42: Charity Begins...

42: Charity Begins...

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

Charity Begins…

It is the thrifty people who are generous.
~Lord Rosebery

With three weeks before the end of the year, it’s time to do the majority of my charity donations. I get my spreadsheet of charities where I track donations and income tax receipts, pull out the stack of pledge cards I’ve been saving throughout the year, and open my checkbook.

I pick up my pen, but instead of writing the checks, I hesitate. It’s easy to give money to charity when you know you have money coming in. It’s not so easy when most of the money is going out.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been informed that two of the websites I write for have decided to “proceed cautiously because of the recession.” An editor at a newspaper I’ve written for told me they’re no longer using freelancers. And just yesterday I got an e-mail from a health magazine that I frequently contribute to. In response to my query, they told me they’re not looking for any new ideas for the next six months.

In other words, I can’t expect any more assignments from these places for at least that long, maybe longer.

Although I’ve been looking for other writing venues, so far I haven’t done well. The marketing group that I belong to is mostly listing positions for bloggers and freelance writers that pay less than five cents a word, some as low as a penny. No one can survive on that.

While I actually had the best writing year of my career, it’s becoming clear that next year is not going to come close to matching it. And I should add that “best” is relative. I read somewhere that the average writer makes less than $15,000 a year, and that’s with factoring in the megastars who make hundreds of thousands of dollars. I’m still below average.

Although my substitute teaching helps pay the bills, I haven’t been getting as many calls lately. To save money, the school board is closing schools, meaning fewer teachers are needed.

So, can I really afford to give to charity? Doesn’t charity begin at home? My home. I’m tempted to close my checkbook, but I don’t.

I look around my house. Yes, it’s worth less now than it was before the housing market tanked, but I still have a small, nice house in a good area of town. Since I’m not looking to sell, I can wait out the market slump.

My fridge and cupboards aren’t bursting with food, but that’s because I haven’t gone shopping this week. These days I don’t buy a lot of meat or expensive prepared foods, but neither do I have to choose between food and paying for utilities. Unlike an increasing number of people, I’ve been able to donate food to food banks rather than having to use them.

A lot of the clothes I wear are secondhand, but that’s partly because I’m inherently frugal and partly because I don’t care about fashion. If I look carefully, I can usually find good quality clothes that have been “gently” used.

Then I think about some of my friends who aren’t as lucky as I am. One lost six teeth over a couple of years because she couldn’t afford regular dental care. I just had a filling replaced last week. Yes, the bill hurt almost as much as the procedure, but the pain wore off for both.

Another friend, with massive health and mobility problems, lives on a meager disability pension while her husband works two jobs to keep them afloat. My knees may creak more than they used to, and my kidneys aren’t in the best shape, but I can still get around.

A third friend lost seven years of her life when a stroke wiped out large chunks of her memory. Unable to work, she lives on government assistance which, for her, means stale crackers and tuna fish—which she hates. Yet one month, when she had managed to save five dollars for a treat at McDonald’s, she ended up giving that money away to someone she thought was needier. Me? I treat myself to breakfast out every Sunday and every couple of weeks my mother sends me twenty dollars to go out for dinner.

Suddenly, I feel very lucky and very rich. I grab my pen again and begin to write checks. I don’t know what next year will bring, but for now I can share my good fortune with others.

Charity may begin at home but it doesn’t have to stay there.

~Harriet Cooper

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