Sunday, November 16, 2014

Charity begins in the car.

It's not just Christmas catalogs that are stuffing my mailbox right now. It's charity mailings. I get fistfuls of them every day. I couldn't respond to all of them if I wanted to. They cost someone money. I'm starting to think that regarding charitable organizations as a whole, I've turned into a net drain.

Longtime readers of this blog know I have one simple rule for charity mailings, really the first round of elimination: You send me something other than maybe mailing labels, I will get rid of it. I will not, not ever, succumb to  pump-priming. I've been sent unsolicited pens, pads, umbrellas, toothbrushes, rosaries, T-shirts, stamps, shopping bags, and all kinds of other things, including my personal favorite, money.

Then why the ^%@&$^% are you sending it to ME? 
It just goes into the poor box at church.

Even though Americans are extraordinarily generous, we can get overwhelmed and baffled about charity. Even in church. We want to obey the injunction to help the poor, but it's not like there's no safety net now (for which middle-class Americans pay and pay and pay) as in Biblical times. We know that giving to soup kitchens and shelters can be enabling drug addicts and alcoholics or aiding illegal aliens---abetting felons, in other words. You think of the no-good brother-in-law who will never get off his ass as long as people keep feeding him; are your donations going to feed someone else's useless brother-in-law? You want to fight disease, but if you're a pro-lifer, you have to wonder how many of these disease-fighting organizations spend a fortune lobbying to rip apart fetuses for stem cells. In fact, you start to wonder if lawyers are the only people who get real help from any of these charities. With all the charities and all the rich people using them for tax shelters and all the charity balls and galas and all the checks you write and all these mailings, mailings, mailings, why do things never seem to get even a little bit better for anyone?

It's hard to not be cynical, especially about the homeless, even if one has not read the eyeopening "Homeless Advocates in Outer Space" from City Journal by the brilliant Heather MacDonald:
The charity our society showers upon people living on the street makes possible this hardy resistance to seeking help. In true New York fashion, even vagrants can get home-delivered food: a do-gooder group from Dobbs Ferry called Midnight Run makes regular deliveries of sandwiches and juice, along with toiletries and blankets, right to people's cardboard boxes. The homeless know the hours and locations of every local soup kitchen, and the more enterprising work out deals for other personal needs. One older alcoholic would throw away a new pair of underwear every couple of days, secure in the knowledge that Midnight Run would soon bring another pair. Other homeless use more unorthodox approaches to street survival. When it gets cold, recounts a scraggly vagrant, "I smash a window with a brick and go to jail. I get along fine in jail."
Now you start giving the fish eye to the poor box at church.

But we want to be good people; we want to think we're going to leave the world better for our having been in it, not worse. So cynical as we may become, it's hard not to weaken when you get things in the mail, or worse, a personal request to help a charity. So, you want to check them out with the Better Business Bureau to make sure the money is going where it's supposed to go. Charity Navigator is another excellent resource.

Right off the bat, though, we can start charitable giving, and without parting with a cent. Letting the schmuck who cut you off get away without a curse or a fight, allowing someone to get in front of you even when you think you have the right of way (and doing it with a smile), or not saying anything to your sister when she makes that stupid remark about Dad again are all great ways to begin.

Or so they say. Let me know how you make out. I may try it sometime.

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