She was so excited. A car had been donated for her to use. But after the title had been transferred, the keys handed over, she prepared to drive it. And the car that was donated stopped working. “Surely it’s not a big repair,” she reasoned. “I just got it!” But the mechanic broke the bad news. The repair was very, very expensive. Far beyond her ability to cover. Newfound excitement is dashed. She’s disillusioned and hurt that someone would give her such a gift. Plus, she’s got to find something to do with a car that she can’t fix, can’t move, can’t drive.
This story is unfortunately real. And has happened more than once. Maybe you’ve even been a part of this type of “generous” giving while preparing a bag for the charity thrift store.
“This [name of donated item] is better than nothing, right? After all, the families that shop there are so poor.”
Ever heard that? I have. Way. Too. Often. There’s this myth floating around among the more privileged that donating any item to the poor is generosity in action. That whatever is given will be appreciated. That those in poverty shouldn’t be picky.
So into the giveaway pile goes the J. Crew sweater (with only a few stains). The really cool toy (that no longer works). The bicycle (with a broken chain). Cute stuffed animal (that smells).
Is this generosity? Giving our worn out and barely working items away? I wonder if God thinks so. If we were on the receiving end, would we be thrilled to receive such items? Or would this type of generosity merely reinforce a feeling of inferiority and disenfranchisement.
“They seem to think we’re just a glorified trash service,” complained one non-profit worker as she reflected on the heaping bags of donated junk they receive. The organization she worked for had to foot the bill for getting rid of all the unwanted and useless items that were given to them.
“To whom much is given, much is expected.” Another rule for generosity: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Next time you’re preparing to donate, be picky. Give the good stuff, upcycle/recycle/trash the bad. If you wouldn’t want to receive an item, then don’t give it to the poor.
As a side note, think about this when it comes to city development too. Increased public transportation routes may bring more poor into your area. Don’t try to keep them away. Their presence may discomfit you, but this is a way to embrace generosity. Share the economic benefits of your area with those who can’t afford to live there. Vote for nice parks, greenways, new schools to be built in the “sketch” part of town. Your tax dollars can improve the quality of life of those who need it most and are least able to advocate.
photo by Newtown Grafitti. Used under a creative commons license