Monday, May 30, 2011


Some people plan their charitable donations, keep their receipts, and get a little break on their taxes every year. I wish I had the organizational skills to do that, but I have a more haphazard approach to charity. I don't keep track of what I give, and I don't get receipts for it. It's kind of random, but in a way, I like it that way. I like to get unexpected surprises, and I guess I feel like I'm giving someone else a little something they weren't planning on.

You might almost say it's Nora Roberts' fault. I don't remember which book it was, but one of her heroes threw all his charitable requests into a drawer, and then, once a year, he would just randomly pull out requests and write hefty checks. He didn't look at whom he'd given to before or favor any particular organization; he just drew names.

I really liked that approach. There are so many groups out there that do great things, and I feel like most of them are deserving. I can't help all of them, so I do my giving by impulse. Maybe I bring furniture, clothes, or snacks to the women's shelter. I routinely drop stuff off at Goodwill, and I don't wait around for a receipt. I volunteer to help with projects and activities. I feed stray animals and have birdfeeders and birdbaths in my yard, and sometimes I take bread or crackers out to the woods and strew them for the animals out there to find. I toss money into the basket at church (the only consistent donation I make). Twice I've set up book swap shelves in the teachers' lounges of the schools I've worked at, and saved up enough books to fill the rack before I put it together. I also donate books to the swap shelves of the public library in town and the library on post. I try to find homes for things rather than toss them into the trash. I recycle at home and at work. I've cooked (and scheduled others to cook) meals for families in crisis. During my tenure in various clubs, I've organized fundraisers to support various charities and scholarships. I've also been active with Relay for Life over the past 13 years.

I would also point out that prayer is, in my view, a form of charity, and possibly the sincerest form of charity because it truly is anonymous to the recipient. I believe in the power of prayer, and I know there have been times when my life has been blessed in times of crisis by the people who lifted me up with their prayers and positive thoughts. I really believe the universe benefits when people are sending out positive energy on the behalf of others.

I don't really like telephone solicitation, mostly because I always try to say yes, and then I really have to be organized to follow through with my promise or pledge. I'm much happier if there's a website I can go to when apporoached and make an immediate donation with plastic. Then there are the checkout charities. You know the ones I mean, the "Would you like to donate $1 for Jerry's Kids" as you're presenting your payment for the groceries you just bought. My rule is, if they ask me to donate, I do. I love to put canned goods out for the post office food drive, "buy" jeans passes at work by donating for various causes, and support my children's school fundraisers. If you're selling raffle tickets, I'm the girl to approach. I never win those things, but I feel like I've helped if I've purchased tickets, candy bars, cookie dough, or gift wrap. Don't get me wrong. I understand that a concentrated gift to one particular target does a great deal of good, but I'm not in a position to give an amount that would make a substantial difference to anyone.

Neither am I bragging. I know it might sound that way, but really, what I'm trying to say is that every little bit really does help. Times really are hard now, and I fear that things are only going to get worse. So I stock up my pantry, clean out my closets, and give my time or money when I can.

If you feel guilty that you're not helping enough, I urge you to look at what you're doing. I'll bet you're helping a lot more than you realize. If you've done any of the things I've mentioned above, or anything like them, you've aided a charity, whether it was personal or professional. It may be haphazard, but it's still charity, and it's always appreciated. And remember that old saying: Time IS money. If you can't give goods, you can always give services. Change the World: Volunteer!

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