The Christmas story I’ve always found the most moving is the Hans Christian Andersen tale, ‘The Little Match Girl’ where a young match seller freezes to death while imagining the perfect Christmas for herself—the kind of decadent Christmas so many of us take for granted.
It seems ironic that our bizarre Christmas tradition, intended as a celebration of the birth of Jesus, generally results in gluttony and excess. However, it can’t be denied that it is the one time of year where we can enthusiastically love and be loved, give and receive and show our appreciation for the people who enrich our lives. They say charity begins at home and at no time is this truer than Christmas making it the perfect opportunity for some of this charity to spill over into the lives of those for whom Christmas is a struggle.
Over the years charity has become a controversial topic about which a lot of criticism, negative attitudes and judgement have arisen. There was a time you could donate some blankets, tins of food or second-hand toys but now all the charities ask for is MONEY, MONEY, MONEY, and, in some cases, a signature on a petition. Subsequently it’s become difficult to make a difference if you’re time or cash poor. Most people are now sceptical about how much of their monetary contribution actually makes it to those in need with the establishment taking a sizeable scoop off the top. Charity shops have become priced well out of the range of those in need because demand has outweighed supply and the dollar has become more important than provisions for the underprivileged. Whatever your opinion it’s clear that charity certainly has a massive PR problem.
Furthermore, people are often judged for the nature of their contribution with a common belief being that the only valid way to help is by volunteering, while others simply use the guise of charity to falsely flaunt their philanthropic natures. On the other hand, people who actively campaign for charity can become a financial burden on their friends and risk adopting a self righteous attitude.
Personally I’ve not always been an overly charitable person. I’ve given here and there but never with great gusto and I, too, felt charitable organisations were not to be trusted. Yet, gradually my attitude has changed over the past two years to the point that I now I find myself passionately adopting causes and donating unthinkingly. I always empty my wallet of change whenever I see a collection box for the RSPCA, Leukaemia Foundation or the Guide Dogs and feel saddened when my coins makes a dull thud against the plastic instead of clinking upon a mountain of change. I hope my gradual progression will evolve from “change for change” to eventually inspire me to put aside my insecurities and make a tangible difference through a hands-on contribution.
To work towards this end I began thinking about what I could do this Christmas. My interest was initially sparked by an ad in a local magazine looking for gift-wrapping volunteers in support of the Leukaemia Foundation. As someone who has directly experienced the helping hand of the Leukaemia Foundation I jumped at the chance to give something back, despite my extremely shoddy gift wrapping skills. Unfortunately for me (but fortunately for them) they already had enough volunteers and so I was added to a standby list should they need extra assistance.
This is not the first time I’ve put myself forward for volunteer work and found that the charities in question were already full up with volunteers or had a list of demands that were impossible for the average Joe to meet—most likely because they’re looking to sift out the best from a charitable, but not necessarily qualified, bunch. Naturally, to retain the best of the best, they then need to consider paying wages which is where the cost of running these organisations begins to skyrocket and why people become wary of how their contributions are being utilised.
I’ve personally chosen a number of charities to support of which I’m no longer suspicious about whether my money is directly reaching those in need because I’ve come to understand that the infrastructure and staff are equally crucial in making a difference. Besides, if you gave money directly to a cause you’d likely find it would be squandered without proper procedures in place. And let’s not forget that you need to spend money to make money. Charity organisations may not be ideal but they’re the best vehicle we have.
With this in mind I put a small amount of money aside from my Christmas spend to divvy up between my favourite charities, being the Leukaemia Foundation, Amnesty International and the RSPCA in my support of health, human rights and animal protection; all charities I’ve seen direct action from and feel I can trust. I also deposited some money into the commissary account of Damien Echols from the West Memphis Three to contribute to his nutrition while on death row, making a direct impact to his quality of life.
As my Christmas holiday involved a plane journey I ensured I put some money into the Guide Dog containers scattered throughout the airport and donated my change via the UNICEF envelope distributed with Qantas headphones. I also signed petitions for World Vision and Amnesty for causes I believed in. I purchased gift tags only from companies that gave a portion of the purchase price to charity and I picked up this little guy from IKEA to put under the Kmart Wishing Tree. He made me smile and I hope he makes a child in need smile for a time too. I considered at length whether I could bring myself to donate blood but simply the thought of giving a whole bag made me considerably squeamish and so I decided against it.
I expect some will judge me for my meagre contribution. It would not be the first time. But I believe I’ve made a difference that requires no approval and while it may not seem like much now, I know I’ve fuelled a fire within myself that will lead me to make regular contributions by any means I can. Perhaps I can urge you to do the same?