Friday, May 15, 2009

Change of blog venue

This blog is now closed.

If you would like to continue following
my Adventures in Affordable Giving,
check out the Charity category
on my personal finance blog at:

Friday, May 1, 2009

On the spot on the street

I don't like giving to panhandlers on the street and have gone out of my way to avoid it since my days as a student in the Bronx, when begging was a front for muggers determining if you were worth mugging.

But the other day, I passed a tall, polite man under a store awning in the rain who said "I'm a Vietnam veteran, ma'am, can you help me out?" and held out his VA card as proof. As is my habit in these situations, I just kept walking. But it didn't sit well with me. I've often thought that if my mom and dad had split up in the last 15 years of my dad's life, that's what he would have become. Thank goodness it was raining because I got a bit teary thinking about my dad.

My dad had a huge heart but empty pockets, and a big brain but no practicality. He would give away money he didn't really have. I turned around and walked back three blocks to give that semi-toothless man $2.

I used to give regularly to a tall-but-stooped elderly black man who often worked my corner. He had terrible blood pressure and at one point his head was shaved for medical reasons, and he turned 70 in February. Well, I remember when he turned 69 the previous year, but he hasn't been around at all for about 6 months...probably no longer among us. So if that polite old vet begs on that other corner regularly, I think that's where I'll be shifting my street patronage to. And honestly, I don't care if he spends it on cigarettes or beer or any other vice - whatever gets him through the day is fine with me, no judgments.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

What I've been up to

Wow, didn't mean to go a month without an update here! And it's not like I've been that busy either -- no excuse.

My plans to spend a few weeks in East Africa this month went down the tubes along with the economy. I'm keeping my head above water, but there's nothing left to feed my need for exploration. Very few people have been coming in for the charity Thai massage sessions, which makes me a little sad - it really is the only way I can afford my giving habit. So I've been focusing on the things that involve "recycled money". This means I buy things that generate rebates and store credit refunds, donate those things, and then keep the money going round and round the system snapping up shampoo, toothbrushes, shower gel, deodorant, cereal, condiments, feminine hygiene products, cough drops, etc.

I've been a little lazy about finding another shelter-type place to supply. It's not as easy as you might think. There's a nice man in Connecticut who posts a wish list on Craigslist every Wednesday for charities in the Danbury, CT area, and I wish someone would do it for Manhattan. The teen shelter at Sylvia's Place is pretty well-stocked with girlie stuff and shampoo/conditioner, but I forgot to dig through tonight to see if any of those bottles were shower gel. I'm curious...are any of you readers (I'm only aware of three of you!) donating to this shelter? Because last month their cabinet of non-food supplies was looking pretty healthy. However, Thursday night I noticed there was just one deodorant. Maybe I'll swing by again soon with the rather large bagful I've accumulated - Ban, Right Guard, Sure, Mitchum, etc.

Beyond our borders...I'm overdue to send some $$ to Thai Freedom House - will do so this week, since I did my first ThaiForGood massage in 6 weeks.

Friday, March 20, 2009

First Delivery to Bottomless Closet

I had problems finding battered women's shelters to donate to, since a lot of them have to maintain a level of secrecy to keep their clients safe. But I really wanted to do something for this segment of the population, and found Bottomless Closet. This organization helps women - mostly single moms who've gotten out of abusive relationships - pull themselves out of the gutter and get into the work force.

I've been planning this drop-off for over a month, but the weather this winter has been wayyy disagreeable. I brought about $250 worth of cosmetics, hair products and skin care items for them to include in their "goody bags". They do a beautiful job of making their "closet" of second-hand career clothing look like a department in Macy's.

The woman who handled my delivery asked if I'd collected these donations at my office or something. I guess it was quite a lot to come from one person - that felt kind of good to hear! It also tickled me knowing that I only paid about 10% of the on-sale value of the things I'd brought.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Voluntourism/Vaniteerism at the runaway teen shelter

For my thoughts on voluntourism (which I prefer to call "vaniteerism"), click here.

I dropped off some Cheerios, milk, brownie mix, deodorant, etc at the shelter last night, and it was the funniest visit yet. First, there was a woman near the cabinet where I was offloading toiletries unpacking a very professional-looking video camera. I overheard that she's "documenting" two of the kids at the shelter. Then I went to the back to unload the food, and there were about a dozen awkward white kids clustered in the kitchen. One of the boys who's always there when we are (and has stated his preference for triple-bladed razors) said they were going to be there all week from Wisconsin and "I have to say, they make me very uncomfortable". Yeah, me too. You could tell they were there to "do good" during their Spring Break, but clearly the shelter kids were not crazy about the situation, and were almost... relieved? ... to see quiet, regular ol' me. Two of them leapt upon the deodorant, which surprised me - between us, Dani & I have donated 25 full-size Sure, Speedstick, Right Guard and Secret in the past two weeks. When that wishlist a few weeks back said they were completely out, they weren't exaggerating!

Anyway, I'm not sure what these college kids on Spring Break are hoping to achieve, especially since there are so many of them that the shelter kids who enjoy cooking aren't "needed". At least when it's just a couple of us, it's more like we're sharing their territory rather than usurping it. I wonder how much the two groups interact...the shelter kids were way more skilled at hiding their discomfort.

I heard the shelter manager speak for the first time - to the camera woman. Apparently while donations are slacking off at the moment, there is a rise in volunteer interest. Just goes to show that in this economy, we all have more time than money, duh. I like combining the two, the way i have been (thanks to Dani's cooking-for-the-masses skills!).

Monday, March 16, 2009

Invasion of the breakfast cereal

I got a call from my mother over the weekend, complaining that she had to take down her 4-foot Christmas tree in the living room corner (which, I kid you not, she still turned on - musical lights and everything) to make room for the 12 boxes of Kellogg's and 4 boxes of Chex I had her pick up on a supermarket deal the last two weekends. I think she had way too much fun buying them: I asked what kind she picked out, and she said "Hannah Montana!" Ugh, I meant for her to get more "serious" ones like Raisin Bran and Corn Flakes. Oh well. My limited closet space is overrun by 30 bottles of shampoo/conditioner, 8 big boxes of Cheerios, 10 tubes of toothpaste, 25 packs of pads/tampons, and an absurd amount of candy (Tootsie Rolls, Sour Patch Kids, Caramel Cremes, Spearmint Leaves, Laffy Taffy, etc) that I got for about 25 cents a bag. And I know Dani is contending with about 25 boxes of cereal and 30 bottles of salad dressing. It makes you wonder what conclusions people would draw if they tried to profile us based solely on the contents of our closets. I would come across as a well-travelled (assortment of luggage in all closets) carb addict who can't stop washing her hair or brushing her teeth. They'd be half right...I'll leave you to ponder which half.

I gave a ThaiForGood massage yesterday to an out-of-work documentary maker with a really bad neck. He doesn't read this blog, but he did have a look at some of the blog entries on my ThaiForGood site, and was interested in the things I've been doing for the shelter. And here I was thinking no one read that.

Now, to figure out the best destination for these vast quantities of Pantene, Garnier Fructis and Herbal Essences hair products...

Saturday, March 7, 2009

I wish I could do more

Tonight I met up with Dani at Sylvia's Place to cook dinner. Okay, so I just dumped pasta in a pot and drained it - she's the one with the skills. A few things stood out about this particular experience that has me thinking...

1 - Breakfast Brawl
There was a girl there who stays at another shelter (which looks bigger or at least better organized that Sylvia's Place) and asked if she could take something back there for breakfast because they "have nothing". She said that they put in orders through the church that runs it, but they never get anything - I'm guessing they get very little from the food bank or else she wouldn't be see, I'd put her at about 350 lbs, which makes her too big to jump a turnstyle, so she probably walked the nearly 4 miles between the two shelters for dinner - not comfortable even at half her size (sadly, I know that first-hand). Anyway, because of her size, I gave her the 3 boxes of Carnation Instant Breakfast I snagged for free at CVS last weekend rather than the Corn Pops. I can't imagine anyone would choose to chug 30 envelopes of powder! One of the boys tried to argue that she was only supposed to get one box, which was my initial offer before she described the extent of the problem, and I got pulled in as mediator on my way out. I mean...Carnation, for chrissakes. It's not like it was Frosted Flakes or, I don't know, GOLD BARS!!!

2 - The toiletry cupboard ain't bare
Dani got to put away the bathroom items she'd brought as donation, whereas I'd always been told to leave them on the desk. She said she could see I'd been there earlier, because we both work the same drug store deals and she knows all about the Colgate Total Whitening and Suave body wash, heh. Anyway, I have a massive load of girlie supplies, and Sylvia's doesn't have that many girl guests...and the other shelter does. Well, I'm moving in about 3 weeks and I want this stuff out of my closets by then. Seriously, I have at least 20 packs of liners, pads and 'pons.

3 - Poor feedback
I don't need heaps of thanks, but I would like to know when I've supplied more than enough, or donated something unneeded. While I get lots of feedback from the kids, I would absolutely love to have someone say "if you can get a good deal on XYZ, we have three kids who could really use that sort of thing" or "we've got enough shampoo to last us for 2 months, so no need to go out of your way for that at the moment".

4 - No admin
I actually think this is a good thing. We had a chat with one of the long-term volunteers we occasionally run into, and he told us how there is almost no record-keeping or separation of church and shelter. While I think there needs to be a few things in place that aren't, I also think it's great that they're not wasting resources on things that don't have any effect on the front lines.

I fully intend to continue my support of Sylvia's Place, but I think a little co-ordination with Dani might be in order...when we've got stacks of the same things, perhaps I should take some of my haul to another, equally destitute shelter.