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.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Sorry, OCP

A few weeks ago, I tallied up coupons for shipping to an Air Force base in Okinawa on the train down to visit my mother. She voiced the same concern I had when I first started: how many of these coupons are actually useable for the recipients? I tried asking the folks who run the Overseas Coupon Program, but they didn't know the answer. She said I should stop wasting my time on clipping and my money on postage, and I was hard-pressed to disagree.

However, I've found a more effective way to help people with my unwanted coupons. I've joined a coupon forum, where I can offer up an envelope of coupons as a Random Act of Kindness. I could also trade them, which I may do after I move to a new apartment and find myself with less access to free Sunday circulars. So I continue to help budget-conscious Americans, just not necessarily of the military persuasion.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Great new trend: Giving to the Giver

Last month (I think), I posted about the Starbucks "Pledge 5" free coffee for anyone promising to volunteer at least 5 hours in 2009. Well, DebbieLynne over at On The Banks of Stony Creek kindly posted this week about the Perry Ellis "Roll your sleeves up" offer: submit proof of 20 hours of volunteer work performed between Jan 20 and May 20 and get a free white men's office shirt. Wait, that sounded bad - any color man can wear this shirt, it's the shirt that's white.

Of course, I'm not a man and I'm not involved with one at the moment, so what to do about this rather generous offer? Well, donate it of course! Most of the "kids" who sleep at the shelter are 16-19, and a few older ones who've only recently moved into some kind of city housing come for dinner. The shelter manager occasionally mentions the need for decent work clothes whenever one of the kids gets a job, e.g. khakis and a white shirt. So when it comes time to submit my paperwork, I'll just ask her whose sizes I should get. Of course, we're talking about people who probably have no idea what their neck or sleeve length is...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What I donate from my coupon capers

Now that I've finally dug out the download cable for my digital camera, I thought you might like to see the "haul" I've got on the go for my first visit to Bottomless Closet and my ~8th visit to the Homeless Youth Services shelter. I got most of this stuff free or nearly free...maybe $15 that I won't get back in rebates/rewards. Heck, that's like buying the cereal and getting all the other stuff for free (which is saying a lot for all that L'Oreal and Almay make-up!).

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Pulling in my littlest sister

When my littlest sister (both in terms of height and age...she's 29) visited back around Thanksgiving, I played ATM and gave her cash in return for a check made out to one of the charities I donate to. She looked at it longingly and said she wished she had money to give away. Well, she probably won't for a few years yet, but I think I've come up with a solution to get her in the habit without costing her anything.

You know how most rebates are only one per household? Well, what if, when I buy multiple items like that, I submit one of them with her details...and once there's $20 or so accumulated, she can make a donation? I mean, the original money spent will have come from my ThaiForGood sessions, and it's essentially being "recycled" - first I get to buy something for one charity with it, then the cash gets donated to another.

The first thing I want her to try is applying $25 to a Kiva loan because it's interactive, personal, and comes with a lot of feedback. I think she'd really like that. After that, I could get her to think about what kinds of causes she'd like to support, then research a few and make suggestions. Hopefully she'll find it interesting enough to start reading up on such things on her own, but if not, she'll at least have the basics.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Saturday Night at the Shelter

Cooking dinner with Dani and her boyfriend at the Homeless Youth Services shelter for GBLT teens & young adults was a FASCINATING experience on more than a few levels. Here are the highlights...

The Kids
As I'd noted in previous visits, there's a fairly typical assortment of "types" - some are polite and helpful, some are sociable, some are sullen. One kid wanted to tell me all about his CT scan that morning, another kept asking us a question that made no sense, one warned us that we should hide the cereal because it wouldn't survive 5 minutes in the open, and the sweetest were these two big teddy-bear guys who wanted to show off how well they chop vegetables. The age range seems to be 16-20 ... some of them have recently transitioned to public housing but stop by for dinner when they don't have food.

"Hey, it's real shepherd's pie, not that watery sh*t they serve at the church!"
So said one kid to another, when kid #2 showed disappointment at the menu. We chose shepherd's pie because they don't get much meat, and when they do, it's chicken. Plus, Dani found a great price on ground beef.

The inclusion of cheese brought all the kids over for a look. Mental note: recipes with cheese are a big hit.

The Pantry
Dani & I sifted through the contents of the unpadlocked fridge (no idea what was in the locked one) and the rack of shelves to see what kind of things they were being supplied with so we wouldn't double up. Not a chance - 50% of the pantry was canned yams, and they recently got a delivery of about 100 lbs of potatoes. As I put a few containers of oatmeal on the shelf, one of the kids mentioned that grits are equally and maybe more popular...but then, that might have been a self-serving remark, heh.

"You're straight?? So why are you helping us?"
I know most of these kids ran away from home or were thrown out because they're gay. I guess they haven't been in NYC long enough to realize that things like that don't matter that much. We were apparently a demonstration of acceptance, and I'd argue that that will have a more enduring impact than dinner and 6 boxes of Frosted Flakes. Dani's mother wants to join in the cooking at some point, maybe in a couple of weeks - that will completely blow their minds.

The Lump
I'm not the only one who finds the girl who supervises really awkward. I'd say "useless", but she posts wish lists and benefit info to a Yahoo Group, which obviously works or else I wouldn't even be writing this post. In real life, she's a lump. No eye contact, no acknowledgement of your presence, no quick tour of the kitchen before cooking, no interest in seeing what we brought. Heck, the only reason we kept aside a plate of meatless shepherd's pie for her was because one of the kids told us she was vegetarian.

Free Lipstick for Trannies?
I'm not the only one who doesn't think this is the best use for free cosmetics - Dani actually brought it up first, but it echoed my own thoughts from my first visit to the shelter as well. Not that there aren't "real girls" at this shelter, but they are the minority and less likely to be caked in make-up than the transvestites. So I'm collecting such things for Bottomless Closet, an organization that helps disadvantaged and victimized women get back on their feet with workshops (budgeting, interviewing, etc), work-appropriate clothing, and a goody-bag of toiletries. I plan to drop off my first donation in about 2 weeks.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Save a Girl From Bonded Servitude for half-price!

Some kind benefactor has donated $25,000 to match contributions to 3 charities that operate in Nepal. Included in that little list is Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation, to whom I sent $100 last fall after an awkward massage. To get your donation doubled, you need to give through GlobalGiving before the $25K runs out!

$100 rescues a little Nepalese girl from bonded servitude, pays her school fees for a year, and supplies her family with a piglet. Now you can generate that impact with just $50 out of your own pocket thanks to the Phil Stapleton Memorial. Sweet!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Cooking for the Kids

Most people in my "real world" sphere of influence roll their eyes at some of the stuff I want to try, be it skydiving in Buenos Aires or feeding runaway teenagers. Of course, that quality probably makes my blog(s) fun to read! Well, one of my readers with the time, the interest, and the skills wants to team up and cook for the kids at Homeless Youth Services this Saturday night.

I'll admit, it was a little scary making those deliveries at first - the neighborhood is pretty desolate at night (it's near the Lincoln tunnel), the facility feels a lot like a garage (bare concrete, metal cages, etc), and the kids give you an assessing look that could be curiosity, could be suspicion, could be determining if you're worth mugging. But now that some of them recognize me - and after my last delivery, a lot more of them probably will from now on - and I know what to expect, well, I'm used to it...and I want to participate more actively.

So thank you, Dani, for approaching me about preparing dinner for them this Saturday evening. I'll help you with the unfamiliar and at times intimidating environment, and you teach me to cook for 30-40 teenagers. I'm looking forward to this!

Friday, January 23, 2009

$30 bought me 30 Thank You's

I normally drop off supplies (these days, mostly of the edible persuasion) at the homeless teen shelter every week, but the weather has been too bitter and nasty to make that 2.7-mile roundtrip walk. That didn't stop me from accumulating lots of items from their wish list though, so this delivery got packed up in my full-size 25" wheelie suitcase...4 boxes of cereal (Frosted Flakes, Special K, Cap'n Crunch), 2 containers of oatmeal, 20 lbs of chicken legs, 30 eggs, 4 lbs of bacon, 1 lb grated parmesan, 2 boxes of cake mix with matching frosting, and a bagful of free sample-size Head & Shoulders shampoo and Old Spice deodorant that were collecting dust in a closet at my mom's office. Pretty good haul for $30!

In good, that one of the boys who watched me unpack the suitcase of goodies stood in the middle of the room and shouted, "Everyone, everyone, listen up! Instead of going out and getting drunk or getting a little something something on a Friday night, she came all the way down here with a big load of REAL SHIT for us!!! And we all need to thank her, every single one of us."

You know what I think really did it? The bacon. I gave them eggs and bacon, and one of the kids who loves to do the cooking, well, his jaw hit the floor. Some of the others actually looked confused that I'd brought them name brand cereal (that would be the "real shit"). Their pantry shelving just had bags of rice, cans of beans and tomatoes, and a lot of recently-delivered rolls. I wish I'd looked more closely when they opened the fridge, but I did register that there was plenty of room for the chicken, bacon, eggs and cheese....and no milk or fruit. No milk? How were they going to eat the 2.5 boxes of corn flakes they had lined up for tomorrow's breakfast -- dry?

On the way out, an exotic trannie and one of the girls who gets excited whenever I bring socks stopped me. Sock girl wanted me to know how much they really appreciated the donations because "people would rather give to shelters for single men than teenagers from the other side", meaning that many of them were gay. I just said kids are kids, and should never be forgotten...and went on my way with my empty wheelie bag, thinking how much better that $30 was spent than if I'd gone to a bar and had, what, 3 drinks?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Goods4Girls Update

I was very sorry to note that Crunchy Chicken is shutting down her Goods4Girls project, which collects donated cloth menstrual pads for distribution at schools and orphanages in Uganda, Sudan, Kenya, etc. because her time is stretched too thin. Several people, including myself, left comments to the effect that we'd love to take on all or part of the project and keep it going. I imagine she'll be making a decision soon, since the domain name expires in a few weeks.

If not, and this is the end of Goods4Girls, I might try to do what I can on my own. If things go as planned, I'll be booking my ticket to Nairobi for a 3-week stint in East Africa, where I'll be spending half the time helping out at The Baobab Home. As I like to do when I travel to impoverished parts of the world, I was planning to bring out some of their Wish List supplies. Even if the scope of their work doesn't include adolescent girls, I'm sure they'll know how to direct me!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Food Bank Needs a Bail-out

Judging from the Yahoo groups online Wish List put out periodically by the Homeless Youth Services shelter where I drop off donations, the New York Food Bank must be approaching bankruptcy. First they eliminated eggs, then fruit, then milk. And judging from the current Wish List, they are no long supplying any protein, and even such stand-bys as cereal, pasta, and canned tuna are scarce.

Well, the weather isn't too cold today, so I'll be making the rounds of assorted supermarkets and pharmacies to take advantage of their specials to add to the milk, eggs and tangerines I picked up yesterday. The final item on this week's Wish List reads:

We need food! The food bank and similar organizations are stretched thin, and we're feeling it. Tonight I served pasta and sauce (no cheese or meat) and tomorrow we're going to be down to beans and rice . . . bring a friend and a bag of groceries and cook dinner for the shelter or drop off some of the following items:
parmesan cheese
ground beef
hot dogs
spices: esp. adobo, onion and garlic powder, cumin
fresh fruit esp. oranges and bananas
popcorn kernals - we have a popper

I had an exceptionally good week of business, so I'll be doubling my usual weekly expenditure on this shelter.