Entries in takes a village (1)

Thursday
Nov082012

Charity

Growing up, my family received quite a lot of charity, from many sources. Government health care paid for at least one of my surgeries, without which I would have died. I spent time in foster care, another government program put into place to provide for those who cannot provide for themselves. Loads of help from church food banks, and clothing drives, and just neighbors who saw a need and helped fill it. Relatives regularly took us in, and fed and clothed us.

Healthy, well-fed, properly dressed, loved.I remember leafing trough the food stamps, back when they were actual stamps and people could steal a family's food budget for the month and leave them hungry. I remember the giant boxes of powdered milk, five-pound blocks of government cheese, black-and-white boxes of "Value-Checked!" generic corn flakes that supplemented our welfare checks. Simple things that helped bridge the gap between my mother's paycheck and making ends meet.

My daughter and I will be taking a few items to drop off at the local farmer's market this weekend, to send to victims of Hurricane Sandy. Whenever we make donations for relief efforts, or a local food bank, or a family's Christmas list, we always make a special shopping trip just for that. It helps the kids see a tangible, simple response to a problem, and it's fun for me. Remembering my own childhood, I always buy the things I wish we had gotten in those boxes of canned goods and pasta. Spiderman Macaroni and Cheese. Cereal with the toy inside. Little packets of real Goldfish Crackers and Capri Suns for lunchboxes.

It might seem like choosing popular brands (and not exactly the super-healthiest) encourages materialism, but it's not about that. When you're a little kid, probably living a somewhat chaotic life already, maybe switching schools regularly because of poverty, abuse, mental health issues, and whatever other factors, all you want is to just be NORMAL. And the easiest way to normal, when you're in that situation, is having what other people have, like the same crackers.

I want to encourage everyone this season, when so many of us will ramp up our charitable giving, to think about who is receiving your gift. Every little bit helps, of course, but for most of the people reading this, the 30-cent difference between the generic and name brand soup won't make or break you. Get the good cereal. Buy the nicer bike for that mitten tree. Give a little extra when you click the "donate" button. You're warm, you're safe, you're fed, and you're confident you'll be in the same circumstances tomorrow. But it's not like that for everyone, and small kindnesses can really make someone's day a little brighter.

As a side note, consider the House of Ruth next time you're making donations. No one should have to be beaten, humiliated, raped, or killed, because they have nowhere to go.