By all means, give this holiday season. Volunteer, drop toys in the Toys for Tots bins, throw change or a few bills in the Salvation Army Santa’s kettle. But keep these points in mind, too:
1. People need your help year-round
The toy drives your local organizations carry out are pretty successful. In December. When May comes around, though, shelters have little on hand to give out.
Sick kids in hospitals, children in battered women’s shelters who have fled their homes in the middle of the night, and others might like a toy or two, but nobody’s donating in the middle of the year – and most non-profits can’t afford to store their December bounty year-round.
The same goes for other forms of volunteering – there are homeless, disabled, ill, poor, and otherwise hurting people who need help year-round.
2. The recipients of charity are people with feelings, value, and dignity
Poor people don’t need the dregs of your life, whether in the form of your material cast-offs, or your time, emotion, and advice. Being poor means lacking resources, not lacking humanity – if you can’t connect with the people you aim to serve, as people, then nobody is the better for your alleged charity.
3. Consider the gift of autonomy
One of the resources most lacking for impoverished people is autonomy. The greatest hardship of poverty is the way it limits you – often in ways that create greater poverty, like the way stores in poor neighborhoods often charge higher prices than stores in better-off neighborhood, because the poor often lack the transportation options to make meaningful choices about where they shop.
Think about the way you volunteer or give charity – is there a way you could increase people’s abilities to make their own choices, to follow their own paths, to develop their own abilities?
4. Only connect
Too often, people in a position to help hold themselves apart from the people they hope to assist. And no wonder – for the once-a-year volunteer, there is little time to get to know anyone, let alone really understand what their lives are like. If you can, make a long-term commitment and open yourself up to the lives of the people your charity is aimed at. Get to know people face-to-face, as friends and colleagues and equals.
5. Forget you
Last but most important, remember, it’s not about you. Yes, it feels good to give, and there’s no point in feeling guilty about that, but don’t do it because it makes you feel good, or because you earn points towards a merit badge or college credit, or because it’s part of your organization’s charter, or for whatever other way that charity benefits you. Do it because you must, because being a giving person is right.
And this year, instead of giving during the season of giving and then returning to your “normal life” when you pack away the tree and lights, let the holidays be a starting point to a life of year-round giving.