Giving It Up A Bit - 10.18.99

This last week in the mail, I got something that in past years wouldn't have paid as much attention to. After a couple days drought on receiving anything in the mail at all, I was hit big time with 4 different pieces of junk mail and a letter from the city mission. As soon as I had gotten into my apartment, I threw the junk mail into the paper recycling bin, but set aside the other piece on the table where I could look at it a little closer while I was eating some dinner.

While I was out rollerblading, I thought back to the letter I had gotten and not yet opened and already started thinking about it. There had been several other times in my life where I'd gotten such letters and simply tossed them out, but I was feeling like it was sort of time for me to give a little for once. During the other times, I'd always either made excuses for myself (saying I owed too much money, or something else) or simply tossed them in the trash without giving them a second thought.

Over the course of the last year or so, though, I could feel a gradual change coming on with how I felt about them. Finally, at one point I decided that as soon as I had paid off my student loans, I'd start to give at least a little bit of money to either organizations or something else that I wanted to. Over the course of the past year, I'd already had deductions taken out of my paycheck for one other organization I felt like supporting, but I really didn't feel like I was doing enough. There was never any real outside pressure for me to donate (except to my college, but that's another story), but it was just something that I felt like I needed to do. Since I had finally finished off the student loans a couple months back, I decided that it was finally time for me to stop making excuses to myself and do something about it.

When I got home and sat down to eat a little dinner, I picked up the envelope and cracked it open to check things out a little more. There was a letter from the director of the shelter on the inside that gave some statistics about how many meals are served every year at the mission and told a little bit about some of the programs that the mission offered. I'm sure it was the intention, but the letter made a point of telling that a large percentage of those served are homeless families and even more often single mothers with children. Maybe I'm just a complete sucker, but those facts especially got to me. It's easy enough for me to dismiss individual bums on the streets when I'm walking around downtown, but it's mainly due to the fact that they make their presence known more than if I were to see an actual family of people that were homeless. Also when there's only one or two, it becomes a lot easier to ignore. While the city that I live in doesn't have much of a homeless population, it's something that really is just about everywhere and I do end up seeing people that probably are on a regular basis.

I hardly ever give money directly to people on the street asking for it. It's partially because I'm pessimistic and think that they're probably just go out and spend it on a vice and just sink deeper into whatever problems they're having, and partially simply because I don't feel like giving away my money to some unknown destination. But here with the donation form, though, I was able to give my money directly to something that it would be put to good use. Instead of shelling out a few dollars and wondering about whether it would be spent on a big bottle of cheap scotch, I know that it's actually going to a meal that someone is going to eat and get something out of (nourishment, if not enjoyment as well).

After I had decided that I was actually going to do it, then I ran into the problem of how much I should give. While it wasn't a huge dilemma on my part, it was something that I had to think about for awhile. On the voucher that was sent along with the letter, there were three different levels that were suggested to give. By giving the dollar amounts specified, one could provide between 9 and 29 meals at the shelter on Thanksgiving day. There was also a blank where one could fill in their own amount if they wanted, and in the end I decided to go with it, arriving just about halfway on the chart with how many meals I provided. It wasn't a huge amount, and it wasn't the smallest amount, but as soon as I had written the check it made me feel a little bit better (and I can't say that about a majority fo the checks I've written). I didn't choose to give the amount because of obligation or anything else, as I figured that nobody would ever even know how much I contributed (or even if I did at all), but I simply did it because I've never (despite my ocassional whining dialogs when I was a kid) gone hungry a day in my life. I know how I feel when I miss a meal by a couple of hours, and if can help someone not feel that way for just one day then so be it.

I think that part of the reason this letter made so much sense to give to is the memories that I have of my Thanksgiving day dinners. Not only have I always had enough to eat at the different meals, but most of the time I've come away from the table having eaten far too much for my own good before plopping down somewhere to sit and eventually going into a "turkey coma." Another thing that's also so strange about all the meals I've been to (whether they've been with my family or with someone else) is how much food is left over after the meal is finished. Not only do I get to have turkey and potatoes and whatnot for one huge meal, but I remember turkey leftovers lasting well into the next week from the meal alone. It's plain gluttonous. It will probably all happen again the same this year as well, but this time I'll moderate myself a little more and hope that my check helped a bit.