that his charitable giving record had been worse than miserable.

“Didn’t you give any money to anything?” St. Peter asked.

“I did give 25 cents to the Salvation Army one time.” The angel Gabriel, thumbing through the man’s book of life, found the entry, along with another 25 cents to “unplanned” parenthood, and still another gift of 25 cents to United Way. That was it.

“Well, 75 cents is more than nothing, but not much more,” St. Peter said as he turned toward Gabriel. “What would you do?” he asked.

Gabriel was ready: “I’d give him back his six bits and send him south.”

Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Inquiries/comments to: Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site:

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