The Life You Can Save – Seasonal Giving And Charities Close To Home

I’ve been having one of those missed-connection discussions on Facebook recently, where I (mostly likely because I was attempting to contribute to the discussion while standing in line for forty-five minutes at KMart by typing on my phone and there’s only so many characters you can type before giving up in frustration with the tiny screen and ending up sounding both snappish, random or even completely off-topic) was chatting to DJ Grothe and a few other contributors about a news item he linked to - Food Stamps: The Safety Net That Deserves Its Name:

Welcome to the food stamp system: decaying, inundated and one of the most unexpectedly effective safety net programs still standing. Indeed, like the crumbling Waverly Center, the food stamp program, more formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, still stands, still works—remarkably well, all things considered. It may not look pretty, but while other social safety net programs, like public assistance (more commonly called welfare), public housing, Section 8 and even unemployment insurance, have been so thoroughly hobbled that they can no longer respond to the struggles of millions of Americans, the food stamp program has remained surprisingly sensitive to people’s needs. It is one of the defining reasons more Americans were not as immiserated by this recession as they were in eras past.

The point that I was attempting – and most likely failing to do, for like my feelings about Twitter, I’ve become less and less enamored with my ability to get across any point on social networking beyond “Yes, Saturday, thanks, see you then,” – oh, don’t get me started on the new rollout of Facebook features that will have me using it less and less… where was I going before I went on a “First World Problem” rant?…

…the point was that while I’ve seen plenty of skeptical and rational groups promote science and critical thinking charities being promoted online these days, I haven’t seen much about general ones, nor ones closer to home.

FreeThought blogs, for example, rallied for the Donor’s Choose and raised about $25 thousand for classrooms earlier this year, due to readers like yourselves. I contributed some ideas to the Skeptically Speaking page on charities that were pro-science and of course, DJ has promoted the JREF charity through emails and other promotions; Reddit did a charity drive for Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières), which has hit a few news sites.

One issue I’ve had is the rather sobering discovery that the Salvation Army isn’t as benign in its outreach as I thought they were – they’re the recipient of a charity tradition I’ve maintained for the past fifteen years or so as something I’ve always donated presents to: the KMart Wishing Tree:

About The Kmart Wishing Tree Appeal is Australia’s largest Christmas gift appeal. Thanks to the incredible generosity of Australians, the Appeal has collected more than 5 million gifts for people in need over the past 23 years. Last year, the Appeal raised more than 464,000 gifts. In 2011, The Appeal aims to collect more than 470,000 gifts nationally, for distribution via our charity partner, The Salvation Army.

About a week ago I learned of the Salvation Army’s anti-LGBT practices with a few mentions on sites like MSNBC, and a Facebook page that was started in response. While I’m a long-time supporter of Amnesty International, the Red Cross, and others, with national and international reach, it’s made me hesitate in terms of what to do locally to help out.

DJ mentioned how difficult it is for many people economically for many people right now and how the majority of charitable giving is based on poverty issues – his post reminded me of another example of seasonal giving that was very much individual - Secret Santas stun shoppers with layby payoffs:

At Kmart stores across the US, Santa seems to be getting some help: Anonymous donors are paying off strangers’ layby accounts, buying the Christmas gifts other families couldn’t afford, especially toys and children’s clothes set aside by impoverished parents.

Before she left the store Tuesday evening (Wednesday, NZ time), the Indianapolis woman in her mid-40s had paid the layby orders for as many as 50 people. On the way out, she handed out US$50 bills and paid for two carts of toys for a woman in line at the cash register.

“She was doing it in the memory of her husband who had just died, and she said she wasn’t going to be able to spend it and wanted to make people happy with it,” Deppe said. The woman did not identify herself and only asked people to “remember Ben,” an apparent reference to her husband.

DJ even mentioned how he was persuaded by Peter Singer’s The Life You Can Save:

The number of people currently living in such conditions is 1.4 billion. This is bad, but not as bad as things were in 1981, when there were 1.9 billion people living in extreme poverty. That was about 4 in every 10 people in the world, whereas now fewer than 1 in 4 are extremely poor. We can help to cut this number further, and faster – and that is what we ought to be doing. Read about the idea and why to pledge here.

I guess my conclusion (without 140 character limitations or my inability to communicate on Facebook without sounding a total jerk… yes, faily-fail, I know…) is that I’m now seeking to either resign myself to keeping up my tradition with the KMart Wishing Tree or find over the next few days another more local, preferably secular-based charity that will directly help people in my home town. The Peter Singer pledge, as demonstrated in the YouTube video, certainly helps keep a reasonable tally and perspective on what difference can be made.

How easy is it for you to think global when it comes to the seasonal spirit – but keep it local when it comes to giving?

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  • TGIAA

    As best I can tell, the charity ‘The Smith Family’ is secular, and dedicated to improving the lives of children of poor Australian families. Their current focus is on education, paying school fees, giving away school supplies and school uniforms. If you are looking to donate cold, hard cash, that’s who I’d go for. They also look for volunteer tutors via their website.

  • Kylie Sturgess

    Hello! That’s who the SciTech fundraising today at the Christmas party went to with the proceeds. :) Also, they are able to direct funds to specific areas – which they did, to a local region that needs educational resources.