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Grow Your Giving Heart

Learn why giving with discretion allows recipients to maintain their dignity.

multicultural adults organizing donations

The winter holiday season is a time of year when charitable donations ramp up as people go about their gift shopping. We see more emphasis on food drives to ensure those in need have a meal to enjoy on Thanksgiving, Christmas, or whatever holiday they celebrate. Signs in stores ask for your to donate the “change” up to the next whole dollar on your transaction, there are donation bins for new toys, winter coats, and more. We have a whole list of places you can volunteer and donate, where the organizations have come up with ways you can give them the help they need. This does not always involve being directly in front of the people receiving your help. In most cases the biggest needs are behind the scenes (organizing the supplies and clothing donations for an organization the size of Cradles to Crayons, for example, is a huge undertaking and the biggest help they need) and the social workers and other people on staff take care of the direct engagement with the recipients.


In addition to donating gifts and items many people also seek to volunteer their time. There are so many ways you can give of your time to help out local charities, soup kitchens, hospitals, shelters, etc. But… there’s a “but” here. Many people want to be able to work directly with the people who are in need so that they can experience the impact they are making, so that they can teach their children a lesson in charity and compassion, and many other reasons. This is not always an option. By working through an organization you are helping to maintain the dignity of those on the receiving end. No one wants to be in need, and no one in need should ever be made to feel like they are being  used to make a donor/volunteer feel good about themselves. It would be embarrassing for a child or teenager to accept a handout from another child for Christmas, and respecting the feelings of the recipient is far more important than making a personal impact on the volunteer/donor. Even more embarrassing if you or your child happened to actually know someone who was a recipient! It can be an innocent error- people crave human connection, and when they get the idea to do something to help others they figure that the human connection is the right way to do it. And sometimes those opportunities are available, but it’s really important to understand why many organizations do not put the givers and the receivers in a face to face situation.


Other ways we can help those in need to maintain their dignity are the only donate to them that which we would use for ourselves. Are the clothing items you are piling up for the donation drive in good condition? Great, send them over. But if they are stained, ripped, have a broken zipper, etc. that would cause you to not make your family member wear them, then they should be recycled or shared in your Buy Nothing Group not given to the drive. Same goes for the school supplies that our children bring home at the end of the school year, if you can’t reuse them for your child then they shouldn’t be given away for others to use. Food pantries often have to remind donors that they cannot accept shelf stable items where the expiration date has passed. That should be pretty obvious but since they’re still having to say it then it’s still happening!


The emphasis should be on the act of giving, even if that gift is only placed in a donation bin. Follow up with your child about the organization you chose to donate to so that they can feel that personal connection without making the recipient feel awkward. It’s also a gift to allow the parent on the receiving end to choose how to present the gifts to their children. Perhaps they tell their family that another family helped to make their holidays  brighter this year, or maybe they have the gift tags indicate they are from Santa, or even from themselves. We don’t have to see someone’s misfortunes directly to know that we are doing good, and this lesson is just as important as learning to become a “giver”. We give out of the kindness of our hearts, not for accolades, not for the satisfaction of looking the recipient in the eye, not for selfie photo opps.


Content Director, Main Line Parent & Philadelphia Family. Email me at pamela@familyfocus.org