Thursday, October 20, 2005

Never Too Soon or Too Late

The last ten months of natural disasters around the world compound the wartime sense and recession sense that there's nothing to do but surrender and go cook something. I don't blame you for your fatigue. Hurricanes, earthquakes, the tsunami. Survivors of all manners of horror seem to be everywhere and needy, and here come the holidays, damn it! Let's ratchet down the anxiety a few pegs. It's October, and there's plenty of time to plan.

1. Your local food bank or soup kitchen will probably accept most donations of canned or sealed products but it's a good idea to call them and ask what they need most.

When Miss Sasha was little, we worked on a project together: we took paper bags, stapled instructions on them and asked our family and friends to keep the paper bags in their kitchens. We asked that participants purchase one canned item per shopping trip, place it in the bag and call us to collect it when the bag was full. We took the bags to the soup kitchen or the food bank after about three months. You don't have to coordinate a big project like that. You can contact your food bank, ask what they need or want and keep a bag in your own kitchen. You won't even notice a can of whole tomatoes or a box of cereal in your grocery bill but it makes a big difference to a kid who otherwise wouldn't have anything to eat or a family that finds its adults suddenly unemployed.

2. Last December, CN8 did a spot on the Hampshire Family Fund I happened to see. The idea impressed me very much. You and your gigantic family take $5 apiece maybe, pick a worthy cause and put that small hunk of money where it will do some good. It can be anywhere. You can all vote on where the money goes. A good reason to do this is the work you do as a group is greater than what you can do alone, and that's a powerful feeling. The best reason to do this is your beloved children never look at you as a selfish bastard and put you in a hellish, roach-infested dungeon of a nursing home, because they're not selfish bastards either.

Just to be clear, my darling, I'm not asking you to donate to the Hampshire Family Fund. Please endow your own good works fund. The [your fine name here] Fund.

3. A year ago, emails circulated asking people to send hospitalized soldiers phone cards. Sometimes needs change so I called Walter Reed Medical Center to fact check. The man who patiently answered my questions had a brand new list of things hospitalized veterans need:

phone cards
body wash
anti-perspirant for men/women
medium-sized sweat pants
medium-sized sweat tops
disposable cameras
medium and large breakaway pants
portable CD players
DVD movies
watches for the visually impaired

Mail to:

Walter Reed Medical Center
6900 Georgia Avenue
Heaton Pavillion
Third Floor, Room E05
Washington, D.C. 20307-5000

Attn: American Red Cross


I'm thinking lately about what I truly need and what is extra, and what effect does the extra stuff have on me. I feel it as weight I can't get out from under unless I throw or give away that stuff. Not everyone feels that way, for sure. I bet you can walk through your living room and find five DVDs you've seen and have no further interest in. Please consider putting those in an envelope. I mean, unless they sucked. In that case, do everyone a favor and toss them in the trash.

4. I love you. You know that. Please stash an extra $10 in your savings account this week for a rainy day. I hate to think of you going hungry in your old age.

When you see someone on TV talking about "giving back" do you want to ralph? That statement translates to "Since I got my Hummer I can write a $5 check to the blood bank. They take checks, right?" It's the difference between thinking of oneself as an accumulator of objects and material wealth, and imagining oneself as part of the fabric of problems and solutions.

So. Christmas is coming. No need to panic when you have an imagination like yours and all the heart a person needs to do some good in the world.

I've got coupons. Does that help?


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