Don’t be a Chrithanksmas giver
Having been a youth pastor, I learned that we call those who only attend church for major holidays “Chreasters.” These are folks who pack the pews for Christmas and Easter. Similar to a Chreaster, we have what I will call “Chrithanksmas” givers in the charity world. These are people who show up to donate or volunteer at Thanksgiving and Christmas. In the charity world, we love donors and help, but Chrithanksmas volunteers are a problem. Could your giving be harming others or a burden to an agency? Here are some tips to avoid being the dreaded Chrithanksmas giver who makes an agency wince.
First ask yourself, Why am I volunteering for this agency and am I willing to volunteer wherever it is needed? If you are volunteering because it is the holidays and you want to feel good about yourself because you helped someone, this may not be the best frame of mind to be in to be successful. The holidays are a time when homeless agencies are flooded with requests to help pass out food or donations. Shelters such as Salvation Army, the Las Vegas Rescue Mission, Catholic Charities and the Shade Tree are inundated with people wanting to help. Be radical and ask the agency, “What do you need help with?” Be willing to answer phones, stuff envelopes or even wash dishes. Small jobs like this may be what an agency needs to keep the doors open and help hundreds of clients.
Second, think of the feelings of others when interacting with clients. Too often I see people obsessed with taking a selfie or posting a Facebook live video, and they don’t even ask the homeless individual or agency for permission before capturing the moment. Ask yourself, Am I appealing to my audience to raise awareness or get this person additional help? If your action is not going to help the person, it is probably time to put away the camera and simply chronicle the memory in your head.
Consider the person’s feelings before snapping. Homeless are someone’s mother, brother, father, sister, son, daughter or grandparent. Would you want someone walking up to you on the street and taking a selfie with you to share with others, stating you look pathetic? Often this is the unintentional outcome of reckless photographing of the clients.
Third, if you are donating an item such as a toy, ask, Am I donating something that is useful? I had a group collect supplies and backpacks for the homeless. The group didn’t consult any agencies and purchased low-cost backpacks. After one day on the streets, the backpacks were torn to shreds. For days afterwards homeless-outreach workers were cleaning up backpacks that were discarded throughout the city.
Be open to asking agencies to suggest to you what is helpful to donate. If you already have an item in mind and an agency doesn’t accept it, you can donate it to a local thrift store. Savers gives to various charities. Agencies such as Catholic Charities, Salvation Army, Goodwill and Deseret Industries use their stores to give others job opportunities and give vouchers to help homeless with clothing. Google and research to see if you have a charitable-minded thrift store in your area.
Lastly, if it can wait for another month, arrange a different date or a nontraditional agency to sign up to help. Help of Southern Nevada, WestCare, Women’s Development Center, US Vets, Help USA and Las Vegas Metropolitan Police are all great agencies that can be overlooked by the Chrithanksmas giver.
If you get turned away don’t get upset; come back in a slow month such as February or October. Just because the season of giving is over doesn’t mean your good deeds need to halt. If you truly want to help and not be just a Chrithanksmas giver we truly want you.
Formerly homeless, Merideth Spriggs is the founder and chief kindness officer of Caridad, a homeless-service provider based in downtown Las Vegas. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org