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....And All the Fixin's!

holiday feeds drain resources from strapped charities

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, November 27, 2002.

We have read this week of all the charities tugging at our gag reflex and asking, nay begging, that we contribute that the less fortunate have a big Thanksgiving dinner. One with, quote, “all the fixin’s,” an all too cute and condescending American phrase. I have been very poor in my life, far poorer than most of you, and I’ve been better off than most, and I have spent the holidays in jail and out, and I have volunteered for charity repasts and I have developed a theory about contributing to great charity events like Feed the Homeless Day. It’s a waste of time and money and designed to make the volunteers feel good and give the philanthropists press time. Whatever benefit accrues to the recipients is fleeting and of dubious benefit to the long term goal.

Even when I was in jail eight years ago to the day, we spent lots of time during the inevitable budget crunch making pies and cooking turkey from the local breed house and stuffing the inmates for one meal. To what end? I wondered then and now. We’re being punished, and the system apparently can’t afford it. Why not take the cash and add it to the budget rather than splurge on one meal, one day. It would have been unwise to suggest that the big feed was for the staff that had to work that day away from the family, and for whom we had to cook in the same kitchen.

And what about the big free feeds that Daddy Bruce used to do here in Boulder and his successors may or may not continue, I know not. Originally, he probably started out to feed his neighbors, but it became, quick enough, a publicity stunt, and it remains an open question whether or not he would have better served the poor by doing smaller meals every week.

I do not know, but I suspect, that the Homeless Shelter and all charities do similar events, and it is hard to criticize because, bluntly, a little cheer and good fellowship at a big meal is indeed a good and positive thing. But they cannot afford it, not only in cash outlay but in draining contributions for one, transient meal. Their explanation is that during the Holiday Season people are most likely to contribute and they need to take advantage of it. Maybe, but it becomes a self-perpetuating drain on delicate resources.

Also, there is something wrong when our throats constrict and eyes well only during the holidays. But that is when we want to feel good about ourselves, and guilt free, and do something nice so we can, for the rest of the year, congratulate ourselves for donating canned artichoke prickles and cactus juice and last decade’s fruitcake to street folk and shelters and, frankly, get the inedible garbage out of the house. As an aside, I’m willing to bet contributions of canned spinach and beets top the donation lists.

I suppose it is, viewed from a certain viewpoint and under the influence of alcohol, to suggest that I have a somewhat arguably cynical view of all this. I am not advocating ripping the drumstick from the starving. I am advocating a charity program designed to benefit the alleged recipients to do the most good, and also to put donations of cash and product to the most efficient and sustained use.

Of course, asking donations for turkey and all the fixin’s has an edge over asking donations for the most efficient and sustained use, but we need to change that. Charity is good for both parties but it ought to be best for the needy, not what is most convenient and media friendly for the giver.

But wherever you are today and tomorrow, if you are blessed with home and hearth and family and friends and health good enough to give you ambulatory choices, if you are religious or not – I am not – no harm comes for you – or me – to give thanks. Unlike charity, a thank you note to the principalities of the cosmos benefits only ourselves.

Have a great holiday. This is Dark Cloud.