Why It’s So Hard to Give These Days

I do believe it is inherent in people to want to help. Despite the craziness that dominates our news, I do believe people are good and are always willing to help others, known and unknown. Sometimes it’s just hard to know how to help. And lately, it just seems that there are so many in need, the feeling of “I can’t make a difference” seems to overwhelm most people. Most of us aren’t rich and can’t afford to give to every charity, every disaster, every cause. So how do we possibly pick?

According to Forbes, some of the top charities in 2017 included some well-known organizations, the ones you would expect to see on the list: United Way, the Salvation Army, St. Jude Children’s Hospital, Habitat for Humanity, and the American Red Cross just to name a few. These are all great organizations with great causes, and most of us have probably given to at least one of them over the years.

As conservationists and naturalists, there are others that beckon us and our money too: the National Park Foundation, the National Park Conservation Association, the Sierra Club, the World Wildlife Foundation, the Ocean Conservancy, the National Audubon Society, again just to name a few. The problem is after giving to these large organizations we, as donors, become inundated with mail from other groups asking us for help. Over the past few months, I have received mail almost daily asking me to save the polar bears, the monarch butterflies, the panda bears, the rivers, the oceans, the glaciers, the bees, the trees, and well, you get the picture. All of this mail also comes with stickers, calendars, note cards, stationery, and personal address labels, leaving me scratching my head asking, “Are my donations negated by all of this ‘stuff’?”

It makes it hard to give. One, I don’t want all that guilt mail; two, I feel like my donations were wasted; three, I’m a conservationist, and I don’t want all that unnecessary paper!

Still, I want to give. I don’t have much money to give, but I do want to do my part. I look at all of the disasters that our country faced this year. My heart breaks for those who fell in the paths of Hurricane Florence, Hurricane Michael, and now, those devastating California wildfires. Plus, I can’t forget the people still homeless from the record hurricanes in 2017: Irma, Harvey, and Maria.

With so many needing help and so few dollars to give, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed. Compound those Nightly News disasters with the local causes we face every day, and again, it’s just too much. I go to the post office, outside a children’s organization solicits donations; I go to the market, the Salvation Army rings its bell; I drive through town, and every intersection on every weekend has a new group with a can, a bucket, a boot, asking for a small donation. Even when I finally get inside to a store, it seems all of them are now asking me to “round up” and give my change to a selected charity.

Have I used the word overwhelming yet? It is. It really makes it hard to give these days.

As I stated, I believe it is inherent in people to want to give. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t people out there ready to take advantage of that. Those outliers make the news with their Go Fund Me scams, embezzlement stories, and tales of people being robbed while trying to help. That hurts the greater cause for sure. Again, another reason it makes it hard to give.

Then, something like this happens. I pulled into a gas station today, surprised the price of gas had dropped to a recent low of $2.37/gallon. As I pumped my gas, I noticed a woman sitting in her car on the other side of the pump. She wasn’t pumping gas, she was sitting idle with two young toddlers in the car with her. Eventually, she rolled down her window and asked me for a couple of dollars for gas. My first reaction was cynical, stemming from my last paragraph of outliers. I hesitated and told her I didn’t carry cash. With that, a gas station attendant walked up to her window and asked her if she was getting gas or if something was wrong. Tears in her eyes, she said she was hoping someone could help her because she didn’t have any money for gas. The same gas I was thankful for being so “cheap,” was still way out of reach for her. I could only guess she knew her car was going to run out of gas, so she took her children to a safer option: getting off the road and waiting it out at the gas station for someone to come along and help.

The conversation with the attendant gave me more time to process the situation. Clearly, the woman felt bad asking for money, and clearly, she was just fighting to survive the day. I grabbed my wallet from within my car and gave her some money. It wasn’t much, but perhaps, enough for gas and some food for her and her boys. Enough to maybe help her survive the day.

I won’t get a thank you letter. I won’t have a tax deduction. I won’t get inundated with mail to help people in similar situations, and there will be no new calendars sent my way. She knows nothing of me, nor I of her. In her world of daily survival, her thoughts and energy are elsewhere, not thinking of me as I am of her.

Yes, giving is hard these days, but the woman at the gas station reminded me, that doesn’t mean it isn’t needed.