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The $124 million dollar faith bonanza in Flushing, Queens

HINGE: on the average, each religious congregation or ministry contributes $268,202 of money, time, and space to compassionate efforts to help the poor, the needy, and downtrodden.

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Recently, Toby Smith suffered a back injury while working construction. He lived on the third floor of a small, well-cared but apartment in a house with a friend. He couldn’t walk down the stairs. Moving to another place in the tight housing market in Queens was going to be hard and painful. In fact, Smith (a pseudonym) was paralyzed. He had no close relatives and few friends in the underground economy. Fortunately, he and his friend found another place. As Journey worried over his fate, we discovered a fully equipped faith-based volunteer medical clinic. We were left with the relief that there was at least one faith-based backup plan if nothing else worked.

As we did our analysis of faith organizations in Flushing, we discovered that they bring more resources to Flushing, Queens for certain types of social services than do the major city programs for the poor. We estimate that religious congregations, ministries, and city-wide faith-based social service agencies contribute $123,988,887 in direct funding, volunteers, goods, services, and space to social services in Flushing.

We counted the number of faith-based congregations and ministries in the Flushing area (Community District 7). We found and visited over 400 of them. At a selection of the religious sites we gave out a survey in English, Chinese (in traditional and simplified scripts), Korean, Spanish, Russian or French. The survey asked various questions about religious activities and social service activities. If the survey was not completed at the time of visit or mailed in, then one of our staffers attempted to do a phone interview. We also conducted longer journalistic interviews at a selection of the religious congregations and ministries. We also assessed the amount spent on Flushing social services by the large city-wide faith based organizations like Catholic Charities. Finally, we used some pioneering research done at University of Pennsylvania to come up with our estimate.



On the average, each religious congregation or ministry is contributing about $268,202 of money, time, and space to compassionate efforts to help the poor, the needy, and downtrodden. This average dollar amount, of course, varies widely by size and solvency of the 410 faith-based organizations that we counted as contributing to social services in Flushing.

The congregation-provided social welfare is twelve times larger than the investments in Flushing of the NYC Economic Development Corporation ($10 million). It is larger than the city’s public assistance program grants to Flushing (about $22 million for Aid to Dependent Children, home relief, city-funded food stamps, and substance abuse services) through the Department of Social Services.

Moreover, Flushing religious groups’ social concerns are usually tied to help for bringing individual life-turnarounds. These personal investments of Flushing religious congregations are hard to count but hugely important. A Flushing faith-based counseling center is turning around marriages headed for divorce. A store-front congregation envelopes a felon with a loving social network and guidance so that he won’t end back in prison. A Flushing pastor has turned his church into a shelter and job training center for Latin American immigrants who have been thrown out of work. Such efforts as these help people to get back on their feet after one of life’s knock-downs. Consequently, they help to transform our communities with reinvigorated productive citizens.

The help is needed in Flushing. The socio-economic groups that particularly need social services in Community District 7 include  the poor (29% earn less than $25,000 per year), the foreign born who are not citizens (68,174, 49% of the foreign born in the district), the 20% (49,317) without health insurance coverage, and the 29% of the households that have children but no husband present,  the children who make up 14.5% of the area, the seniors (17% or 43,107 above the age of 65. The community also has a large number (28%) of individuals who live in non-family households. These individuals are often immigrant laborers who would not have family support present if they lost their jobs or underwent some other type of personal catastrophe.

Smith, the construction worker who fell and broke his back, had a faith-based alternative for medical treatment in case he couldn’t get workman’s compensation. He did receive the insurance and is now in the hospital. In the meantime, the faith-based medical clinic is seeing dozens of other patients. This is the warp-and-woof of the government, private, and faith-based safety net in Flushing, Queens.


Next: “Path-breaking research on the faith-based  factor in urban social welfare”

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