Saturday, December 17, 2011

Bieber fever

This time of year, there are a lot of donation asks out there. Charity mailings, food drives, clothing drives, toy drives. I saw a newspaper article urging me to “Cure a child's Bieber fever.” For a second I thought this was some tropical disease, but I was actually supposed to donate Justin Bieber-themed loot to the paper's toy drive.

A lot of these drives aren't even helpful. I've worked or volunteered in some of the places that receive the donations. The women's shelter had a garage overflowing with excess blankets donated by well-meaning people. The food pantry had some nourishing food but also a lot of junk like gravy mix and diet drink powders — things the donors didn't want anymore. Well, the food pantry clients didn't want them either.

If you're done with your coat and there's still use in it, go ahead and give it to a thrift store or coat drive. But if you want to help a child this winter, don't buy canned goods or Justin Bieber posters. Try a mosquito net.

See also: Charities need your money, not your random old food


  1. Amazing to hear that a paper would advertise "Bieber fever"... Thanks for the post, Julia!

  2. Even more amazing that buying kids Justin Bieber gear is supposed to "cure" the fever rather than fanning the flames.

  3. The example is funny, but I think a toy drive isn't always a bad thing.

    I have ten siblings, and we never thought we were "poor" - we had a lot of hand-me-downs, but we were happy and healthy and never worried about food or anything. And Christmas was small, but fun. We did gift exchanges, etc.

    Then my dad lost his job when I was 19 (in november), and for the first time in my life I was really scared. I heard my parents worrying about losing the house, and all of us kids knew that there wasn't going to be a Christmas that year. I was the second oldest - the youngest was 3.
    I had bought some gifts already at my work - Barnes and Nobles - and a little embarrassed, returned them all explaining that things had changed. My managers told me it was no problem....and increased my work hours to the max, to my gratitude (I went from 20 hours a week to 40 hours a week that day). I was grateful, but I knew I couldn't spend money on gifts when my parents were worrying about groceries. And I was sad to see my siblings taking down their xmas lists and trying not to mention Christmas in front of my parents.

    A local business had one of those "giving trees" and I randomly looked at it and was kinda surprised...there were tags for kids that matched my siblings ages and gender. I thought it might be a coincidence, but...

    Day before Christmas eve, my manager came by my house with all the groceries for a big Christmas some. To my mom who had been worrying about buying food at all, it was a God-send. With it was a small gift for each kid - a group gift from my manager's church group.

    Christmas morning, someone door-bell ditched our house. More presents. I guess that was our names on that tree after all.

    To us, the gifts were more than "things." They were hope, friendship, the knowledge that our community cared and was looking out for us. It brought the magic of christmas to my little brothers and sisters, and for that I was - and am - very grateful. I can't pass one of those trees without remembering and silently thanking those generous friends.

    There are more practical and effective ways to give. You can save more lives donating to Africa, etc. But...I think there is also something valuable in giving like this as well. My family recovered after a few years of hard times, and is doing fairly well. I'll admit I have a bit of pride in how generous my family is now in its' giving. Of the older siblings, we've talked about how that fear and insecurity of that period could have made us hoarders, but the generosity of our community inspired us to be givers instead. And, not just locally - my sister especially has a heart for Africa - but I will admit whenever I see one of those trees, I have a hard time NOT pulling off a tag :)

  4. Hi Anne-girl,

    I agree, making connections with people in our community can make a big difference to them, and it feels great. But I think of it in a different category from trying to change the world. Budget-wise, I have different categories for world-changing donations and feel-good donations. I have money set aside for giving, and money set aside for other stuff (personal spending, gifts for people I know, and feel-good donations). Time is similar: I donate the earnings from my day job, but in spare time I sometimes volunteer for causes that feel good and connect me to people in my community.

    So yes, if my heart needs warming, buying a gift for someone in my community is a good way to do it. But if the money is coming out of my donation budget, and I'm spending less on saving one child's life in order to give another child a toy, something is very wrong.