Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Christmas and Other Holidays: Giving Gifts to Those Who Are Most in Need

Adopt-A-Family program

Ain't nothing the matter with Christmas that a lot fewer presents can't solve. -- Jon Carroll

Jon Carroll has a good point; holiday gift-giving can easily go overboard. But there are ways to do meaningful gift-giving, and I'd like to share some ideas about that, over the next series of blog posts. I wrote an extensive gift-giving guide last year, but I've got more to say this year.

If you really like to give gifts, I suggest taking part in any program in your part of the world that provides gifts to the needy. I've been doing this for years; my local program is Coastside Hope's Adopt-A-Family program. I get a list of what each person in my family needs, and I shop to meet those needs. The emphasis is on clothing: jackets, sweaters, jeans, socks, etc

Want to know where to find a program near you? Sound Money can help.

For a thoughtful analysis of adopt-a-family programs, read Sandy Stonesifer's article in Slate. Here's just part of what she writes; it's really worth reading the whole thing.
Adopt-a-family programs are a particularly powerful way to get children and families engaged in community outreach, and a great way to show our neighbors that we care. But whether or not you decide to adopt a family this year, remember that people need services year-round — not just during the holidays.
For a no-shopping alternative to adopt-a-family programs, you could try the Untied Way - and that's not a typo. Since I started this post with Jon Carroll, let me end with him; the Untied Way is his idea. Again, I highly recommend the whole column; this is just a short excerpt.
Here's what you do: Go to an ATM near you and withdraw a given amount of money, perhaps slightly more than you can afford. Maybe $200; something like that. Then go to an area of your community where you're pretty certain to be asked for money. Every time you are asked for money, give that person a $20 bill. Repeat until the money runs out. It's as simple as that. ...

Remember this: Where you're sleeping tonight is almost certain to be nicer than the place where they're spending the night. They might spend your money on a secondhand coat or a pair of used shoes; they might spend it on crystal meth. You're not determining their worthiness to receive your sanctified $20; it's merely a moment of connection and a moment of grace. Everyone feels better, at least for a little while.
[Image from Houston Children's Charity 2007 Adopt-A-Family program]


chantal said...

What a great post Jeri. I remember your gift giving guide from last year. Love the adopt-a-family idea and the Untied idea. I just signed up to help a local East Palo Alto family this year. They have a couple of little girls my daughter's age. How could I not want other little girls to have a special Christmas morning? My kids have so much. Too much. Its a nice time to remember that and spread it around a little.

Jeri Dansky said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the post, Chantal - and I'm delighted to hear that you too are adopting a family. Some folks in East Palo Alto are lucky to have you.

Deb said...

Excellent post, Jeri. Check out Heifer International for another way to honor your loved ones while providing for those in need. I really like their philosophy of building self-reliance in the gift recipients, as well as enlisting them in passing on the gift to others. And you're giving furry critters! What's more fun than that?

Lissanne / SORTED! said...

Love the ATM idea... beautiful. I'm a big fan of random acts of kindness at any time of year.

Yesterday at the video store, when I went to hire my title, I was told I had overdue fee. Curious, I asked for which DVD? I'd never hired it. Turns out, the store accidentally pulled up someone elses account on the computer instead of mine. I decided, in a split second that I would pay this unknown person's overdue fees.

Turns out she's a new mother and I got the impression a bit pressed for cash.

What was loveliest was the reaction of the store owners - one of them said "you've made my day".

I realised that little $5 gave at least four people joy...

Jeri Dansky said...

Heifer International is a wonderful option, Deb. I had a fun story about that group in one of my holiday posts from last year.

Lissanne, what a nice story - thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Interesting post Jeri. Although I can see the ATM route causing problems. Maybe I getting cynical in my "old age", but there are areas around here that if it bacame known you had a bunch of cash and were giving it away, you'd be mugged fairly quickly. Another issue I have - how fast will that $20 go for booze or drugs? Also, I have no way of knowing if that person needs the money - around here there is a group of panhandlers that carpool from 80 miles away, and make more money than many people who are giving them money. All-in-all, if I'm going to do cash directly with someone, I think I'd rather take them to the store and buy them the food/blanket/clothes. I do participate/give to the Adopt-a-Family program we have at work, and I try to put money into every Salvation Army kettle I pass. I don't know that I'm judging others "worthiness", but I'd really rather my contribution go toward improving their life (a few good meals) vs. helping ruin their life (drugs/booze). Arrgh - do I give without knowing if I'm helping or hurting the recipient?

JustGail said...

Adding to my post above - I think my problem with giving cash to someone on the street isn't that the person I give it to uses it for booze/drugs, but that if they have kids, I just helped screw up their lives a bit more.

Also another idea for charitable gift-giving, I can't think of what it's called, but it's similar to Meals-on-Wheels except it's for pets. It is a fairly new concept and was in the newspapers this summer. It helps people to keep their pets and helps keep pets out of the already packed animal shelters, or worse, just being dumped on the side of the road. Some of the people it helps only have the Meals-on-Wheels people and their pets to talk to on a regular basis. If the name comes back to me, I'll let you know.

Jeri Dansky said...

Anonymous/JustGail: Certainly not everyone will be comfortable with The Untied Way, for the reasons you list. But it's an interesting idea, and I wanted to share it.

A charity that helps people keep their pets by providing pet food sounds wonderful. I know one group in my area which distributes food to people also hands out some pet food.