Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Spirit of Giving: Why I Won't Give To Some Christmas Charities

You've probably already seen this photo. It has been all over the internet. It sums up how I feel about this holiday season in just two words.

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I've never been a fan of all the hype and grotesque consumerism that goes on this time of year. Well, never is not the right word, I'm sure I was all about it when I was a little kid.

There are two Christmas seasons in my past, that stand out more than any others, that have greatly influenced my distaste for the excess. First, was the year my parent’s divorced. I was in the fourth grade and struggling to learn my times tables. My Dad had taken an apartment in town, above a flower shop. You had to climb a rickety stairway on the outside of the building to reach it. The stairs were only treads, with no back to them. I always thought I was going to slip through them and fall to my death. Luckily, I never did, and looking back now I realize the worse that could have happened would have been a sprained ankle.

The apartment was very small, but had an open kitchen/dining area and living room that made it comfortable. It was sparsely furnished with cast-off furniture that friends and relatives had given Dad. I can remember he had old wooden barrels that he turned upside down to use as end tables. There was plenty of room left to put up a Christmas tree, just no money to buy one. I didn't know that at the time. If you would have asked me then, I would have told you my Dad was rich.

My Dad often piled us kids up into an old Chevy passenger van and went out driving through the countryside on safari, making up stories as we drove. This Christmas was no different, except this time we were hunting the perfect Christmas tree. Anybody could go to the store and get an artificial one, or go to the tree farm, but not us. We were going to go out into the woods and find our own. Just like the pioneers! We drove and drove--probably in circles--faces plastered to the windows, hoping to spot "the one". Finally, we stopped, Dad pulled a saw out of the back and we started tromping through the woods. We found the straightest, tallest tree in the bunch, cut it down and dragged it back to the van. Boy, were we ever proud of ourselves.

When it came to decorations for the tree, Dad had none. Not a single one. One of my aunts gave us a tree stand, a strand of lights and some funky turquoise ornaments; I'm sure she was thrilled to get rid of them. She owned a gift shop in town and we picked out a beautiful angel tree topper. I don’t remember if we paid for it or if she gave it to us. Then we popped popcorn and strung it for what seemed like hours. When we were finished, we had the gaudiest looking Charlie Brown tree you'd ever seen.

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But you know what? I still think it was the best one we ever had. It wasn't the quality or quantity of the decorations that was important. It wasn’t the number of presents under the tree. It was the process. The can-do attitude. The memories made.

The other Christmas that stands out in my mind, was the year my daughter was born. I was only 19 years old and dirt poor. I mean there were weeks I couldn't scrape together enough money to buy a box of macaroni and cheese ,let alone a loaf of bread, poor. I mean, if it weren't for the Women Infants and Children’s government program I don't know how I could have fed my baby, poor. Had to make the choice of buying gas to get to work over eating, poor. These were not good times.

Somehow, I don't know if it was because of the WIC program or what, but somehow our name ended up on one of those adopt-a-kid for Christmas lists. I had no idea. So when someone showed up the day before Christmas with a huge box of gifts for my 6 month-old, I darn near died. You'd think I would have been grateful or overwhelmed by the generosity, and I guess in a way I was. But more so, I was humiliated. Absolutely humiliated. I swore right then and there my name would never find itself on a list like that again.

It wasn't that I was ungrateful, please don't think that. We just didn't NEED it. Sure, the diapers they included were helpfu,l but the toys? She was six months old for crying out loud. What I needed was a better job. I needed an education. Or some other method of improving my situation. We didn't need toys.

There are plenty of folks out there who donate to these Toys-for-Tots type programs, and I would never want to come right out and discourage this. If you are feeling generous, and this makes you feel good then by all means continue. However, I choose not to participate. I have done it in the past. I guess I felt obligated to give back or whatever. Now though, I don't feel that encouraging consumerism is the right way to give. Having been there/done that, I'd much prefer to donate to a cause that provides the children with books, for instance, or the adults with a scholarship or teach them to grow their own food. Something, anything that will help them become self-sufficient and gets their name off that list. Things happen. People fall on hard times. When they do, they need a helping hand, not a box of toys. There are a lot of people out there right now that don’t want to be on that list any more than I did. Give. Just give wisely.

19 comments:

The Barn Door said...

Well said Christine, well said.

Muffy's Marks said...

Your story touched my heart. Loved the first one. The second story is the one I paid attention. Before I retired I worked at a Community Service Agency. My position was Skills Development Manager. We had funds from Corporations, businesses and private individuals to disburse towards education goals for young mothers who have similar situations as yours. We didn't sponsor Bachelors but financed Technical Training for them. We paid $900 per semester for books and tuition, plus money for gas to get to school and child care while in school. Good deal huh? The only requirement was the mother had to continue to work at least 20 hrs a week and meet poverty guidelines. I have had young women break down and cry when I would tell them I would accept them into the program. I went to many a graduation only to get hugs and these moms saying 'today would not have happened if it wasn't for you and your agency'
I am retired but have such good memories and some friendships from the women I helped to succeed.

Old Road Primitives said...

Perfectly spoken! Kim

Sassafras and Winterberry said...

Excellent post. Really thought-provoking. Makes me think hard about where to put my donations. I always like empowering vs. enabling!!
Hugs to you!

Milah said...

Love it! Well said!

Florida Farm Girl said...

Thank you for the reminder of what is truly important. Needs and wants are mixed up way too much these days, myself included I must admit. We do our best to give to organizations that truly help people, not just give them something they can't use because it makes us feel good. Keep spreading the word.

Chai Chai said...

What I take away from this is that you want to find a way to give people the gift of motivation, or a way to enable them to use that motivation to their own betterment.

Isn't WIC is a great program. If one watches movies from the 40's and 50's one will note that charitable organizations and churches of those times acted just as you describe - provide a hand up not a hand out.

To become dependent upon government is the biggest crime that some of the political parties have forced upon some people in this country. To be helpless is hopeless, to have hope is to have a future.

Gone Country said...

Amen! I wish more people would take on your attitude not only about consumerism but also about becoming more self- sufficient. It seems that nowadays, people don't mind the handouts at all. In fact, they want them and don't seem to want to be self-sufficient.

Kudos to you for taking the high road and not wanting to be on the list any longer than necessary!

Hilary said...

I'm with you on this one.
Well said.

Robin said...

Thank you for being brave enough to tell things like they are.

Tombstone Livestock said...

Great post Christine and great comments from the rest of you .... Merry Christmas to all of you.

Briarose said...

This year I find myself facing a very uncertain future, after 28 years of marriage, we are divorcing....I have an honours degree and no job, and no home, and don't qualify for any government sponsored programs. Thankfully, I still have faith that things will work out for the better. My children are grown, so they don't need to be on a 'list'. Christine, you are so right. A hand up is much better than a hand out.
Your are truly inspiring to me.

Anonymous said...

oh Christine you have made my day. I have felt this way for so many years but always made to feel guilty and to give to things I don't believe in and this year I have just been saying no. I am with you give them a hand up not a hand out and if all they want is a hand out it isn't coming from me. I have taught my 4 boys the same things and they keep reminding me of this. Your blog always amazes me. Thank you, nancy settel sheepishgrin92@yahoo.com

thecrazysheeplady said...

Amen. And well said.

Historical Ken said...

Wise advice!
Merry Christmas!!

I'm gonna tell Mom! said...

Amen!

kim

rkbsnana said...

Agreed. But.......I was struck by how much you could get out of those few turquoise vintage ornaments nowadays.

Sandra Henderson said...

Amen, sista! Ive been where yove been...wic saved my butt too and im all for it, as you have to get what it says get and its basic needs. There were weeks i coyldnt go get my checks, no car and 2babies, had to walk...below zero n snow. Boy did it hurt not to have that...

Becky Caudill said...

What a wonderful, thought-provoking post. I grew up dirt poor too. My mom was just 19 when she had me and shortly after she gave birth to my younger sister, my dad left us to go have another family. We were on food stamps and when we lost our house we lived in dingy motels. My mom had no discernible skills and no way to better improve our situation so we ate a lot of really crappy food, when we ate at all. Sure we had Christmas dinner at my grandparents' house, but December has 30 other days of the year. I remember getting Barbies that year from those who got us gifts. I remember wishing they'd have gotten me books so that I could escape - at least mentally - to a different place.

I'm in my mid-30s now and in a much better place financially and emotionally. But my early life definitely shaped my thoughts on charity. When my last job signed up for one of those Adopt a Family programs I was aghast to see what we had signed up to give the family - a Barbie dream house for the little girl and a video game system for the little boy. Surely there were much better gifts than that?! I opted not to participate and instead donated books and food to a different charitable organization.

Thank you for reminding me what it's all about.