Sunday, November 23, 2008

Delivering the Goods

A couple of days ago, I dragged a little wheelie bag full of partially used (shower gel, lotions, conditioner) and completely new (band-aids, deodorant, soap, socks, gloves, etc) toiletries to Homeless Youth Services. I'm not sure how I feel about that experience.

First, it's affiliated with a church, and I have mixed feelings about anything religious. However, it didn't look like a preachy situation, and quite honestly I totally believe in churches doing things like this because hey, they've got all that real estate - put it to real use! The program gets to use the basement after 6pm, and it's not a "finished" basement - it felt like a garage, which made me a little sad. The wish list for this week included sleeping bags, and I'm pretty sure they roll them out on the concrete floor and sleep right there.

I got there around 7pm on a bitter evening, but the basement was delightfully toasty. I saw about a dozen teenagers hanging out, chatting, teaching each other to dance (I thought that only happened in movies!). I asked the woman in charge how many kids they take care of, and she said now that it's so cold, about 30 sleep there and more stop by for food and a little relief from life on the streets.

It opened my eyes, but not in a "now I understand" kind of was more like "wow, there's so much I don't understand".

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

This week's donation hemorrhage

I sent monthly checks off to two charities this evening: $70 to Thai Freedom House (sadly, I had just one ThaiForGood client), and $50 to The Baobab Home in Tanzania.

I've also been stockpiling coupon freebies for the past week or so, and I've finally identified a couple of tiny charities here in NYC that want what I've got...

Bottomless Closet helps disadvantaged women get into a decent job - interview workshops, budgeting seminars, second-hand interview and work clothes, etc. They also distribute a "goodie bag" of toiletries, so I'll be sending along the bargains I get on name-brand cosmetics, hair care products, deodorant, fem hygiene, etc.

Homeless Youth Services runs a shelter for teens in need, mostly LGBT runaways. I'm not a member of the LGBT community (I'm "S"), and indeed have very conflicted feelings about the T segment, but at the end of the day they're all just kids trying to survive. Apparently they're getting overspill from Covenant House, wow. This shelter's needs are sometimes so basic it breaks my heart. They post a weekly needs list in their yahoo group, and everything is really tiny - like milk because the food bank is so strained that they can't provide it anymore, moisturizer for one of the trans girls because her skin is so dry it hurts, plain felt Christmas stockings for the kids to decorate for themselves, OTC cold tablets. They don't mind donations of partially used shampoos and such - which is awesome, because I have some products that just don't suit me. They're also happy to accept prepared food for Thanksgiving dinner...I'm generally a lousy cook, but I make great mashed potatoes.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

It begins at home, Part 2

Well, extending my services free to my cousin went over like a lead balloon. Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration, but I emailed him over 24 hours ago and there's been no response. And he's online a lot. I wouldn't mind if he declined, but to have my offer met with silence makes me feel like I did something wrong. I hate making a social faux pas...I do it all the time apparently. I think I need to make friends with weirdos and avoid conventional types.

So I guess any attempts to give at a local level will have to be significantly less personal in nature, and more removed than a first cousin. I've recently felt inspired to give domestically, mostly because of all the hype about impending economic doom. Given my new coupon habit and CVS customer card, my plan involves getting name-brand toiletries (as opposed to dollar-store items, which tend to suck) for free or nearly free and making a monthly drop-off at a nearby women's shelter, state-funded convalescent home, or other organization that helps out people in need of soap, deodorant, that sort of thing.

Although I haven't yet identified a place to bring things, I kicked off my stockpiling with a free bottle of Garnier Fructis shampoo (sale price + store credit cashback + $1 coupon = free...well, 19 cents in sales tax). I know, it's just one thing and hardly worth blogging about, but there are many blogs and forums devoted to getting deals like this at major drugstores, and I need to check them out. Today I just did the obvious - and got the $2 in "recycled money" (my term for their "Earned Care Bucks" store credit) lined up for the next purchase.

Oh, and what little cash may be involved can come from the jar of money I saved from couponing that's earmarked for charitable donation anyway. I absolutely love finding ways to fund good work without laying out "real money". Because yes, my income as a self-employed massage therapist is experiencing exaggerated fluctuations, but I can get through a year of this insanity before I need to make any drastic changes.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

It begins at home, right?

My mom went to an early Thanksgiving dinner at her sister's last weekend, and was very upset to see how much pain my cousin is in. When he was 7 years old, he was struck by a car and got his leg broken in three places. Now he's 37 and has had several surgeries in recent years to clean out his now arthritic hip joint and messed-up knee, but still he's in constant pain. People think he's a primadonna taking taxis all the time, but apparently all the stairs up and down to the subway are torture.

Being a good aunt, my mother told him to call me whenever he's in midtown (he lives in Brooklyn), and that I'll work my Thai massage magic on him if I'm not busy. This is a huge compliment coming from my mother - she had a hard time believing that her brainiac child could do anything useful with her hands...until she had shoulder problems last summer from kayaking. She was the toughest nut to crack, and I completely won her over. Honestly, it should not have been that hard!

This morning, I dropped my cousin an email letting him know that I was totally cool with my mom extending the offer of my services. I also told him the only form of payment I would accept from him was a good cup of coffee. You see, like me, he's the "money guy" in his family and is constantly hit up for stuff by his mother and brother. I don't know if they openly ask or if they unload sob stories until he feels obligated -- he makes an insane amount of money doing voiceover work. So while picking up the tab for a few plane tickets or a piece of medical equipment for his handicapped nephew isn't financially a big deal to him, I understand more than most what it's like to feel like the family ATM. So I think it's really important that somebody in his family does something for him out of simple humanity.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Caped Coupon Crusader

Okay, so I was wearing a hoodie, not a cape, but that doesn't make me any less of a coupon crusader, in a Robin Hood(ie) kind of way.
For the Overseas Coupon Network, I chop up 20 copies of two different coupon inserts. Some of them seem kind of obscure to send along, or to send along so many of the same one. So this afternoon, I swung by CVS to pick up their weekly sales circular and tucked little piles of coupons into the shelves where the products were stocked (hair dye, cold meds, nutrition drinks). I figured in the economy, even us regular ol' New Yorkers could stand to keep an extra buck or two in our wallets.
I'd like to send a shout-out to my fellow 10-Day Give Challenge cohorts - one of them did this as part of the cahllenge, and I decided it was worth copycatting.