Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Oprah ... Dope-rah??

Don't get me wrong, I think Oprah is a very inspirational and well-intentioned icon who uses her fame and influence to inspire us to improve ourselves and the world around us. BUT she is not infallible (a quality I actually like about her). Curious about her Angel Network because she picks up the tab for all of the admin costs, I came across this article about getting involved at different $ levels. I was struck by how fluffy some of them were - treat a homeless woman to a day spa??

Others could be downright dangerous: pick up the bill for a family's dinner at a restaurant - how is that not publicly insulting to the family, as you are essentially saying "I think you're too poor to afford this"??
Then there's the suggestion that you pay for a stranger's tank of gas. Well, I would think the person offering to buy me gas was either hitting on me or completely off their rocker, especially at today's pump prices. Maybe it's just my Manhattan skepticism, but these things sound wonderful in an ideal world that I definitely don't live in and you probably don't either. Now let's look at the ones I do know something about...

Buy lunch for a homeless person
I haven't done this, but I know people who've done it and, in three memorable instances, observed people doing this. Got news for you: the homeless don't like other people deciding what they should eat, so be prepared to take their order (which is often highly entertaining). And never give them your doggy-bag unless you want to wear it.

Give someone a transit card with a few trips on it
I did that once with an unlimited day card at 4pm - lots of time left. I headed for the rather long line for purchasing Metrocards. The non-New Yorkers looked at me with fear and suspicion (it was a Saturday, they were the majority), and finally I found a native who was delighted to score a freebie in this pricey town. Yes, I enjoyed making her day but not sure it was worth first being made to feel like a fearsome freak by the 3 people behind her.

Make a family's holidays a little brighter by buying all their holiday gifts
This was a last-minute burst of Christmas spirit just a few months ago. I basically packed 3 of the fixed-price priority mail boxes with everything I could cram in for families whose shelter Santa ran out of gifts. I got a thank-you email from one of them and I was shocked at how much $25 worth of little presents could mean to someone in this country. You know it's bad when the #1 thing on their list is "socks for a 6-month-old". A six-pack of socks is like $5. I also learned the meaning of "the working poor". Wow.

Buy school supplies for a needy school
I'm actually stockpiling school supplies for my trip to Mexico next month. I have a thing (which will rear its head on here from time to time) about the social lessons we teach people from poorer countries when we go there for cheap vacations. Do you think it's right that a teenage girl makes more selling one item of overpriced crap to tourists than her father does as a 16-hour-a-day trail porter in the Andes? Well, I don't. So I avoid buying street crap I don't want for the sake of putting money in the coffers of a local. However, I came across an orphanage in Cozumel and an organized collection for donations of school bags (apparently way overpriced down there) and supplies. That seems like a more responsible way to handle the First World Guilt.

I tried a few things through NY Cares after attending their orientation a couple of years ago, but volunteering 'round these parts seems to be a singles scene for newcomers to the big city. Weird vibe. I also think I need to feel a connection to the cause rather than just volunteering because I need a break from my hermitude [Note: I have an MA in linguistics and therefore a right to invent new words for dramatic effect]. I've got my eye on a gift bag stuffing event for a United Cerebral Palsy lunch in a couple of weeks, in honor of a dear friend who has a son afflicted with CP. We'll see how that goes.

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