Ways to Give

This is a guest post from Vicki Bright, a wonderful woman that I was connected with through this blog. Vicki is trying every day to live a more simple and deliberate life with less. She is a mother of 3 children- 4 months, 16 and 18 and a step son 10 – and in a very happy partnership. Vicki has worked in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside as a frontline worker and volunteer for over 14 years.

Vicki and I had several discussions about giving as it relates to leading a simpler life. I asked her if she would be willing to contribute a post and she has obliged. Many thanks, Vicki.

Photo Credit: Vicki captured this beautiful public art piece herself. Artist: unkown.

Ways to Give
Many of us who embark on living a simpler life are reducing costs to pay off debt. The goal to be free of this debt burden often leads to the decision to live with less stuff. There may also be a desire to live more compassionately and deliberately in our approach to the world around us while trying to meet rigorous material and constraining financial goals. For those of us working to reduce existing debt, charitable financial giving can present an ethical dilemma. With not enough to meet all of your own goals and means how can one give to others who may require an extra helping hand?
Financial giving comes in several forms. Individuals such as pan handlers might ask outright for change. We all have our ways of dealing with these situations. Some of us may throw whatever we have in the battered cup while others may think that such a person should get a job and make their own way. Compassionate and empathic individuals might feel compelled to give, yet when there is little extra in ones own pocket it can be hard to justify giving what you do have to someone else.
There is a never ending stream of events and charities needing fundraising and donations. The recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan is one example of this. As a global citizen you may feel it is your duty to give money to such a cause. When confronted with suffering how can one not feel compelled to give? Yet questions about such charities might arise especially around where the money goes and to whom. Is your $20 going to provide food and resources or pay for “administration costs” elsewhere?
How you resolve to give money to charity, if at all, is up to you. While throwing money at a charity might be “easy” in terms of effort financially prudent individuals might feel this is not possible. There are many other ways one can give to those who may need a “hand up.”
Sometimes the biggest dilemma is who to give to or how to do so. Perhaps you have identified the items you have to give or the time you want to spend, but where do you go to offer these gifts? For good reason some agencies have a rigorous screening processes for volunteer positions or donated items. Some agencies only accept certain items. For example, agencies working with mothers and children frequently receive used car seats and cribs. These items are not able to be used dues to safety concerns. Where do you go with old equipment, half used tubes of toothpaste or last years ‘O’ magazines? Does anybody want them? There is usually somebody who will need what you have to offer, but identifying who can be a little more difficult.

Giving Away Stuff Online
Giving away belongings is very freeing. There are many ways to give away belongings for free (or very cheaply). Obvious ones might be yard sales and on Craigslist. Many fantastic items can be found for free on Craigslist. Some people on Craigslist have a bit of a “shark mentality” and lack good intentions when listing items. Freecycle, an online service which allows subscribers to offer and ask for free items may be preferable for some. Freecycle often seeks volunteer moderators and giving time to volunteer is often a gratifying way to give back.

Putting Items in the Alley.
Recently a friend expressed a desire to get rid of a rusting barbeque she has. She is thinking of putting it in the alley on the premise that “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.” This may be true, for some resourceful people believe metals are worth money, but it may just sit there rusting indefinitely.
There are limits to what should be put in alleys and beside dumpsters however. Items such as decent shoes or kitchen wares in good condition may get scooped quickly, but putting things like dead Christmas trees and abandoned mattresses in the alley is pure laziness and littering. Options for disposal of big items can be hard to find or afford sometimes, but not being bothered to dispose of items properly is unacceptable. It is your responsibility to check in a day or so to see if the items are gone and if after a few days they are not it is best to try and find another home for these items. Weather is also a consideration as rain or heat may ruin perfectly decent items and render them useless.
Putting cans and bottles in the alley is a great way to give to the resourceful folk who look for such items. Some people are able to balance huge bags of cans on bicycles with ease. In Vancouver, an underground economy exists where items found in alleys and besides dumpsters are either sold, turned in for refunds or bartered for other items. Such systems keep many items out of the landfills which is a bonus for the environment. Systems such as “binning” or “dumpster diving” help keep alleys and dumpsters clear and accessible. Ironically some segments of society may see “binning” as offensive. Many take it very seriously and consider this hard work as their vocation.
There is a growing movement towards “freeganism” and not solely within communities where people are down on their luck. Being a freegan means all items, including food, are gathered through dumpster diving, bartering and so on. Many freegans are not living on the margins of society but are people who are conscientious citizens making a social and political decision to not further burden already taxed resources and to use what already exists.

Thrift Stores
When  embarking on decluttering my home my partner and I took huge car loads of boxes to the local thrift store. Thrift stores often sell items and donate the proceeds to others. There are several excellent thrift stores whose mandate it is to support community ventures. Giving items to thrift stores is an excellent way of recycling. Donating items is just as good as giving money because the thrift store will make a profit on your items and return it to the causes they support. There is nothing more freeing than dropping off a big box of stuff to a thrift store who survives on such giving. If you want to ensure the money made from your donated items is passed on in a charitable way make sure you ask the staff. Some “thrift stores” are actually private businesses and keep all profits.

The Giving of Time and Expertise
As mentioned, giving time is a great way to be charitable without breaking the bank. There are so many ways in which a person can give, even if it’s something as little as an hour or two a week to help others in the community. The giving of time is a valuable commodity and many organizations and events cannot survive without volunteer help. If being locked in to formal time giving is too much there are countless less structured ways time can be shared. One’s time is a perfect gift to give and receive, especially when minimal living is the goal. Who needs more stuff? The gift of a few hours of baby sitting or shopping for a senior is a priceless gift. Recently friends with a 14 year old and a 4 year old revealed that the older child had given his parents 100 hours of babysitting for Christmas. They calculated that to be over $400 worth of babysitting.  A very thoughtful and well used gift to say the least!
Having worked with many not for profit groups, the most appreciated volunteers are the ones who come in to offer services such as haircuts or massage. This provides the volunteer with valuable community connections while those receiving the time and services are grateful for this positive contribution.
If you are unable to volunteer your time regularly consider giving a few hours every once in a while. During the Christmas season many people take time to help out at shelters and community kitchens. There are many other times in the year when those who are poor or elderly or simply distanced from their family appreciate the support of charitably volunteered assistance. In the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver there is a surge of people who give time or gifts during the Christmas season. Many of the people in that community appreciate this extra love at what can be a difficult time of year; however such assistance would be useful at other times of the year as well. During the cold, rainy winter months when the twinkle of Christmas lights has faded there is no better time to give for no other reason than being compassionate and caring. Volunteer at any of the community agencies who seek such help or round up toiletries and socks and deliver them to those who need them. It is easy to give in festive times, but there are 365 days in the year and there will be more impact when the agencies and resources are less saturated with good intentions.

Thinking Outside the Box
The above suggestions may be fairly common ways in which many of us may give back. Only you know what you can give, how much time you can offer and the resources and skills you may have. Giving is also contingent on your personal and moral beliefs. Perhaps you want to donate to a women’s shelter specifically or maybe giving to youth is important to you? Giving back should not be a burden, but something you really want to do. Giving does not need to be formal and can be unscheduled. Give blood, give a smile to a stranger, stand up on the bus for another passenger, give coins in your pocket to a busker or help someone with their groceries if they look like they need it are only a few examples. Giving should be from the heart and not from a place of ego. The important thing is that giving comes in many shapes and forms and does not need to break you financially or thwart your debt reduction attempts. Give if and when it feels right!

How do you give? Do you have trouble knowing where, what or how to give back to your community? Let me know, I would love to hear suggestions and ideas about more  ways to give.

Vicki can be contacted at: vickijaybright@yahoo.ca


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  • I love this post. I agree that it’s overwhelming the amount of charities and foundations asking for donations so it’s helpful to think of other ways to ‘give’, especially in our own communities. Helping people we live next door to is something that gets forgotten with all the focus on poverty in other countries.

    Vicki, you got it right when you said, “Giving should be from the heart and not from the place of ego”. Thanks for sharing!

  • In addition to the global tragedies needing assistance, if you are involved in any sort of local community there always seems to be some sort of fund drive or another. It can be so overwhelming, especially when pinching your own pennies or needing help yourself!

    I like to donate to Goodwill because they help disabled find work and also employ them. The resale of my items funds their work AND gives them work to do!

    I think it is important to choose a charity about which you are passionate when donating time (and even money). I used to donate quite a chunk of time to the Girl Scouts. Excellent organization, but you have to be cautious: don’t get burnt out. Offering too much of yourself in a short amount of time can definitely be overwhelming, too.

  • Thank you for this article Vicki.
    I firmly believe that charity starts with helping our local community. I would encourage people to try and provide practical help for others in need (“haircuts or massage”) other than blindly giving money to a ‘fashionable’ charity.

  • Loved this piece, Vicki. Thank you so much.
    I want to find a group to volunteer with by the fall and will be writing a bit about that here. I’ll be referring back to this post often.

  • Giving money is easy but with 5 little children I have struggled trying to find a way to give my time and especially to serve my neighbours. Several months ago I got a wonderful idea to just do what I do best and that is sewing. I don’t have enough time to actually make a difference by sewing for people but I can teach! So before we moved I was teaching sewing classes free to anyone that wanted to come. It worked perfectly to have them once a week after my children were in bed. It was wonderful to feel like I was passing on a valuable skill and I loved doing it. I will start them again as soon as we settle down. In the mean time there are plenty of opportunities to serve while we are traveling. right now we are in a campground next to a mother and daughter that are living in a tiny tent. We invited them to our trailer for dinner last night but they were so grateful just to have people to visit with and have a solid roof over their heads.

  • What a great article, i have just joined my local freecycle because of it. We have sold some things before our big move, but the rest we will pass on for free!

  • I prefer to make a direct and profound impact on an individual or small group in my own community, rather than to blindly donate money to large, faceless causes (this is not in *any* way a criticism of those who choose that route — it’s just that I quite selfishly like to see firsthand the impact of my actions/donations). I also mostly tend to volunteer time or goods, because it makes me feel more engaged in the process, and because I can give a lot more overall than I’d be able to with money alone. I particularly like helping organizations that work with youth, as I believe that making a positive difference in a young person’s life will have a far greater reaching and longer term impact on the quality of the community than almost everything else.

    Some of the ways I have given back in recent times:
    – mentoring (for almost six years and counting) a high-risk teen
    – teaching fitness and nutrition classes to inner city at-risk youth
    – donating lightly used clothing and shoes to the local women’s shelter
    – donating household goods to an organization that helps homeless people transition from shelters to homes
    – serving free Christmas dinner (and conversation) to the homeless
    – listing free items on Craigslist for those in need (no strings attached — I do not believe in making prospective recipients beg or share their sob stories; I just ask in my ad that the item go to someone in need, and hope that people are honest enough to respect my wishes)

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