Reaching Out to Those in Need

When I was in college in the early to mid-1990s, all over our campus, seemingly on every bulletin board, these black-and-white flyers on blue paper offered a job working to save the environment. They claimed a student could earn up to $500 per week. Back then, minimum wage was around $5 per hour, so a full week of work only got me about $150 after taxes— $500 per week sounded pretty good! So did helping to save the environment. So I called and asked about the job.

These folks had organized a scheme, and tried to sell me on it, that had college students going door-to-door soliciting donations for “the environment.” The students doing all of this walking and begging got to keep half of what they collected, up to $500. The organizers then kept some of the other half, and the rest was donated to environmental non-profits. My guess, from the conversation, was that about $1 out of every $5 donated actually made to an environmental group’s coffers. I didn’t agree to work for those people, and that learning experience made me cynical about charitable giving.

However, I decided to give it another try in my mid-twenties, when I was working as a bartender and waiter, often earning more money than I needed as a single guy. With my excess cash, I thought, why not give some of it to charity!  So I did. I began by sending $25 per year to more than a dozen charitable organizations whose missions I agreed with. (I’m not going to name them.) What I found was equally disconcerting. After making those numerous $25 donations, the groups sent me so much mail soliciting another donation that they probably spent more than my $25 trying to get me to give more! The mail-outs even kept coming after I told their telemarketers to stop sending me mail, because I was only going to give $25 per year. I wasn’t giving to keep their fundraising staff busy . . .

The idea of giving money to charity is all about supporting the ideas and work of the organization. If you’re like me, you’re busy with a job and family and may not have much time, so giving money is a good way to support others who are fighting the good fight. But we also want to know that our money does some good, that it actually helps people in need, rather than being divided up among scoundrels and profiteers who see good-hearted people as easy pickings.

That said, here are four groups in the state of Alabama who will use your money (or your time) well in helping those in need.

The Little Sisters of the Poor in Mobile take care of elderly of people who have no financial means to take care of themselves. If you read their “Our Home” page, you will see that the nuns live with the people they help year-round day and night.

The Alabama Arise Citizens’ Policy Project advocates for needy people in the state in three ways: policy, organizing, and training. Alabama is well-known for its mishandling of poverty issues, and this group works tirelessly to help people help themselves.

Child Protect serves Montgomery and the surrounding area by helping children, families and law enforcement when cases of abuse or neglect are discovered. When called upon, they offer immediate counseling and other assistance 24 hours a day.

Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project serves Alabama’s most underserved population: inmates. The program, based at Auburn University, offers a variety of courses in the arts, humanities and sciences to men and women serving time.

Please consider giving to one or all of these groups.

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