Brenda Anderson Off Topic

COLUMN: It’s not always necessary to give back

Some charities’ insistence on sending ‘gifts’ to its donors is irksome

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone. As we gradually draw in our belts a notch or two, only the sugar rush of Hallween now stands between us and more holiday feasting. Not to mention store shelves bursting with Christmas delights – sweet treats, colourful decorations and, of course, a seemingly endless selection of gift ideas.

Most merchants will likely be respectful and wait until Remembrance Day has passed before they begin advertising their holiday wares, but after a couple tough years for brick-and-mortar businesses, who can blame them for wanting to get the season of giving into full swing as soon as possible?

Of course, it’s not just retailers that have had it rough.

And for many of us, giving this year will involve more than stuffing parcels into stockings or piling them under a tree.

With the holiday season on the horizon and the imminent arrival of cold, wet winter weather, now is an ideal time to decide where to direct our charitable giving in the coming year.

Beyond local Christmas Bureaus, food banks and other vital social services, there are agencies in need across Canada and around the world – whether that’s a result of devastating storms, wildfires, war and its aftermath, famine or disease.

There are so many worthy causes, in fact, that it can be tough to single out one, or even a few.

But it’s what comes after I’ve donated that helps me decide which groups will see the colour of my wallet again.

I expect to get follow-up requests for additional help. They know I care and they know where to find me. That’s fine.

Beyond that, all I want to see in return from these agencies is a tax receipt. If it comes by email, so much the better.

So when that next plea arrives in an envelope stuffed with ‘gifts,’ I get a little annoyed.

Generally, these are inexpensive little trinkets. In the past, I’ve received reusable shopping bags, pens, notepads, greeting cards and address tags.

None of these things by themselves are overly expensive, but when you multiply the cost by the number they’re sending out across the country, it adds up, even with the bulk-discount they no doubt receive.

The rationale behind these gifts is entirely lost on me. Somewhere along the way, I guess someone decided that people who make charitable donations do so, not out of a simple desire to help others, but in the hope they’ll get a little swag in return?

Anyone I’ve talked to about it tells me they’re actually put off by seeing their donated funds used to buy and mail what is essentially unsolicited crap – much of it destined for a thrift store, recycling depot or landfill, or to lie collecting dust in a corner somewhere.

It’s the bigger national organizations with the healthiest budgets that are the main offenders.

Perhaps a few of these folks are catching on and it’s happening less frequently than it used to, which is why when it does, I’m more inclined to notice and find it so irksome.

Keep in mind, these items aren’t made locally. They’re not creating jobs for anyone you or I know.

They’re coming from factories overseas and being shipped across the Pacific aboard giant cargo ships.

The irony is the manufacturing and transportation of so much of this unwanted stuff comes from burning coal and other fossil fuels. Meanwhile, storms are getting more intense, droughts are happening more frequently and lasting longer and, as a result, more people are losing their homes to flooding or wildfires.

By no means are these small items the chief cause of climate change and the resulting disasters, but they’re not helping either. The old saying goes, “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

Apparently, it’s possible to be both.

When disaster strikes again, as it inevitably will, these charities will send out yet another plea for help, and we’ll answer the call because it’s the right thing to do.

But if those donations continue to result in an onslaught of unwanted ‘gifts,’ the temptation might arise to tighten my belt in a more metaphorical sense.

Brenda Anderson is editor of the Peace Arch News.

Charity and DonationsColumn

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