Melissa is pondering the gift of charity on Suburban Bliss. I've got a fairly unique perspective on the whole issue of charity as I've been in the position of the macher, the big giver in the past. But now I'm in the position of being the receiver of charity, charity without which our family could not survive. Before I get into all this, let me preface it with the facts. I am not on welfare, although I have been in the past. I don't get foodstamps, either. Unbelievably, I make too much money to get a government handout like food for our family. But the way the government looks at poverty in this country is another post or 3, and not appropriate here and now.
What we live on is SSDI, Social Security Disability Insurance. When I became disabled last year, I filed for SSDI in order to help with my volumes of bills and living expenses. Because I had worked hard for 21 years and had made a fine income well over 6 figures for the last years of my career, I get quite a decent amount of social security. In addition, both of my kids get a small check each month to pay for their support, especially since their father does not acknowledge their existance never mind send money. With our combined SSDI, we make a tad bit over the federal poverty guidelines, guidelines that do not take into account things like your geographic area or cost of living increases. They remain stagnant and have for many years.
Because I'm over the guidelines, I can't qualify for medicaid, subsidized housing, or foodstamps. I have no health insurance even though I'm sick enough to be permanently disabled. See any dichotomy here? Don't even get me started on this rant!
We do get some help. Jewish Family Services runs a Kosher food pantry and we get a monthly delivery of staple foods. Pasta, canned tomato sauce, rice, peanut butter, juice, raisins, etc. They have recently begun adding eggs, apples, and chicken. No goodies other than graham crackers. With this food, I can keep our monthly food bill below $300 but it's not easy and we do run out of food by the middle of the month. I stock up on staples that we all eat, cheese, yogurt, fruit, veggies. But it's not enough. My kids are hungry a lot of the time. Plus, this is exactly the diet that has put me into the prediabetic condition I'm in, and it's precisely what I should be eating. But I can't afford anything else.
Eastern MA has an agency chartered with helping pay heat bills. Every year I apply, every year I get turned down at least 3 times for bogus crap. Their standard operating procedure is to deny everyone and hope they disappear. One year I did just give up, but the last couple of years I've hung on to the bitter end. You file in September, if you're lucky they'll pay you sometime in July. That's how bad it is.
That's all the help we get. But during the holiday season, the Food pantry takes names and ages of the kids and asks what they want. My kids always ask for clothing because I can't afford to buy them most of the stuff they want. It's what they want, and what they need. But I want them to have more. I want them to have new games and stuff to play with. They need sports stuff, they need sleds, they need things for the outdoors. Those things are so far down on their list of wants, but it's what I want for them. That's why I put up a wish list of impossible items, so they might just get something fun after all.
Melissa is having issues with just buying the stuff the kid's ask for on her giving trees. She questions why a kid would ask for a pair of pajamas when they could ask for a toy. Of course, to me the pajamas make the most sense. The kid is cold when he goes to bed. His family probably doesn' t use much heat. He values being warm more than he does playing a game. I get that. To me, if a kid asks for a practical gift, it's what he needs, but isn't necessarily what he wants. We compare our kids with modern conveniences to those living in shelters, but that comparison isn't fair. You can't get a shelter kid a DVD because chances are, there won't be a place to play it, and even if there was, chances are even greater that it will be stolen. That's just the nature of institutions. She questions whether a pair of mittens is enough, but for a kid who has cold hands, they are more than enough. When kids have only a little, they don't ask for the moon. They understand the nature of poverty much more than you realize. My kids love to look at things we can't have, but they don't ask for them. I have to literally force them to go beyond simple things for a wish list.
One last thing that I mentioned in Melissa's comments is the rotten truth about some charities. Here in Boston, the Boston Globe newspaper sponsors a Globe Santa program. People send in money from all over the place, from small to very large amounts. They raise huge sums of money every year for this program, and yet what they mail out to the families is complete junk. I know that sounds like I'm a spoiled brat, but last year was only one of several examples I can give. We had our social worker certify that we were needy and applied for the Globe Santa program. When our package came, inside it was 1 broken calculator, and 1 extremely soiled stuffed animal. That was it. Now, I don't know about you, but I'm not giving my kid a broken calculator nor an I giving a dirty stuffed animal. They went into the garbage. This was the 3rd experience with this program, and our last. I'd like to know where that money is going to, that they buy crap from the dollar store and make people feel like they're giving something spectacular to the poor.
I don't like being poor. I don't like having to ask for gifts for my kids. I have no family that sends presents, so it's all on me, and I'm just not able to afford presents. Food comes first. That's obvious, right? Stumble It! JBlog Me