Tis the season to be jolly, and for many people, especially charitable, as well. It’s unfortunate that such charity seems to peter out during the rest of the year, but there is much to be said for the Christmas “season of giving.” And because the holidays are a time of thankfulness and abundance (often, extravagance), it reveals to us the stark contrast between the “haves” and the “have nots.” To bridge that gap in America, all sorts of charitable efforts have been directed toward sharing the Christmas gifting experience with those who have less than we do. However, I’ve become increasingly disturbed by the focus of the popular charitable giving programs.
There are millions of worthy causes in the world today. As the Broadway song goes, “there will be poor always – pathetically struggling; look at the good things you’ve got!” In my family, we admittedly struggle to pick which of those causes we will support, since it would be impossible to donate to all of them. For instance, I love animals, and it breaks my heart knowing that many sweet furry friends are going hungry or being abused. Though I do make the occasional contribution to an ASPCA or Humane Society, as for regular donations, I personally can’t be convinced that anything animal-related is more important than causes benefiting humans, and even among those, there are some I consider better outreaches than others. Every family has to choose for itself where to allocate hard-earned money, and I can’t tell anyone what they should do. Oh, what the heck? This is my blog, after all.
Perhaps this is a “ba-humbug” sentiment, but the Angel Tree? Pullease! Every year, our office brings in a bunch of paper angels, each of which has a child’s name, age and Christmas wishlist written on it. And every year, I’m astonished by the gifts these allegedly “needy” children request. Let me share an actual sampling (though these aren’t their real names) from this year’s group: Billy (age 7) – bike with helmet, scooter, mp3 player; Lucy (age 10) – bike with helmet, DS games, learning computer; Jimmy (age 6) – bike with helmet, mp3, baseballs, glove, bat; Andy (age 4) – bike, toy cars, learning computer; Johnny (age 11) – DS games, colognes, watch. This is the average list, with nearly every child requesting a bike and/or scooter and most asking for techno gadgets of some kind. There were also a bunch of requests for expensive gaming consoles (Wii, PS3, etc.) and laptop computers. Now, I’m not saying that I don’t want Billy and Lucy to have nice things, but when half of these kids are asking for video games or computer peripherals, we must assume they also possess the necessary equipment to use them. In other words, kids who already have a Nintendo DS or a Wii don’t come close to making my list of worthy charities!! The Angel Tree is just one of many programs designed to give toys and other niceties to children whose parents can’t afford those items, but when the so-called “needy” children are asking for things that I can’t afford for myself, I don’t feel guilty scoffing at the list.
I understand the desire to support local charities: it is perfectly defensible to want to improve lives of those in your own city or state, and in any given region, there is need. But even America’s worst hardship and poverty pales in comparison to that found in other parts of the world. If you’re in the mood to be altruistic and you really want to make a difference, try donating to one of the organizations that digs and maintains wells for clean drinking water in Africa, or that provides families with chickens to raise for eggs or cows for milk, or those that pay for job training for young women who would otherwise be sold into prostitution. And if you still would prefer to give locally, consider charities that substantially change lives and thus, society – get the most bang for your buck. Look for organizations that hone in on a specific mission, rather than the juggernauts (not mentioning any names) who have too much overhead and too many irons in the fire for them to be truly effective in any area.
Here are some causes that are close to my heart, and most of these are tax-deductible, if that matters to you (the Dave Ramsey books are not, but he has awesome deals around Christmas where you can get 10 or more books for $100).
- blood:water mission – www.bloodwatermission.org (building fresh water wells and establishing HIV clinics in Africa)
- World Vision – www.worldvision.org (sponsor a child or send livestock-related gifts internationally for long-term sustenance)
- Samaritan’s Purse – www.samaritanspurse.org (similar to World Vision)
- Peru Mission – www.perumission.org (this one I’ve personally worked with on a short-term mission trip)
- Brookstone School – www.brookstoneschools.org (a local, non-denominational Christian school for inner-city and at-risk children)
- Church missionaries – send monetary support to missionaries from your church; they can always put it to good use
- Total Money Makeover books – www.daveramsey.com (buy copies of Dave Ramsey’s life-changing book and give them to shelters or rescue missions; one of the best ways to help kids in America is by teaching their parents how to manage money)
- JAARS – www.jaars.org (aviation organization providing Bibles and technology to the most dangerous and inaccessible regions of the world)
- Wycliffe – www.wycliffe.net (with more than 6,900 living languages in the world, an estimated 2,000 do not have Old or New Testament translations; this group is changing that)
- Bibles Unbound – www.biblesunbound.com (similar to JAARS, this charity provides scripture to areas of the world which are extremely hostile to the gospel, so much that some of the missions have to be done in great secrecy)
In deciding how best to direct your charitable efforts, ask yourself these two questions: what are the biggest problems plaguing the world today, and what non-profits are working (most efficiently) to fix them? If your answer to the first question is malnutrition, disease, lack of proper education, poverty, or the need for Christian salvation, check out my suggestions or do some creative digging on your own. If you think American children need more video games, please disregard this post and carry on.