Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Giving Tuesday: Five Donations That Don't Involve Money

Even your salad loves it when you give.

Today is Giving Tuesday, the annual push to encourage people to give generously to causes they believe in at least one day of the year.

But what does "generous" mean?

There used to be a commercial that feature round-bellied kids or sad-eyed animals in cages that had the slogan "give until it hurts." I don't believe in that at all. Giving should be joyful and feel really good, warm and fuzzy and bubbly. Yes, I know what the slogan means, but sometimes it's important to reaffirm that giving feels good and should be done as frequently as possible. So we all can see how giving doesn't always mean money, here are five ways to give that are no monetary on Giving Tuesday:

1. Give time: This one is a common suggestion, but what does it mean to give time? Do you have to volunteer for it to count? Nope. Giving time can mean paying full and whole-hearted attention to your kid or your partner as they talk about their day. It can mean taking five or ten minutes and really being with your dog or cat (in the way that they love, even if it means putting up with them licking you, which I hate but which my dogs love.). By giving undivided attention you are sending the message that this person in front of you matters. Maybe this will be the stone in the pond that ripples outward.

2. Give extras: Give away books, clothing, household goods, electronics. Give away furniture and old appliances that work but you don't need. But don't just give them to a thrift store. Find people and organizations in need and give directly to them. Women's shelters for domestic abuse victims always need baby and children's clothes and diapers, and many of the women need professional clothes to interview for work. Contact the shelter and donate directly. Animal shelters always need old blankets and towels, and they can also always use toys, food, and newspapers. Clear out your attic, stop holding onto stuff you don't need, and give it to people who can use it.

Side note: giving away stained and ripped clothing is ungenerous and stingy. Throw those out and do better.

3. Give food: You know those ubiquitous "buy one, get one free" specials at the store? Starting today, bag the free one separately and donate it directly to a food bank. Or go through a community organization and adopt a family through the holidays. This can be especially important for families with children who may get most of their food through school. Once the holidays hit and school goes on break, they may struggle.

Side note: Really focus on nutritious food. My school ran a food bank for two years, and it was astonishing the crap that people donated. The "it's better than nothing" rationale is bullshit. Look for tuna, canned veggies, canned beans, rice, and pasta. Only give what you yourself would eat or feed your family. Stay away from cookies and other processed crap. If you must do that, try to find healthier versions. Low-income folks suffer disproportionately from Type 2 diabetes and obesity. Don't make it worse.

4. Give shelter where there is none: This year, The Teenager and I have made up large Ziploc bags filled with comfort items for homeless people we see. They have hand warmers, socks, a couple bars, travel-sized baby wipes, and a few odds and ends in each. We keep these in the car and hand them out when we get accosted. We carry one around with us. If I am being honest (which I always try to be), I don't 100% trust that a person on the street is going to use my money for food or shelter. I don't believe they are stranded and just trying to get back home. And I have had food thrown back in my face when I have given it to them. But they are people, and I can't do nothing. So we came up with the idea of comfort items and portable foodstuffs. The bags probably cost more to put together than the dollar or two I would give, but that's okay.

5. Give skill: Do you have a vital skill that you can give to the world, free of charge? Can you write a resume, build a bench, teach a class, tutor a child, or train someone to cook? Do that. Is there something you are passionate about that you can offer into the world? Do that. I am a yoga teacher, and my goal is to teach at least one class free a month. In this, I give not only physical fitness but also mindfulness, good karma, and skills to apply in the world; it's a type of giving that goes beyond the class. I am a writer, and I currently mentor two other writers who are just starting out, previewing pitches and pieces and offering suggestions and guidance when needed. This follows the apprenticeship model and also helps me continue to do what I love (teach) while connecting with other humans (which, let's be honest, I don't always love. The other humans. So it helps me get out into the world, which I need. But I digress.). Donating knowledge is the gift that truly keeps on giving.

So don't give until it hurts; give until you are bathed in the soft glow of self-congratulatory generosity. Give until you feel so good about yourself that you glow like a lightning bug. It's okay to feel good about yourself when you give. Give with no expectation of thanks, recognition, or reciprocation. Do it for the sake of the action.

Can you make a pledge to participate in giving, today and in the future? What will you give?  

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