Charity is something of a buzz word. “Oh, it’s for charity”, is an excuse for just about everything. There is a story of a man who started in an office, and put a cup on his desk with a sign reading “Give to the children of Israel”. All the other employees wanted to start things off friendly and would walk up to his desk and put some coins in the cup when introducing themselves. He would always smile and say “Pleased to meet you, I’m Nathan”. Later that week building services came in with his name plaque. Nathan Israel.
Typically we support charities because they serve a cause that touches our lives. When I was young I contributed to the Arthritis Foundation, because my grandmother had suffered her last years with arthritis, When I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, I not only contributed but also was involved in fundraising for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. When Emma was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer I became involved in the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, and also contributed to the American Cancer Society, because they helped us so much. Now we also contribute to Musicians on Call, a group which provides live music in hospital rooms. In a sense, although I have been very generous through the years, it was all self serving.
I donate to the causes of friends and their children, but there are some charities to which I will not donate. United Way has had a very poor record of getting donations to their executives instead of the needy. I don’t donate money to the Red Cross because they won’t take my blood. I don’t donate to Greenpeace or the Sierra Club because they are political organizations and not environmental groups. PETA hides it’s agenda from it’s members so it’s out. Other than that, I’ll help anywhere I can.
I have friends and family who are involved in long term charitable projects, my father travels to areas without clean water and installs reverse osmosis units. His group has provided Haiti with more clean water than they had before the 2010 earthquake, others have traveled the world building orphanages. One friend lost his home in Hurricane Andrew, and has since invested thousands of hours and tens of thousands of dollars into rebuilding projects after disasters here in the States. I’ll be working with him and a group from our High School at the Jersey Shore next week, repairing damage left from Sandy.
I mention these things because I often forget the charitable impulse in others. I see the press releases about how much money Bill and Melinda Gates have given to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, or Oprah Winfrey to the Oprah Winfrey Foundations, and I have the same feeling as when Annette Funicello started the Annette Funicello Research Fund. Why create a charity to accomplish the same goals other charities are already tackling? Why create another bureaucracy with high paid executives instead of using existing infrastructure and putting more funds into the hands of the people who need it? Is it merely a tax dodge or publicity vehicle?
I realize the desire for a legacy, having things named for you in recognition, but when the only things you do are for your own name, I just don’t get it. My grandfather endowed a scholarship, and named it for his parents, but it was inconsequential to his total charity work. Something about seeking recognition for your good deeds tarnishes them in some way. It doesn’t even occur to me to take tax deductions for my charities, it doesn’t amount to much anyway, but to issue press releases seems overly self serving.
I’m sure the Gates, Oprah, and Annette have done good work, but isn’t that supposed to be the point? I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel moved to donate to a charity just because it has someone’s name on it, particularly when that person is in the news for buying a $38,000 handbag.
I don’t need to “feel good” about celebrities for their charitable works. It is good to know that they do something, but I just want them to do their day jobs. Most people give of themselves, it is neither special nor newsworthy.