Friday, February 3, 2012

Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime?

I have just about quit donating to the big national charities.  There is one that I contribute to and another couple that I sometimes support in a small way, but I have found that for every check I send to any of them, I get ten fancy mailings asking for more.  I are deluged with appeals for various causes, all worthy of my support. But every response, not matter how small, results in a avalanche of pleas for additional contributions.  So I figure that everything I donate goes to promotion and not to research, or alleviation of hunger, or veteran's care.   Of course, I understand that all the money goes into a large pot and that every little bit helps, and so on.  But I have  come to to a point where I want a  more direct line from me to the recipient of whatever help I can offer.   Like most of us, I would to like to feel that my contributions are being applied directly to the needs of real humans, touching someone's life in a personal way.

So I have begun upping the bonuses I give my housekeeper, my gardener, and others who  make my life easier and who do so by work that is mostly underpaid and burdensome.  Our County is one of the poorest in the State and the local paper often publishes stories of neighbors  in trouble through accident, illness, home fires, or other tribulations.  I send a check to to the  bank account listed in the paper.  I do not know these people and they do not know me, but I do know that my contribution goes directly to them and their needs and not into a giant fund to get lost among all the others.

 I do not know if this is the best way to to go about it.   My contributions are (necessarily) modest and charity, even the word, is a touchy thing.  It must be very satisfying to be in control of large foundations that are able to make huge contributions for research,  education, provision of drugs and food,  and other worthy causes.  But $25 or $50 or $100 can make a difference to a family burned out of its home, whereas those amounts sent to a large charitable fund often only pay for the cost of sending requests for more.

Jon Carroll, the SF Chronicle columnist, writes a column every Christmas touting what he call the "Untied Way."  His system is  for you to go to your bank and draw out as many $20 bills as you can afford, plus maybe a few more, and then go down to the Skid Row in your town and hand them out to whoever looks needy, until they are gone.  No questions asked.  No conditions imposed.  Whether the twenty goes for drugs and cheap booze or food and a night's lodging, it has filled a need for a human being.  And what else is charity meant to do?

I do not go down to Skid Row at Christmas with my pockets filled with $20 bills.  But I do want to help as much as I can in my limited way.  Charity begins at home, as the old saying goes. And I do sometimes wish I was filthy rich, so I could help a lot!

I know that I am blessed that I  have this dilemma.  That I am not shivering on a street corner on Christmas Eve.  That I have a small cushion to spare for people who have nothing.  It is not much but it is something.

P.S.  Let me just say here that I have no shame at all about keeping the various notepads, calendars, and other "free gifts"  that accompany many of  these charity fund-raising pitches.  Things like pocket calculators, cheap jewelry and watches and other trinkets, I give to the local thrift shop.  They can do with them whatever conscience dictates.  It seems better than throwing it all in the trash.

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