FOR Valentina Volkova, charity is a constant struggle that
starts at the end of a food line.
In addition to doing the shopping for her family, Ms. Volkova
cares for seven elderly shut-ins under a program run by the Russian
Orthodox Church's Marfa-Marinsky charity. With state store food
supplies unpredictable, the daily task of buying groceries for her
charges has been transformed into a "hunt," she says.
"I'm supposed to devote about six hours per week to every
shut-in, but I actually have to spend much more than that," says
Volkova, a burly woman with a bright disposition.
"In order to get food you have to go around to many stores," she
continues. "And the people are wicked."
The food shortage is just one of many problems confronting the
charitable movement in the Soviet Union. The concept of charity is
struggling to reestablish itself in the Russian psyche after seven
decades of suppression under communist rule.
"Before, the people had mercy on their neighbors. We have to
make this feeling grow again," says Archbishop Sergi, the chief
administrator of the Russian Orthodox Church's charitable programs.
Criticizing them as "bourgeois," the Bolsheviks banned charities
and shifted responsibility for social care to the state. But the
vaunted cradle-to-grave social system has now collapsed. And the
fledgling Soviet charities that reappeared during the last few
years of perestroika have neither the funds nor the experience to
pick up the all the slack.
"Every third person in Moscow could perhaps be qualified as
needy," said Galina Bodrenkova, a member of the Moscow City
Council's committee on charity.
Foreign charitable organizations are doing their best to lend
advice and assistance. The United States-based United Way is one of
several foreign organizations with offices in Moscow.
The United Way's top priority is to help Soviet officials draw
up a law regulating charities, says Mary Yntema, director of
programs for the United Way in the Soviet Union. Without such laws
it is difficult for fledging groups to get off the ground.
"We need a good law on charity, providing controls that will
inspire public trust," she says. "Most of the problems ... with
charities derive from the lack of a law."
The Russian Federation parliament, which has worked closely with
the United Way, may be ready to adopt a charity law, by the end of
the year, Ms. …