Tag Archives: charity

Giving Time

My recent posts have been about giving money, but when a friend expressed awe at my husband’s and my generosity, I felt embarrassed. I hadn’t meant to boast but rather to point out a need. And I know that my friend gives generously of her time. I’ve overstated the importance of money.

The gift of time is, despite the clock, immeasurable. My friend has become a surrogate mother to the mentally handicapped daughter of a friend who died years ago. Each night the young woman calls. My friend listens to the young woman recount her day and reassures her that she cares. It’s tedious but necessary. I know because I get calls from a similarly handicapped fellow I taught almost 50 years ago. I listen to the litany about his trips to Walmart, the mileage on his car, his problems on the job (with nary a question about me). But he calls only once a month. Listening every night is true generosity, and I admire my friend’s devotion.

Another friend has chided me for seeming to belittle the time given by Princetonians who volunteer in Trenton with TASK, “People and Stories,” and soccer. I apologize. Time given to otherswhether individuals or organizationsis time taken from oneself. And driving to Trenton adds more time. Of course, time spent with others can be rewarding. I enjoyed my time teaching so much that sometimes I’d forget it was payday, and the school secretary would have to wave my paycheck to catch my attention as I clocked outbut only sometimes. Nowadays I devote a day each week to visiting my paralyzed friend in her nursing home. Time spent shopping for her and sitting with her eats into time to accomplish what I’d like to get done, but I love our visits. She does too. Time is a gift.

Then I remember her exclamation of joy, “I can look out my window!” For a year, she had lain in bed or been placed in a wheelchair facing the TV. To see outside required turning her head because she was unable to move her chair. Medicare had promised a mobilized wheelchair as long as she stayed in her home, and we tried to keep her there until it arrived. But bureaucracy delayed delivery; money for round-the-clock care ran out; and she had to go into a home as a Medicaid recipient. Medicare doesn’t give motorized chairs to people in nursing homes, and even the appeals of our Congressmen couldn’t produce a waiver. Finally I bought a Jazzya bright-red, motorized chairand unwittingly gave her the simple joy of looking out her window.

My thesis collapses. Which is worth more: the time I spend with her or the time she spends looking out her window and driving independently around the nursing home because I bought her “Jazzy”? I guess the answer is: give time, but, if needed, and if you can, give money too.

Giving – With Strings

Since the publication of my article “Volunteering in Trenton,” I’ve found a young man, recently home from the army, who needs financial help. He’d like to become an EMT and then go on to college to become a social worker. He was on the way to his goal— had gotten a job near a bus route, saved money, bought a used car, and then found a better-paying job to which he drove fellow workers. But the car broke down one morning on the way to work. He called at 7:15, but my husband and I, cozy in bed, suggested they take a taxi. We weren’t getting up to drive to Hamilton and rescue them. It turned out that he and his fellow workers were fired for failing to show up at work. Without savings to fix the car, he fell into depression, rarely leaving his bedroom in his mother’s house in Trenton. Six weeks later I learned the whole story.

I could have suggested that he buck up, borrow bus fare, and start all over again. But since I’d just told my readers that the “effective help” Trentonians need is money, or at least a ride, I’d have felt like a hypocrite. Besides, depression is a disease. Instead, I suggested to my husband that we get the car fixed and pay the tuition for the EMT course so he could start immediately. He’d be responsible for finding a job that fit with his class schedule, maintaining the car, and getting his financial house in order for the future.

My husband surprised me. He balked. “We don’t have the money.”

“How much do we give to charity?”


“Couldn’t we make him our charity for 2016?”

“Yes, but how do we know he won’t waste it?”

“How do we know for sure that the charities we give to don’t waste it?”

“OK, but what if he doesn’t finish the EMT course, and we lose our investment?”

“I think we can trust him. We’ve known him since he was a little kid.”

“Don’t you remember the Land Rover?”

Ah yes, the Land Rover! Almost twenty years ago, we supported one of my Trenton High students through college and then added his wife and her tuition, a car, and, eventually, their child. Of course, maintaining such a household wasn’t cheap, but it was an excellent investment. They earned degrees, got good jobs, and finally were on their own. Then the first car they bought was a new Land Rover. We were dismayed. Why something so ostentatious? Hadn’t we taught them not to waste money?

But it went deeper. I was reminded of the stereotype of black people and cars and felt a chill. Suddenly the young man who called me “Mom” was not like me: he didn’t share my values. For my husband it was a slap in the face. The person he’d been supporting at my request now drove a more expensive car than he’d ever owned. Given all the money he’d shelled out, the Land Rover should have and could have been hisif he’d wanted one. That Land Roversynonymous with being taken advantage of.

Now, in our conversation about helping this second young, black man with his car and EMT tuition, my husband uses words like “hand out” and “soft touch.” But is it a hand out or a hand up? Can we just leave someone to drown in depression, perhaps become suicidal? After all, pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps is physically impossible. You’d give him foodthe Trenton Area Soup Kitchen is one of our charities. But isn’t it better to teach him to fish? And won’t having a car to get him to class for EMT training be like teaching him to fish?

What about returning to the army? Sure, they’d look after him, but is that his choice? Isn’t the problem that poor people have so little choice? Wasn’t the army his only option when he graduated from Trenton High? How depressing to be back at square one!

What about getting a bang for our charity buck? We just saw a segment on the PBS Newshour comparing the cost effectiveness of vaccinating dozens of children versus delivering one baby in Nepal by C-section. Yes, but didn’t at least one doctor defend everyone’s right to health care? How can anyone say “No” face to face?

I, too, hate to feel used, but we had no contract that said, “You can’t buy a Land Rover with your own money.” Isn’t any investment, whether in people or the stock market, a risk? Is a gift with strings a gift? Is giving about the giver or the recipient?

The young man has told me that he will disappoint himself, as well as us, if he doesn’t complete the EMT course. I want to trust him. I do trust him. And finally, my husband trusts me. We’ll see.