So, first, a confession. I am notoriously lax about charitable giving. Like, way too lax for my current income level and social ideals. This is one part residual poverty mentality from many years of graduate school, temp jobs and single-woman-with-an-Ann-Arbor-mortgage-hood, one part inertia and many many parts over-thinking. Have I mentioned my tendency to over-think? The inheritance of twelve years as a card-carrying intellectual (see poverty, above) left me with a substantial book collection, the ability to deconstruct a film at the drop of a hat, and the curse of over-examination.
Witness my problematic relationship to food donations — such a prevalent part of the holiday season. What could be more straightforward than canned goods for the poor? But first there is the questionable generosity of unloading the unused goods from my cabinet on the unsuspecting needy. Do they really want my snails and pork chili spice kit? If I haven’t used it in two years is anyone else going to want it? So, I think, I should stretch my charity dollars and go to Walmart or some such place and buy Really Big cans and boxes of non-perishable goods. Load up on peanut butter and baked beans. Enough to feed a family for six months for twenty dollars!
But wait. Where do I get off trying to make these folks eat food I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole if I had any choice in the matter? If I don’t want to slap Jiffy on white bread for lunch, why should I foist this on anyone else?
I know, I’ll go to Whole Foods and select a few meals worth of things I would prepare for my family.
But wait. My own extended familty is suspicious enough of my snobby tastes . . . what are these people who are going to recieve these donations going to think? Nature’s Path cereal? Where are the Frosted Flakes? What is this organic lentil soup crap? Where is the Campbell’s Chicken Noodle, for God’s sake?
I think maybe I’ll just bag this whole canned goods idea and give some money directly to some of the homeless out on these cold days and tell them to go get a good meal.
But wait, they”ll just spend it on drugs and alcohol, not beans and rice!
So maybe I’ll give to the centralized and efficient United Way and trust them. Except then a lot of the money goes for overhead, and I don’t have direct control over the distribution of my money. But the little charities are wasteful. Anyway (my old Marxist-leaning self reasserts herself) isn’t any kind of charity just propping up the system of capitalist oppression and inequity? We must drive things to the point of revolution! Give to charity? Hah! I’m going to sashay off to fancy restaurant meals while the unemployed freeze on the streets as gesture toward fomenting uprising! That’s it.
Clearly I’m going to have to buy myself a four dollar cappucino and think about this.
It’s cold outside. And times are really hard for a lot of folks this year. My son’s Montessori school is doing a big drive for Food Gatherers. My husband’s colleagues have a challenge on to collect 850 pounds of food. I pay so much attention to managing food these days, I should figure out how to extend the effort a bit. There are all kinds of ways to feed people.
My answer? Trader Joe’s. May not work for everybody, but I’ve got to tell you, twenty dollars assembled two very respectable bags of pasta, sauce, beans, soup, rice milk, peanut butter and dried fruit — all food that I would be happy to feed my own family any day of the week. It’s not a perfect solution. It may not work for everybody. But it will feed some hungry people. I like that. I’m trying not to overthink it.
There’s no shortage of opportunities to donate food at this time of year, but if you’re interested in a place to start, check out the Foodgatherers site. Feel free to suggest other places in the comments.