Trying to raise my kids the best I can

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Cheap Charity

The Katrina Disaster has brought to mind a pet peeve of mind. Before I get into that, I want to encourage people to donate to the red cross, as it will take a huge amount of money to house all those people over the coming months.

But about my pet peeve... It really irks me, the shallowness of many people's giving. They will give a little to feel good about themselves, but not so much that it actually cuts into their own pleasures or interrupts their life. For instance, the shelters have asked for toys and art supplies for the kids. So I imagine many people will go out and buy some toys to ship away and they'll feel real good about themselves as they have done their good deed for the year. Hear me out, I'm not knocking the sending of toys, that's great. What really bothers me is the removal of human contact from the charity.

When my husband was in jail and I was struggling to raise my two young boys, I was the recipient of occasional charity. At Christmas time, for instance, there were many different organizations who provided gifts for the children. This was really nice. At the same time, it was a little frustrating. As much as I appreciated the toys, what I really needed was... a shoulder to cry on, occasional babysitting, a bag of diapers when I was out of money, some food when the pantry was empty, a listening ear, a home when we didn't have one, a prayer partner. So instead of writing a check to Globe Santa, if that same person would have only befriended me, they would have helped me so much more. But of course that would involve giving so much more. They would have to (gasp) open their home to me. Or (horrors) share some money. Or (god forbid) invite two rambunctious boys into their home for the afternoon while I get my hair cut. [Note, to this day I am still loyal to my hairdresser who used to do my hair with my kids at my feet because I couldn't get a babysitter].

Christians in particular have a problem with this. They compartmentalize charity by labeling it "ministry". EVERYTHING you do is a ministry for the Lord. I like to mock this labeling when I give my neighbor a ride. I call it my "handicap ministry". (She's in a wheelchair).

I learned in psychology class about Maslow's hierarchy of needs. At the bottom of this pyramid is your basic physiological needs like food water, air. The next level is safety needs, followed by love and acceptance. The next level is esteem needs like the need for acceptance, education, respect. The highest level on this pyramid is the need for self actualization. The need to give to charity, to feel like you've contributed to society falls under this category. When people give shallowly they are really only fulfilling their own selfish needs and not helping their fellow man much at all.

I would encourage you to look at your own giving. Does it all fall under labels ("volunteer work") or a charitable organization (Salvation army). I would encourage you to give to the same cause, but on a personal level. Do you want to help the poor? Befriend a single mom. Do you feel called to work with prisoners? Make one inmate friend. Do you like to buy Christmas gifts for others? Don't give anonymously - make some friends with kids in foster care. Want to join Meals on Wheels? Why not make a friend in a nursing home. Do you want to help Katrina victims? Then connect with a family that needs help and meet their needs as they arise.

Of course there are some things that large organizations do better then individuals (like research cancer). But often we can contribute even better to society on our own.


  • At 3:50 PM, Blogger Bruce said…

    I have a blog writing ministry. I have a tv-watching ministry at night. I also drink beer to make sure the private sector is doing their job producing beer. No, I made that last part up.

    The dynamic you saw is a way to separate the sacrifice from the life. As Frank Sinatra said, we Christians are supposed to


    (Thanks to Regent College for that stupid joke that I swiped.)

  • At 3:55 PM, Blogger Bruce said…

    One more thing. Organized charities, and church ministries, and government help, ought to step in when there's no one at a lower level--such as in-laws--who will do the job. Angel Tree is really aimed at the forgotten families, and you were hurting and feeling forgotten, but never really forgotten. Paul the apostle said that if a widow has adult children who can care for her, they should repay the debt of love and not burden the church. In the gulf coast, recent announcements said that government resources are just not enought to get people out of the way of Rita: would people please take neighborly care and help out people near them, because we can't do it any other way.


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