We live in what is often called, euphemistically, “interesting times”. Although common wisdom is that the recession has passed it’s lowest point, the effect on individuals has yet to go that low. All around us, there is need. We see people recovering from horrific tornadoes, starving children in Somalia. We’re also trying to prepare ourselves for any and all eventualities.
So the dilemma then becomes how to help others even when money is tight and we are still trying to shore up our own reserves. Note: Ill say here that I think that as a society we have an obligation to help others. In my case its a religious foundation, for many others it’s ethics, common sense whatever. No matter the reason, I’m not here to argue whether we should help, just how to find the resources when we think we should.
First, recognize that person can only do so much. i say that not to be discouraging, but rather to encourage you to concentrate your energies on a few specific causes near and dear, rather than every envelope that comes in the door. Although we’d like to help the world, we’ll get more done if we take a few minutes, do some thinking, and decide what issues generally are the most important to us. Pick one or two of those agencies/issues and start directing your your efforts in those areas.
Don’t feel that you have to give huge amounts to make a difference. Small amounts of money added up accomplish a great deal. Consider saving your change, rolling the coins and donating that amount. If you are a couponer, save the amount saved and put that towards your favorite cause. The book give a little how small donations can transform our world gives wonderful examples of this kind of giving. Also remember that there is no substitute for money (even small amounts) in some areas. “Throwing money at the problem” may be the only thing that helps in the short term, especially in areas such as hunger.
Volunteer! Often folks with fixed incomes have more time than money, but even if you are still working, you can volunteer. There are as many small volunteer opportunities (such as reading to kids) as there are large sweeping ones. If you still have family at home, involve them as well.
Use your talents to help. I’m not just talking about the craft stuff, but the everyday skills and abilities that we can use to help others. Yes, as a quilter I can make blankets for shelter dogs, or caps for newborns. I can (and do) also use my cooking abilities to make sixty cookies once a month. These are used for dessert at a local shelter that serves 400 a night. Those with carpentry or other skills can help rehab shelters, or work for Habitat for Humanity. Don’t let yourself be limited.
Put the world out. Elsewhere, an online friend with little disposable income suggested making a quilt and then raffling it off and sending the money to Somalia. From my perspective this is a wonderful idea on many levels. As she creates the quilt she remembers why. It may raise consciousness and awareness among the folks who buy the raffle tickets, and in the end brings money that can be sent for a good purpose. If you want to improve, say, the treatment of animals in kill shelters, tell everyone about conditions and no kill shelters. It will rub off on someone.
Give stuff. Think outside the box on this one. While thrift stores are wonderful organizations, look at your extras from a different perspective and think of specific organizations. Those suits you no longer wear could be given to an agency that helps people prepare and interview for jobs. Women’s clothing and items children and grandchildren have outgrown can be given to battered shelters. Battered women generally leave everything behind, from comfort blankets to clothing. Old and ratty blankets that may not even be good enough for Goodwill may be happily received by a local no kill shelter.
In addition to who you want to help, consider why you help and the rewards, for you and others. Recognize that by helping people in your community, you generally make that community better for everyone. There is no “golden” level of financial security. If we wait to give until we have “enough” some of us might never get there. I suspect this is the reason that the highest percentage of giving(percentage and per capita wise) is among lower middle class and folks who are struggling.
Everyone has to decide their own level of giving and helping, there is no magical bullet. We need to find a happy medium. Find a cause that’s important to you and needs your help, and begin with baby steps. Because I have more time than money (although that time quotient is increasing with the advent of full college schedule), I concentrate more on the volunteering aspect. I act as a liaison between a low income outreach center and my church, for example. Your choices may be different, depending on your needs and those of the agency you want to help. But whatever the reason, whatever the need, we can all find ways to help-we just need to look at ourselves and step forward.