Consumerist Giving: When Your Donations Cause Problems

Eye of the Storm Image from Outer Space

In light of the major hurricanes that recently did immense damage to Texas, islands in the Caribbean, and Florida, and also the earthquake in Mexico, it’s time to talk about how to help in real tangible ways, and about a huge donation/giving snafu to avoid.

I stumbled upon this article the other day from CBS, and I can confirm that this is a real problem from personal experience. I did a lot of volunteering in college and happened to volunteer in areas of the east coast affected by Hurricane Sandy, so I’ve seen some of this firsthand, though not on the scale that the writer describes. TLDR: Charity can be very good, but not all charitable donations are helpful.

As the article explains,

“Generally after a disaster, people with loving intentions donate things that cannot be used in a disaster response, and in fact may actually be harmful,” said Juanita Rilling, former director of the Center for International Disaster Information in Washington, D.C. “And they have no idea that they’re doing it.”

The article goes on to describe huge piles of clothing donations blocking airport runways during hurricane disaster relief – runways that were needed to land planes full of actual life-saving supplies. It talks about a huge influx of teddy bears-thousands-donated to Sandy Hook after the tragic shooting at the elementary school.

Chris Kelsey, who worked for Newtown at the time, said they had to get a warehouse to hold all the teddy bears….As Kelsey said, “I think a lot of the stuff that came into the warehouse was more for the people that sent it, than it was for the people in Newtown. At least, that’s the way it felt at the end.”

He makes an excellent point. After disaster strikes, there’s a wonderful human urge to help and to feel like you’ve contributed in some real, tangible way. But we also have our own preconceived notions about what is helpful and what isn’t, and they aren’t always accurate.

I volunteered at a food pantry for a while and was one of the people who helped in the back room bagging groceries. We pretty much only dealt with food items, though occasionally we might get a donation of something like diapers. We were not, and never were intended, to be a clothing donation place.

Then the hurricane hit, and everyone wanted to lend a hand, and also a hand-me-down. This food pantry was completely inundated with clothing donations, I’m talking full trash bags piled to the ceiling, and we didn’t have room for them, or the resources to sort, clean, and distribute them properly. We started giving them away as much as possible, shoving them at people who didn’t want them or need them. I remember one week, because we had started giving away clothing donations, people who had come in for food assistance the week before came back with several boxes and bags of clothing donations. Thinking they were helping. That since we were giving away clothing, we must want more donations.

I thought this was a crazy problem to have. A food pantry inundated with the wrong type of donations, and lots of them. Then I read the aforementioned article about other hurricanes, which talks about people literally burning piles of donations because they were not the things people affected by the disaster actually needed, and these unwanted donations had rotted in a pile from not being handled in a timely, proper manner.

I told a co-worker this story and she was shocked. She said, why couldn’t they just pass the clothes on to someone else? Surely some people affected by the disaster must need clothes.

I told her, not necessarily. Because, as I recall from the hurricane, all the other charities in the area were flooded with donations after the disaster too, and again, not necessarily the things that were needed, or that the particular charity was set up to handle.

All you have to do to avoid contributing to this problem is to listen to the charities you are donating to. If they give a list of items they need, stick to the list. If they ask for a monetary donation or otherwise indicate that they will take one, it is almost always far more helpful to make a monetary donation. I know a lot of people prefer controlling exactly what their money buys, while others may prefer the personal touch of picking out an item to donate, but by giving money to a charity you trust, you grant them the ability to make bulk purchases that help a larger number of people than the four cans you bought plus the 2 nearly expired ones you took out of your pantry.

In case you haven’t seen it, the Adam Ruins Everything video on food drives is 100% accurate in my experience. Seriously, over 95% of what we gave out came from bulk purchases, not food drives. I’ve helped sort that stuff. A lot of what we got from said drives was expired, or just a weird item nobody eats. Rule of thumb: if you’re not sure how to cook it, someone else might not be either. Don’t donate that weird can of secret saucy surprise.

If you know of any charities that are doing good work to help the victims of these recent natural disasters, feel free to share in the comments!

Always donate responsibly.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

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My Secular Wedding

just married_signWedding planning proved to be far more time consuming than I ever imagined, but I’m back, happily married, and planning to return to blogging now that I have actual free time.

The wedding happened recently this summer, and it was completely nonreligious. I was still somewhat worried going in about how my family would react to the lack of religiosity. God was not mentioned even once in the ceremony, and our officiant happened to be a woman (we didn’t specifically look for a female officiant, she was just the person we happened to like best after we talked to a bunch of local officiants). We generally tried to be ourselves in every aspect of the wedding planning from food to music. We had a “first look” and took some photos before the ceremony. We also finally said “fuck it” and moved in together a few weeks before the wedding.

I have no regrets. The wedding was beautiful, and generally a good time. If you are considering getting married in a nonreligious ceremony despite having religious family and friends, my advice is, if you are out about your non-religiousness, go ahead and have whatever wedding you want.

Contrary to my fears, I’ve had no complaints about the lack of religiosity, even from the most religious people who were there. The comments we received were wholly positive. Our family and friends appreciated how personal the ceremony was, and I think it was a treat for some of them to experience a wedding outside of a church setting. We were told our ceremony was beautiful over and over again, and I think for the relatives who don’t know us as well (we had some slightly estranged folks come), the personal touch made it that much more special. One aunt actually came up to me afterward and said she loved that we were married by a woman rather than a man.

The ceremony was short and sweet. My parents both walked me down the aisle. The content was about us as a couple. Our officiant talked about how we met and said some generally pleasant things about love and marriage. She talked a little about the tradition of wedding rings, and she kept it light yet personal. My husband’s brother read a quote from Bob Marley. My cousin gave another reading about love. I’d say the ceremony took 20 minutes maybe, including the time for the procession, which I really appreciated because it didn’t drag. We didn’t have to stand for a crazy long time, and our relatives didn’t seem bored since we didn’t have to listen to an awkward homily or participate in an hour of sit-stand-kneel -communion-kneel-sit-stand as you do in a Catholic wedding.

Maybe the reason it was all received so positively is that weddings are celebrations, so our guests came expecting to have a good time. Then again, maybe people who disagreed with the way we did things just kept it to themselves. I’m fine with that too. I had a wonderful time.

For those of you who followed my posts in the past year or so, few and far between though they were, I have decided to change my last name after serious deliberation. Now I’m getting ready to start that crazy process, so there’s that.

If any of you have wedding stories, secular or religious, feel free to share them in the comments.

Happy thinking,

Nancy

 

 

What to Do With an Anti-Choice Gift Card

hobby-lobby-1I’m pretty sure my mom wasn’t thinking about politics while Christmas shopping, but she gave me a gift card to Hobby Lobby in combination with some other knitting related gifts. It was really sweet of her because I do enjoy arts and crafts but um–this is Hobby Lobby we’re talking about.

Yeah, that Hobby Lobby.

Since the money has already been spent at this business I’m not super fond of, my plan now is to use the gift card but make an equal or greater donation to Planned Parenthood or some other organization that supports reproductive rights, sex ed, and sex positivity.

hobby-lobby-2

If you know of any good organizations, let me know in the comments.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

Wedding Officiants and a Life Update

Macro Photo of Flowers in Wedding VenueMy fiance and I just selected a venue for our wedding. (One of the big reasons why I’ve been posting less frequently has been just wedding stuff.) After that, the next big order of business will be something I’m pretty nervous about: finding an officiant. My fiance and I have decided that we want a secular wedding ceremony, which means we’ll need to find an officiant in our area who can do that, and figure out whether or not using a secular officiant affects the legal side of things. Does our state care who the officiant is?

That’s not even my biggest concern.

Having a secular wedding means a lot to us as secular people. For me personally, it means saying my vows in a setting that reflects my personal beliefs and worldview rather than just those of my family. It’s the couple making the promise after all. I think it’s important for the promise to be in a format that we personally find meaningful, but for our families, it may be a source of confusion or even conflict.

For many people, a wedding is simply always a religious ceremony. In Catholicism, it’s  a sacrament, so it may be difficult to explain to our religious relatives that we’re not having a priest or minister perform the ceremony.

We might even have a female officiant. (Not that we have to. I’m just very open to the idea.) But in Catholicism, since women can’t be priests, women just don’t marry people. That means something as unimportant as the gender of our officiant could really weird out some members of my family. It would be absurd to them. What if that makes my parents think my marriage isn’t valid?

Maybe these fears are unfounded though. Secular weddings are increasingly common now. How many popular TV shows have had a friend of a couple marry them? Like Barney performing the ceremony for Lily and Marshall in How I Met Your Mother or several friends officiating at Howard and Bernadette’s wedding in The Big Bang Theory–it’s kind of a cool thing to do. My parents have seen some TV weddings like this. Maybe the idea of a nonreligious officiant isn’t as foreign to them now as it would have been a few years ago.

Only time will tell with this one. I’ll probably end up sharing more about our secular wedding experiences, so if you’re interested in any specific details be sure to let me know and I’ll try to reply or maybe even bring them up in a future post (once we’ve made those decisions. We’re still not that far in the wedding planning process yet).

Have any of you been to secular wedding ceremonies in the past? Maybe even had one yourself? I’d love to hear about your experiences. How did family and friends respond to a nonreligious ceremony?

All opinions are welcome! Just be respectful of others and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

Times When It’s Not Appropriate to say “Praise God”

man, hands, church

For some reason, there are some people for whom “praise God” and “congratulations” are synonyms. For whom words like “Thank you so much,” or “Good job,” get replaced with a hearty “Thank you Jesus!”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying people shouldn’t practice their religions (regardless of what I think about those belief systems). If you want to praise God, go right ahead. But think about the context of the situation and who you’re saying it to. When you say things like this to a nonreligious person in these types of situations, it can be very irritating at best and even downright offensive, because it feels like you’re refusing to acknowledge their own contributions to these positive outcomes–their own hard work and achievement.

So without further ado, here are some times when it’s not appropriate to say “Praise God.”

  • When your writer child says, “I finished writing my novel!”
  • When your toddler says, “Daddy, I went potty all by myself!”
  • When your friend tells you they got that doctorate they’ve been working towards for so many years.
  • When your other friend tells you how proud they are of the machine they built.
  • When your shy child says, “I met someone and we’re engaged.”
  • When your uncle says he worked his butt off and convinced his boss to give him that raise he needs so that he and his wife can finally start their family in a good home.
  • When your doctor uses their medical training to heal you successfully.
  • When a fireman does his job and puts out your kitchen fire.
  • And last but not freaking least, when your wife says “Dinner’s ready!” (Seriously, my dad does that last one every. Fucking. Night. I have a very hard time keeping to myself how badly I want to tell him to just thank Mom.)

The appropriate response to most of these is “congratulations,” or “thank you.” Things like “Great job!” “You deserve this” or “All that hard work paid off,” are pretty good too.

But “praise God?”

How about recognizing when people have success? How about praising them first? If you’re religious, you can praise God in your own time, but this? This is a time to be with your family. Your close friends. To support and praise the person who loves you enough to choose to tell you about their success. To thank the person who did something for you, whether it was performing a service or doing you a favor. Don’t deflect that moment of human interaction by making it about your religion. Actually love your loved ones. Thank the people who help you. Give credit where it’s due.

What do you think about this list? Agree? disagree? Maybe there’s something you would add to it? Feel free to share your thoughts. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

 

A Personal Update

I’ve been having trouble motivating myself to post regularly lately, but I definitely need to get back into it. Living with my family is very emotionally draining, and having the chance to just rant about the endless Catholicism I’m surrounded with is cathartic at the very least.

My family lives their lives by the church calendar, which is fine for them, but it’s not for me. I work around it when I can, and if I have to skip meat except for fish on Fridays I’ll do it. That’s not a huge deal.

What is though, is just knowing that I’m not in a home environment that respects my beliefs or political opinions. I still get passive aggressive comments from my dad basically calling me stupid for not believing. My brother likes to pick arguments with me about politics in which he shouts at me. I try not to shout back, but after living in this environment for so long I feel ganged up on and tend to end up being more emotional than I should. It’s very easy to say “I want to be the mature person, to keep my cool,” which I do want very much, but that’s easier said than done.

I also don’t have much of a community to fall back on now that I’ve left the church completely. I have way fewer friends than I once had, and a lot of them are moving to various other states as their careers take them elsewhere. This is a normal part of life at my age, and I’m very happy that my friends are finding careers and starting their adult lives in exciting new places, but realizing that is very difficult because it means that without my family’s support, I’d be basically on my own except for my fiance. I need to make some new friends, and get better at staying in touch with the people I can still get along with: the people whose friendships with me weren’t influenced by religion.

I need to pay off over $60,000 in student loan debt, but I know at my current rate it’ll be many years before I even come close to paying it off.

I want to move out of my parents’ house, but the longer I live here, the faster I can pay off my debt.

I want to get married, but weddings are expensive and at the moment my practical side says DEAL WITH THIS HUGE DEBT FIRST. So I’m kind of in a weird place right now.

It’s hard to feel like I’m going anywhere. I know my current situation is only temporary, but until I have a wedding date, or a new place to live that I’m moving to on a specific day, it just feels endless. I’ve been living here like this since May of last year. I’ve been living here for more than a year. After college.

I don’t really want sympathy, I just want to express where I am right now and get it off my chest. If any of you have advice or experiences to share, I’m more than happy to read about it in the comments. I hope you have a sense of progress in your life. I hope you feel like even if you aren’t where you want to be, you’re on your way there. If you have any advice for a young adult trying to figure life out, feel free to share it.

All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy