Five hundred and forty-eight

I almost completely forgot that it was Wednesday and my regular blog post is due.  I love the fall, but the change in weather from hot to cool is making my body go crazy.  I’ve picked up some kind of virus that has left me physically and mentally exhausted, plus of course the sore throat, cough, fever, aches, sinus headache, and the rest of the usual fun flu stuff.  I hate being sick!  Well, I doubt anyone likes being sick, but I’m really not very good at relaxing and waiting for my body to heal itself.

Luckily, I have a guest blog post this week, so I don’t have to try to sound intelligent and put together much longer.  A few weeks ago I wrote on giving to charities: how do you know where your money is going?  There was a comment from my cousin Nikki, whom I’ve mentioned before as being the first person I ever knew to write on a blog and has since created her own company to design blogs for non-profit companies, as well as continues to write herself on One Tiny Starfish.  She has done a lot of charity work and has traveled a lot in the past few years to donate her time to those in need.  I asked her if she would write a little something on good charities to donate to, her experiences with different charities in the places she’s visited, and any other information about donating that could be interesting.  I figured she is more of an expert than I am on the subject.  Without further ado (and because I don’t think I’m going to able to make much sense in a moment and I really need sleep), here is Nikki:

When I was in high school, I began having an interest in international development. At the time, I knew of only the major charities; World Vision, PLAN Canada, UNICEF, etc. I liked the idea of writing letters to a sponsor child, and so went online to World Vision’s website, looked through a photolisting of children around the world, and began sponsoring a 7 year old girl from Ethiopia named Tsehay. I paid $30/month and didn’t know exactly where my money was going, but trusted that it was going somewhere good. I looked forward to receiving new photos of Tsehay and letters from her in the mail. I didn’t question where my money was going or how much of my money was going to Ethiopia and how much was going to administrative fees. I didn’t even really know what administrative fees were.

Over the years, I have spent most of my summers overseas doing the work I dreamed of doing when I was in high school. It has been through these experiences in Kenya, India, Haiti, and Uganda, among other countries, as well as two years working for an international non-profit, that opened my eyes to the ideas that 1) big name charities are a business, and 2) small, grassroots charities are often doing much better, more focused work and need our support even more. I know longer trust that my money is going to a good place, and now realize that not all help is good help. I now scrutinize websites before donating, and ask questions in order to ensure my funds are going where I want them to go.

Just a week ago I returned from India where I spent time volunteering with Sarah’s Covenant Homes (www.schindia.com). This was my second experience with this organization, and I could not speak more highly of them. The disabled in India are considered the lowest of the low. These 105 children under the care of SCH, all with disabilities, were abandoned due to the stigma of having a disabled child. SCH provides everything for these kids that parents would. Many of the kids, who are capable of being educated, go to private English-speaking schools. The government orphanages for children with disabilities leave the children on mats on the floor all day, with no toys, stimulation, or even diapers. The SCH children have nutritious food, physiotherapy, toys, committed caregivers, medication, and surgeries if needed. 100% of the money donated to SCH goes to the care of these children. Right now, SCH is running a campaign called 105 in 105; an attempt to get all 105 children sponsored in 105 days. Lily is one of my favourite kids at SCH and she needs a sponsor! She is 7 years old and has cerebral palsy. She is the sweetest, funniest little girl I know and is so bright. Go to http://www.schindia.com/ChildSponsor/lily/ to learn more, and know that 100% of your money is going directly to making a difference in her life. All these kids are available for international adoption, and so one day my dream is that we will be able to see Lily find a forever family and watch her thrive outside of an orphanage. SCH is working hard to make sure this happens.

Lily at Sarah’s Covenant Homes

Real Hope For Haiti (http://www.realhopeforhaiti.org/) is another organization that is small and unknown to most, but doing incredible work. RHFH focuses mostly on healthcare, although they have education programs, employ over 100 women and men, and do literacy and job training for adults. They are making a huge difference in rural Haiti. Children come to the RHFH clinic every single day weighing next to nothing and dying from the sad fact that their parents don’t have the resources to feed them enough protein-rich food. RHFH nurses these kids back to health with a high-protein peanut butter paste called Medika Mamba, and supports their families to help them get back on their feet so they can properly care for their children.

Real Hope for Haiti

There are hundreds of organizations like this around the world, doing quiet, incredible work that few people know about. Don’t let your skepticism of big name charities stop you from donating. I have worked with these charities. I have kissed these children and seen the donations hard at work. Do your research before donating, and find one like SCH or RHFH that you can trust. There are kids like Lily whose quality of life relies on it!

(Thanks Nikki!)

Five hundred and twenty-seven

Giving to charity: how do you know where your money is going?

I like to donate to charities.  I am helping others.  I feel good about myself.  I get a tax receipt.  Up until now I’ve chosen the charities I do donate to haphazardly: someone I know asks me to sponsor them in a bike ride; or I come across a good cause on the internet or in an article in the newspaper; or a friend or family member is affected by a specific cause.  Sometimes I just pick it because it’s in my community and I hope I’m helping those around me.

During Good Deed Month in December, I wrote about The Science of Good Deeds and that doing something nice for someone else decreases your stress levels and helps in your physical and mental health.  I also found the more you do good deeds, the more those around you will want to help others out, and vice versa.  This refers more to actual volunteering and physical interactions, but can also refer to helping from afar (such as donating money or objects) if you feel a direct connection with the cause.

If I have the money to spare, I can only see the good in giving it to others in need.  I never really thought about how much of what I donate goes to the actual cause, though.  I knew administration took some of it, but I never really thought of that being my money.  I donated to Habitat For Humanity last year and they recently sent me an e-mail saying they were ranked an A+ in overall charity efficiency in MoneySense Magazine’s review of Canada’s largest 100 charities.  That took me to the MoneySense website and I started looking at all of the charities and their ranking.  I am a bit in shock.  Why are people being paid over $350,000 to work for a charity?  How is it possible that in some cases less than 50% of the money raised goes towards the program or that it costs over $50 (in fundraising costs, etc.) to raise $100?  There has to be something wrong with this model.

This list refers only to Canadian charities, but whichever country you live in, I’m now realizing how important it is to research what your money is used for before you give to anyone.  Some of the organizations I have donated to in the past are on this list and haven’t received very good grades in efficiency and transparency.  I work hard for my money and I don’t have a ton of it.  When I choose to give some of those dollars away, I fully expect some of it will go to the people who are working hard to make that charity run.  They of course have to make a living as well, and are doing it in a very honourable manner.  But I don’t think anyone should be earning hundreds of thousands of dollars.  And there’s got to be a way to cut the costs of fundraising.  Isn’t there?  Am I just being naive?

I am still going to donate money, because I believe in helping other people, but I’m going to do a bit more research of who I sign that cheque to from now on.

Three hundred and three

Give blood

My friend Clark Kim giving blood yesterday. The nurse encouraged him to put the photo on Facebook to get more people out to give blood. He also let me use it for the post. Click on the photo to go to Clark's blog on InsideToronto.com.

It’s a scary thought, giving blood.  That needle.  The light-headed feeling you get when you worry too much about something.  But approximately every minute of every day someone in Canada needs blood.  And 1 in every 2 of us are eligible to give our blood to help those  people.  It only takes an hour out of your time (from start to finish – the actual collecting of 1 unit/450 mL of blood takes only 15 minutes), costs you nothing, and you can save lives.  Unfortunately only 4% of eligible donors actually do give blood.  And a large segment of the most loyal donors will soon go from being at the age of giving blood, to needing it.

It’s really easy to do it, too.  You go online to the Canadian Blood Services website or call 1-888-2-DONATE (1-888-236-6283) to book an appointment.  You show up at your designated donation centre and your finger is pricked to test if your iron levels are high enough to donate.  Then you fill out a questionnaire to see if you are eligible, meet with a staff member and have your blood pressure and temperature taken.  Then you have the needle inserted (only a prick – it doesn’t hurt), sit for fifteen minutes giving blood, then you’re done!  That’s it.  You can find out more details about the steps and whether you are eligible on the website.

Think of it – fifty donations of blood are needed on average for serious car accident victims.  You or someone you love could need blood.  It’s worth taking the few minutes to see if you are able to give blood and then the hour out of your day to do it.  That is an amazing good deed.

I was supposed to give blood today.  I booked my appointment, made sure I was off work, and arranged transportation.  Unfortunately I have this damn cough that won’t go away.  I called them last night to see whether I could still give blood with the tickle in my throat.  They said it’s best to wait for a full recovery and re-booked me for next Wednesday.  I wanted to write about my personal experience, but alas, that will have to wait for another day.  I decided to still write about it today, though, because I think it’s an awesome good deed that doesn’t require money or even a lot of time or commitment .

So look up the Canadian Blood Services website right now (or the equivalent in your country, if you’re not in Canada).  It’s in you to give.

Two hundred and ninety-eight

Donating used clothing

In the spirit of giving things away that you already have and don’t use (like the canned goods), I finally finished sorting through all my clothes, shoes, purses, and belongings that I’m giving away to the Goodwill.  I don’t really understand the human attachment to material things.  I don’t even wear those shoes anymore and that sweater doesn’t even fit me, and yet I have a hard time choosing to put it in the “to go” bag.  How often have we all said: “maybe I’ll fit into it someday”?  Too many times.  If it sits in my closet never being worn for years, what use is it to anyone.  Someone out there will love it and wear it all the time.  Why not give that yellow cashmere sweater that every time you put it on you realize it’s not your colour a good home?  It is someone out there’s colour, so just LET IT GO.  (I might be talking to myself as much as I am to everyone else).

I admit, I am a bit of a pack rat.  I only just threw away two years ago a pair of shoes I had since grade nine (my friends can attest to this – it would drive a few of them insane that I still wore them)!  My theory is if I still get use out of them why waste my money, time and the environment buying something new.  But I’m not sure why I have such a hard time giving away those things I never wear.  Sometimes it’s sentimental value – a special person gave it to me, or I got it in Paris when I was 23 (I still can’t get rid of this one tank top that represents a specific moment in time that floods me with memories – even though it will forever sit at the back of my drawer).  Sometimes I just think it’s so cute and I hardly got any wear out of it that it’s a shame to let it go.  But as I said above, LET IT GO already, Lindsay!

I’ve been doing a bit of research of places to take my used clothes.  (Note first: try not to donate clothes with holes in them or armpit stains – they usually end up in the garbage anyways.)  There are lots of places to drop off your bags full of old garments, but some are better than others.  A lot of bins in mall parking lots and such go to for-profit companies where only a very small percentage goes to charity, so beware of those.  Goodwill and the Salvation Army are good ‘registered charity’ choices, where store profits go to helping people in need.  Value Village is a for-profit company, although they do buy used clothing from charities to re-sell in their stores.  Then there are women’s shelters who use the clothing directly, or smaller companies like Dress for Success Toronto or Dress Your Best for Men that take new and lightly used professional clothing and shoes for disadvantaged women and men looking for work.

About 50% of clothes donated that can’t be used in stores are sold to overseas dealers to sell in Africa, Indonesia and South Asia.  There is some controversy about this.  See Now Magazine for more details and other places to donate your used clothing.

So, moral of the post: LET IT GO if you aren’t going to wear it and it’s in good shape.  The clothing or the money gained from selling the clothing could go to disaster relief, palliative care hospitals, helping the disabled, shelters or many other good causes.

Two hundred and ninety-one

Some fun with Friends…

After all these heavy, emotional posts the last few days, it’s time for something a little light and fluffy.  Here is Joey and Phoebe from Friends arguing over whether there is such thing as a selfless good deed:

And a throw back to ‘date month’:

I read today on the Globe and Mail site, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is introducing “Meet & Seat,” a service that lets passengers pick their seatmates in advance based on shared interests stated on their Facebook and LinkedIn profiles.  Other airlines are expressing interest in this type of seat matching as well.  When I’m traveling, I’d personally rather keep to myself, sleep, read, watch movies and listen to music.  And I’m probably wearing my sweat pants.  There is no way I want to have someone sitting beside me trying to pick me up, or talk to me the whole time!  For short flights this could be ok, but can you imagine being ‘matched’ with someone you are incompatible with and stuck beside them for ten hours?  My nightmare!  It’s like a never-ending bad date.

My good deed for the day

I know I just wrote yesterday about not making this whole month about giving money, but today it’s going to be.  I worked all day until 8 pm tonight and I am ready-for-bed exhausted.  This is an extremely good cause that I wanted to donate to, as well.

It is getting damn cold out there in Southern Ontario.  Riding my bike home from work tonight made me shiver and it isn’t even snowing yet!  As our winters get colder, it is harder and harder for those people who don’t have a home or somewhere warm to stay to survive.  I get cold in my heated apartment in the dead of winter, so I can’t imagine what it’s like out on the streets.  Project Winter Survival puts together and distributes winter survival kits to front line agencies such as the Salvation Army, Red Cross, local shelters and drop-in centres across the GTA.  The kits provide warmth and essential supplies to those in need.  You can either donate supplies to them, or money to help buy those supplies they can’t get donated.