Monday, December 12, 2011

Needy, Greedy, or am I Being Unseemly?

I am not naturally a generous or kind person.  I marvel at the philanthropists of the world who volunteer to be Big Sisters, donate blood, and cook organic meals for the elderly.  I can barely meet the demands of my own family on a daily basis, let alone provide aid and comfort to the suffering.  I try, but I often fall short.

My husband, on the other hand, is a far more generous soul.   He believes in giving to the community around him and doles out more pairs of his own gloves to the homeless than I can count.  He pulls over on expressways to assist accident victims and buys charity raffle tickets by the crate.   While he often comes across as a big old grump, he is really quite kind and soft. 
Being married to a nicer person than myself has opened my eyes to the needs of others.  My community of Beverly is a virtual haven of do-gooders who rally behind every ill child, victim of tragedy, and family in crisis.   When I moved here 6 years ago, I couldn’t understand why my husband was so adamant that this was the best place in the world to raise a family.  I understand now. 

In an effort to become a nicer person, I usually try to participate in several charitable causes and giving opportunities during December.  My husband rolls his eyes and implies I'm only vying for salvation.    

One charity, started by local oncology nurse Geri Neylon, is Christmas Without Cancer.  Geri typically seeks aid for several of her cancer patients each year who are experiencing the worst combination of disease, loss, and joblessness.  She collects gift cards, toiletries, and clothing for these families (if you are interested  in supporting her patients, you can contact her at
Another charity I have participated in is the “Giving Tree” at my local preschool.  Every year, the school collects the requests of kids and teenagers living in group homes or shelters.  The school puts paper ornaments on a tree with their requests.  Yet several years ago, I balked when each and every ornament included one of the following:

·         Xbox  360 with games
·         Cell phone with video camera
·         Blue Ray Player
·         Nintendo DS
·         Gift Card to Nordstroms
As a Target-loving, anti-electronics couponing nut, I was surprised.  I left the school feeling somewhat uncomfortable with my range of emotions.   While I certainly understood these children had social and emotional needs that were obviously not being met in group living, I felt throwing an Xbox their way wasn’t quite the right way to go either.  And where was the guidance of the adults and employees of the home, advising the teenagers that the people receiving their requests were not in fact Donald Trump? 

It got me thinking about what constitutes “needy” in our society.  I have a very Angela’s Ashes view of poverty and need (drinking sugar water for dinner, sleeping on a rat-infested mattress on the floor, etc.).  Is it wrong to feel weird about being asked to buy an Xbox when I expected to buy a kid a pair of boots and a warm coat?  Should I have just gone off and bought the DS without a second thought and been thankful for the opportunity to bring joy to a child?  Was I being selfish and hypocritical?
Last week, I revisited “The Giving Tree” at that very same preschool and there were different kinds of requests this time out:  coats, hats, gloves, robes.  The school had chosen the Crisis Center of South Suburbia which serves those families impacted by domestic violence.  Most of the women and children there had basically arrived with only a few small possessions.      

The definition of “needy” obviously varies.  At the end of the day, my only true gauge is what I would want people to give my own children should they ever be truly in need:  a warm coat, soft pajamas, and a good book. 

Every child deserves at least that.  In terms of love and support, all children deserve so much more.  I am trying to get to the point where I can give of myself and fulfill that even greater gift of time and attention to children in need, but I fear I am not there. Plus, I am very mean and I'd probably just end up enrolling the poor thing in piano and Latin.

I'm trying, Lord.  I'm trying.


  1. I agree with you on this one. I face the same dilemma here in Germany. Our social security net is so that you normally don't end up hungry and cold. So some argue now that we should help poor people get their kids all the stuff that kids need today (see the items on your first gift tree..) to fit in. I just can't accept giving money for these things which I don't even buy for my own kids.
    Fortunately there are plenty of other ways to help others and other causes...
    Merry Christmas!

  2. Part of all this is timing. Charity organizations know that the best time of the year to try to squeeze money out of people is during the holiday seasons. I enjoy giving, but not so much in an organized public manner.

  3. I completely understand why you balked at the tech requests on the giving tree.

    There are so many people out there who NEED food, and clothing, and somewhere safe to sleep at night that using that money to buy someone an Xbox instead would feel... wrong to me.

    I totally understand that teenagers want things that will make them fit in better with their peers, and who am I to say what defines a "need", but I can't afford to get my own kids all of that kind of stuff.

    For my own part, I'm going to continue donating to food banks and homeless shelters.

  4. If you're going to sponsor a child or a family, first, decide how much you're willing to give. Generally, I would give about 20 bucks, and maybe I would go in on sponsoring a family with some other people. So, if we pooled our resources and had $200, we'd do our best to give what the child/family wanted. Why would I want to give the child canned peas and mac and cheese? No kid needs an Xbox, but that's kind of the point of Christmas. Obviously, though, it's asking a lot for one person to buy a stranger such a gift. But if you go in with some people, check out a Pawn Shop and buy one. What's the harm?

  5. You bring up some really valid points. This season is such a roller coaster ride of emotions. Like many, I just want to get through it all. Oh and BTW...the Bears still suck...

  6. Veronique - Wow - Germany! I feel so global. Your point is a good one - do you buy things for other people's kids (regardless of circumstances) that you wouldn't buy your own kids? It's the old Golden Rule - do unto others' (kids) as you would do unto your own (kids). In my case, an Xbox is out of the question.

    esbboston - I let my husband do all the year-round do-gooding. I'm strictly seasonal.

    Skwishee - Pls. put in a good word for me if you get to heaven first. Although, Danny has been raiding the pantry every day before school for canned goods for his school's food drive. Maybe he'll be my ticket in?

    Bret - Interesting strategy (one that the school encouraged when the preschool parents were annoyed back then over the cost of the requested gifts). I guess I feel if I'm going to give, I'd prefer to help those in the most dire of situations (cold & hungry). How could I justify (in my own head) getting a teenager an Xbox over providing a coat to a cold 3 year old? With only a limited amount for charity, it doesn't make sense to me.

    Maplewood - Me, too. And forget what I said about my husband being kind - watching him during the Bears' game was like watching a madman. Oh, and he'd like to thank you for the local wings & waffle joint. He's going to check it out this week.

  7. I am glad that this year they chose the Crisis Center, I have had they same issues with the gifts requested over the years. I do not understand why our schools always go out of our own neighborhood looking for needy people. There are many people that live right here in our own neighborhood that could use a little extra help this year. There are many enrolled at your preschool that are struggling to buy their kids a coloring book & crayons, let alone over priced electronics! And those same people are standing at the Giving Tree looking for a tag that they can take to help make someone else have a Merry Christmas. We do live in an amazing neighborhood!
    BTW... congrats on going global!!

  8. Were the parents of the giving tree kids asking for XBoxes, or the kids themselves? I couldnt blame the kids who still believe in Santa for asking for dream, expensive gifts. Santa s still magic, and I feel kind of sad that the kids are hoping for something they are not going to get. Would I buy X box ? No, but I hope in my heart that the kid will be satified with what they do get..I came from a huge family and asked for things my family could never have afforded, but somehow I was always pleased with what I got. Sigh, todays kids feel more entitled than we did, I m afraid.

  9. Kristi - You are so right. I can't believe how generous people are even when they are struggling to make ends meet. It's such a gift to raise kids here, and hopefully my own children will embrace these values. Veronique from Germany has really added a whole new element to the blog. Hopefully, she has friends!

    Anonymous - They were teenagers, so there was no "Santa" factor in their requests. I grew up in a family with 4 kids, I never had a Swatch Watch or an IOU Sweatshirt, and somehow I still survived. It's good to want for luxuries - it's why I'm trying to talk my husband into a 3rd job (joking, honey).

  10. Where is this "Giving Tree"? Id like to stop in and grab an ornament!

  11. Anonymous - I dropped off the gifts yesterday and the lady running it said that they ran out of ornaments this year! Good news for kids at the shelter, but she said they are still accepting Target Gift cards for the moms. School: Barbara Vick. 2554 W. 113th.