(Dateline Sol 3.) As Christmas shopping moves into full swing and with the anniversary of my birth coming up, the question of what to buy me for a present that would “wow me” came up earlier this week. In a somewhat flip mood, I replied, “Donate US$1,000 to the Saint Francis Breadline“. The conversation continued in a serious vein and I ultimately had to admit the following in no particular order:
- I have way more stuff than I need;
- the happiest times of my life are when I am actively doing something to make the world a better place; and
- no present since the chemistry set I got when I was 10 has “wowed” me.
After rattling around in my head for a few days, I decided to post a list of my favorite charities for the 2009 AD giving season. This is also well timed for the tax season. I am thinking this is possible a new tradition in my life specially if it is combined with a bit of a flavor from the past year.
I don’t think too many people would disagree with me when I say that 2009 has been a mean year. We, as a people here in the United States, are involved in two wars which ironically few are really paying attention to much less paying much of a price for, an economic recession caused by a credit crisis which was created by the policies that got us out of the last economic recession, a credit crisis that was caused by greed, and most ironically, a housing crisis caused by too much available housing leading to an increase in the number of homeless.
But it isn’t just the news that is “mean“. The edges of civilized behavior are becoming rougher here in everyday America. Judith Warner writes an excellent option piece in the 26 November 2009 edition of the New York Times about the declining levels of grace in our daily lives. Forget that her “muse” for the piece was Sarah Palin for a moment and see if the point of the article doesn’t resonate with your daily life experiences. It does with mine. Frankly, I think we need a serious does of hope and caring to get us through 2010. As someone said and I wish I could accurately attribute this quote, “You are what you do when it counts.”
So, in the spirit of the giving season, here is my list of places to donate cash, time, energy or even cans of beans. Do it in my name as a birthday present and I’ll even call and say, “Wow. that was a great present. Thanks.”
Operation Santa. For those of you who can’t get past the Christmas thing, I recommend Operation Santa. Started by and still operated by US postal workers in response to the large number of “Dear Santa” letters that arrive at the post office each and every year. Check the site. Find the nearest participating Post Office. Go down and read some letters. Pick a few. Go shopping. Wrap the presents and put them in the mail. Sure, Santa would drop the presents down the chimney, but this works just as well. Better in most cases. One warning, bring lots of Kleenix when you go to the post office.
St. Francis Breadline. The Franciscans of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Manhattan have been feeding the hungry and homeless since the last depression at the St. Francis Breadline. That is a lot bread and soup. These guys are working my neighborhood. Somehow, I bet there are hungry people in your neighborhood. Feel free to keep this one local.
Kiva.org. Paraphrasing an old saying, give a man a fish and he is hungry tomorrow, teach a man to fish and he is set for life. Nothing embodies this ideal in today’s world as microfinanace – loaning small amounts of money to people with very little money and “big dreams“. At Kiva.org you and 39 others donate US$25 to a woman in South Africa so she can take that US$1,000 and double the amount of stock in her neighborhood hardware store. It is somewhat depressing to me that the concept of microfinancing is so revolutionary that it deserved a Nobel Prize. That said, the folks at Kiva.org have done an excellent job of operationalizing the concept and taking it to the next level.
Veterans and Military Families. Moving for a moment past the politics of Cheney’s Wars, let take a look at a tragedy in the making which will have severe national consequences in the years to come. As time passes, I doubt that a “true national hero” will emerge from the conflicts. However, I will take a bet on Eric Shenseki becoming a role model for future military officers in the vein of Omar Bradley, who was known as “a soldier’s general. More on all this at a later date. Suffice to say that the men and women of the US armed forces have paid a price for these wars far beyond the call of national service or duty. Today, I wanted to point out that returning veterans from the current conflicts and the immediate families of servicing members of the armed forces have gotten a really raw deal. I have no personal experience of the organizations that have come together to support them or I would recommend one. If anyone does, let me know and I will pass the information along. Or simply do a web search on “helping military families” and let me know what happens. Feel free to leave a comment below.
As I said, these are mean times. Specially this year, and certainly at this time of year, it is important to resist going with the tide of the times and of daily life and make a small positive difference somewhere, somehow. The above are only suggestions picked to highlight the Christmas experience, helping those in need, helping people help themselves and help those how have already given so much.
If you have other ideas or suggestions, I would love to hear about them.