In the book When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkart, much time is spent quite explaining the different needs poverty presents, how to discern what is actually needed, and some helpful hints on action that can be taken. Please remember, I'm summarizing many pages, and chapters of information so I am NOT doing this justice, but here is a general and very brief overview:
The first thing responders (those responding to the needs of those in poverty) must consider is if the situation calls for relief, rehabilitation, or development. Fikkart explains that "the failure to distinguish among these situations is one of the most common reasons that poverty-alleviation efforts often do harm."
The first response Fikkart describes is "Relief."
"Relief" can be described as the urgent and temporary provision of emergency aid to reduce immediate suffering from a natural or man-made crisis. When a crisis such as the Indonesian tsunami strikes, people are nearly or even completely helpless and experience plummeting economic conditions. There is a need to "stop the bleeding," and this is what "relief" attempts to do.
Next he describes "rehabilitation."
"Rehabilitation" begins as soon as the bleeding stops; it seeks to restore people and communities to the positive elements of their pre-crisis conditions. The key feature of rehabilitation is a dynamic of working with the tsunami victims as they participate in their own recovery."
The last step, which is a process of ongoing change, is "development"
"Development is a process of ongoing change that moves all the people involved-both the "helpers" and the "helped" –closer to being in right relationship with God, self, others, and the rest of creation. In particular, as the materially poor develop, they are better able to fulfill their calling of glorifying God by working and supporting themselves and their families with the fruits of that work. Development is not do to people, or for people, but with people. The key dynamic in development is promoting an empowering process in which all the people involved –both the "helpers" and the "helped" –become more of what God created them to be."
Fikkart gives many examples and models of how this can, and is being done effectively around the world by organizations and missionaries. Obviously there are many models, but the key is learning how to effectively diagnosed and treat the symptoms one sees when faces with poverty. Brian Fikkart and Steve Corbett work at the Christian organization, Chalmers Center for Economic Development. Their motto is "Helping the church, help the poor, help themselves." The website, which has many resources on this topic, is http://www.chalmers.org/. I encourage you to look into this topic further.