Sunday, November 20, 2016

Compassionate Giving

Yep. It's the season of food drives and holiday baskets and all that other stuff for the poor and disenfranchised. Kids come home with notes from school asking for canned goods. Workplaces and churches urge us to give, so we take a couple cans from our pantry, send them off with the kids or drop them in the receptacle at church or work and move one, feeling like we've done our part. It's quick, impersonal and doesn't involve us in the messy work of getting to know the folks we think we're helping.

My family has been the recipient of many a food basket...among other offerings. For over a year I helped box up food for home deliveries from a food bank. Since I've seen both sides of the deal, I thought I'd add a few pointers. Some folks have never had to wonder where their next meal was coming from. So I figure they may not know some of this stuff.

1. Please don't use this opportunity to empty all the crap from your pantry you will personally never eat. You know what I mean. If you and your family won't eat it, what makes you think someone else will? As grateful as my family was for the food we received, there were times I just had to shake my head in wonder. Why would I need six cans of artichoke hearts and three cans of hominy?

2. If you're putting together a holiday box for a specific family, make sure all the necessary ingredients are in it. You know...butter, milk, eggs. Giving a can of pumpkin and a pie shell might not cut it if the family doesn't have the other things in their pantry or fridge.

3. While I am not picky in general, try to find out if your recipient family has any food allergies or religious restrictions. I know of a very poor Jewish family that received a lovely ham... A little compassion goes a long way. That year we swapped our turkey with that family and everyone was happy.

4. There are other things you can stick in the food basket that would make it special. Paper plates and napkins. A small bottle of dish soap. Homemade cookies. Ziploc bags to store the leftovers. A can opener. Aluminum foil. Let your kids decorate the box and write a personal note. Always remember your food basket is going to a family of real people with real feelings.

5. Consider inviting those needy folks over to share your Thanksgiving. Don't tell me you won't have a pile of leftovers. Be prepared to bag some of them up to send home with your guests. Don't forget there are a lot of older folks who live alone and may find the effort of preparing anything too difficult. Or too lonely.

Being on the edge of poverty sucks all year long, but it sucks more when your kids are listening to other kids talk about the great meals they're looking forward to. It sucks more when parents have to face the terrible awareness that they can't provide for their family like they want to. And the elderly often find it too humiliating to admit they need help. Whatever you choose to do, be compassionate and loving.