Saturday, December 4, 2010

Is Adopting a Family the Best Way to Help?

Renee at FIMBY has an Internet Holiday Reading List up at her site. It's a great list,  I highly recommend checking it out.

One link in particular caught my eye; Scrooged by EarthMama who writes about the disillusionment she felt in trying to sponsor a child from an Angel Tree. This caught my eye because I've felt much the same way she feels. This is my story of why.

Several years ago I was part of a moms group that sponsored a mother and her two young children for Christmas. When we delivered the gifts three things really struck me. One, she never said 'thank you'. Two, her living room was piled (I mean every surface covered) with children's clothes. These were obviously used clothes, and  I had no way of knowing if they were donated to her or things she purchased. What struck me was the astounding excess, far more than her two children would ever be able to wear. Three, my son's comment when we got back in the car about the fact that the little boy had tons of Legos. Now, I'm not implying that these children shouldn't have nice things or should be limited to the bare minimum. I was left thinking again about what in this experience upset me after reading Earth Mama's post, and I was finally able to articulate the questions that had been stewing in my head. Questions like: Was going on a big shopping spree for the "less fortunate" really helpful? Who benefits most (me or the recipient)? Is there a better way to help? I truly believe that the shopping spree mentality is not beneficial. What many of these kids desperately need we can't buy at Target, wrap in pretty paper and put under a tree.  They need the same thing my children need-to learn delayed gratification, that saving and hard work are most always necessary to have the things we want. To my mind, having a big black bag show up at your door full of prettily wrapped gifts somehow doesn't send the message that hard work pays off. Dare I say that what we've lost is the stigma attached to asking for help. It seems to me that there is almost a sense of entitlement, a lack of humility,  that goes along with lists like those Earth Mama encountered. Lists that included XBox, DS etc.

As to who benefits...As Hank Steuver says in Tinsel (great book, by the way), "Sometimes the neediest are the ones doing the giving, those of us who need charity to fit some fantasy we're having about our own spiritual well-being."

Is there a better way to help...yes, but it's not near as easy as picking up an extra Candy Land game or hat and mittens at Target. It requires time more than money. It's mentoring a high school kid. It's volunteering for a literacy organization. It's sorting donations at the local food pantry.

Lest anyone think I'm some saint doing all, or even one, of the above, let me assure you I'm not. I stand as convicted by my words as I hope anyone reading them will be.

Photo courtesy of ACO.

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