on giving: helping people living the struggle

'Tis the season to be inundated by requests for donations. All our favourite causes need those end-of-year gifts, and every organization, from the most worthy to the borderline to the flat-out ridiculous, is out there asking for our dollars. Our paper mailboxes and are inboxes are stuffed with requests. And if you're doing more shopping this time of year, you know that every retail chain is trumpeting their good corporate citizenship by asking their customers for charitable donations. (Here's an idea: give from your own profits and leave us alone!)

We all make a series of decisions and rationalizations about where to put our limited donation dollars, and try to block out what we can't do. In general, I prefer to give to organizations that work to create change, as opposed to operating on a strictly charity model, but to also remember that charity serves real needs. In other words, work to create a world where fewer people are hungry, but fill a bag with groceries for a food bank, too.

I've heard the anti-charity arguments from the progressive point of view - if we feed hungry people, we're letting the government off the hook by doing its job. But people have to eat! This past year, visits to food banks in the GTA rose 8% over the previous year, bringing the total visits to more than 1,000,000 for the first time. This is beyond shameful. And it's not enough to give food and money once a year. But not giving food and money will not create a re-distribution of wealth or a more responsive government. It will only mean more people are hungry.

We need to work for change, but we need take care of each other, too.

I've always thought along these lines; it just seems completely intuitive to me. My favourite animal organization, BAD RAP, educates about the beleaguered "bully" breeds and works to change punitive breed-specific legislation, but it also rescues and rehabilitates individual dogs. I worked with SAVI - Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention Program - because it worked on every front to reduce violence against women, and also because it helped survivors heal.

I also try to give as close to the grassroots as possible. I can't see giving my limited donations to mega-charities like United Way. To me those groups are like the Microsoft of charities. They already enjoy huge mainstream awareness and support, and my small donation won't make much of a difference. When I give to the Abortion Support Network or BAD RAP or the War Resisters Support Campaign, I know exactly how my dollars are being used, and how badly they are needed.

I recently became aware of an organization that operates as a charity within the larger struggle to create change. For six years, Operation Christmas Cheer has helped the families of union workers who are on strike or locked out from their workplaces.

It's a tough thing to walk a picket line, to fight for your rights even though it means depriving yourself and your family. Most strikes are completely off the public radar. If I weren't friends with labour activists, and get information from various Facebook groups, I wouldn't even know these struggles were taking place. And then there are the public employees! Last summer, we saw what kind of support they enjoy: contempt, disgust, and often flat-out hatred.

Operation Christmas Cheer collects food, clothes, toys and cash donations for families facing hardship because of labour struggles. I think it's a great idea. You can sponsor a family, you can drop off donations of toys or food, or you can send a cheque. Details about who needs help and how you can join are here (pdf).

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