Courageous Giving

Courageous Giving

From Chicken Soup for the Soul Celebrating People Who Make a Difference

Courageous Giving

We are obligated to be more scrupulous in fulfilling the commandment of charity than any other positive commandment because charity is the sign of a righteous man.

Maimonides, Mishneh Torah

Keith Taylor had never forgotten his parents’ lessons in generosity, evident in tithing to their church and helping others. Nor had he forgotten the helping hand his boss had given him in his youth. Keith knew he wanted to help others, but on a university professor’s salary, he thought he’d never have the money to spare. Then he changed the way he thought. He decided to live on less to set aside $350 a month. Next, on a simple, homemade website that he called ModestNeeds.org, Keith offered a one-time gift to whoever needed it.

Even without any advertising or publicity, a few people found his site. One young man wrote to him, asking for $78 to fix his car so that he could get to work and pay his rent. This small, unexpected-but-necessary expense stood between the man’s self-sufficiency and disaster. Keith paid the car-repair bill, and it made all the difference in that young man’s life.

Keith had launched ModestNeeds.org on March 21, 2002. On May 1 of that year, he received request number 100 from a working couple with five children in Baltimore, Maryland. Madeline and her husband had been shocked to get a huge water bill from the city in December 2001. They discovered a leaking pipe under the house and had it fixed, then paid down the bill the best they could for months. But by April there just wasn’t enough to feed a family of seven, pay all the bills, and pay extra on that debt. The city was about to auction this family’s home to collect the balance of the water bill, which was $310.09. For a $310.09 utility bill, this family was about to become homeless.

The auction was set for Monday morning, and on Friday the balance in the ModestNeeds.org bank account was $36 short of what was needed to help this family. On his way to the post office, Keith prayed for a miracle to save the family’s home. A miracle was waiting in the mail. The letter from a teacher explained that she had heard about the Modest Needs Foundation and told her students about it. The class had chosen to give up lunchtime ice cream for one day to help somebody else. The teacher had made a small donation herself and asked the school to send a check.

“The enclosed check was for forty dollars exactly—just a few dollars more than was necessary to pay off the city of Baltimore,” Taylor recalls. “At eleven fifty-one PM on Sunday, May twelfth, two thousand two—nine minutes before the final deadline—the auction of this family’s home was stopped, thanks to the generosity of these children and the power of their ice-cream-sandwich blockade.”

As people heard about ModestNeeds.org, or found it on the website, word spread—and the good news reached the media. Keith was interviewed by newspapers and magazines, including People and Reader’s Digest, and appeared on radio and television shows, including Today and The Early Show. Thousands began to visit Keith’s site and to write to him. But they weren’t all writing to ask for help; they were writing to offer help. They wanted to know where to send money to help others.

In March 2004, Keith literally stumbled across Jessica, a homeless twenty-year-old in New York City. She had a tin cup, which he accidentally knocked over, and a sign that read, “Homeless five more days. Still hungry. Help if you can.”

Jessica had applied for a program that provided food and shelter for homeless women who demonstrated a commitment to self-sufficiency by seeking work. When she got a job, the program would help her get a home. She was accepted into the program and would have a place to stay after only five more nights on the freezing streets.

Keith searched the city until he found a clean, safe hotel that would provide a room with breakfast for five days at half price. Then he went back for Jessica. She couldn’t believe that anyone would give her a place to stay, expecting nothing in return. “I explained, very simply, that we wanted to help her because we wanted her to know how much she was worth to all of us,” Keith said.

Jessica was still crying when Keith left her in that hotel room. “Wait.” Wiping her eyes, she took Keith’s hand and emptied her tin cup into it. Closing his hand around the change, she looked up into his face and smiled. “Request number thirty-six thousand, three hundred sixty-eight ‘Mom of Two Needs Help with Rent,’ was funded in part by two dollars and sixty-eight cents in change donated to the Modest Needs Foundation by a person who didn’t have a permanent residence, but who, thanks to this community’s generosity, isn’t quite homeless in the way that she was before,” Keith said.

How much does it take to change a life? To the person who needs it, $100 is a lot of money—yet twenty of us giving only $5 each have the power to help keep that person self-sufficient. The Modest Needs Foundation’s motto is “Small Change. A World of Difference.” Today, millions of people have visited the ModestNeeds.org site. How many more can we help with the small fortune that’s on our dressers, in our coat pockets, or spread in the bottoms of our purses? It takes less than we have.

As his father told him when Keith first shared his plan to give part of his income away to strangers, “If you do this, you will never want for anything the rest of your life.” Dad was right.

James Robert Daniels

More stories from our partners