I often find that it is the people who have the least who tend to give the most. And I don't mean they are giving hundreds of dollars - they may give $5 when they only make $10 or $13 an hour to start with. What I mean by "give the most" is that they give the most often. Whether it is helping the person at the check out line who is putting back something because they are short on money, or donating time/money to an animal rescue, they give freely not because they have an excess of resources but because they know what it is like to need.
I grew up poor. But my mom and I once drove home from a fast food restaurant at 10pm to get blankets for the couple that were living in their car in winter. We didn't have much, but we sure had more than that couple had. I'm not telling you this to show off my generousity or imply I'm special or deserve admiration. I'm telling you this because I want to inspire you to find ways that you can make a difference for people. Did the used spare blanket that was probably 5 years old mean as much to us as it did to that couple? Not a chance, it meant FAR FAR more to them. This is a phenomenon I call "The Exchange Rate of Kindness". I can give something trivial to me, and have it mean significantly more to someone in need. So while I don't attend church or believe in God, I tithe. I give directly to people in need. Sometimes they are charities. Usually they are individuals, like the guy at the gas station who humbly asked if I could help him out with a gallon of gas in his container, his car ran out about a block away. I filled his 2.5 gallon can, because I could. The $10 meant very little to me, compared to what it meant to him.
You don't have to hang out at the gas station waiting for someone to walk up with a red gas can. If you don't know where to start, here are a few people who could use a hand.
- Trenton Crowl - A woman I went to high school with and haven't seen since 1990, she knows Trenton's family. In August 2012 on the day before Trenton turned 1, his mother's boyfriend suffocated him to get him to take a nap. The resulting brain damage has changed Trenton's life forever. Tonight he is back in the hospital having life threatening seizures. Whatever the outcome, his father and stepmother who now have full custody of Trenton could use your help.
- Aidan Love - My best friend know's Aidan's family, they all take karate classes at the same dojo. In January 2014 Aidan was sick again, and his mom, a single parent on active duty with the Air Force took him to the doctor. His regular doctor who had been seeing him for the last three weeks was unavailable; the doctor he ended up seeing thought the prior diagnosis wasn't quite right and did more investigation... and discovered a massive lymphoma cancer throughout his chest and abdominal organs. Aidan is doing well with chemo and other cancer treatments, but is still a very sick little boy whose family is in upheaval focusing on his recovery.
- Michael Morones has been in the news more than the other two children, he was an 11 year old so bullied at his school for being a brony that he attempted suicide. The brony community has raised $72k for his family and there is a big Broadway fundraiser hosted by Sir Ian McKellan coming up on April 14 2014, so while I financially support all three of these boys and their families and would encourage you to do the same, if you have limited resources it may be reasonable to help Trenton and/or Aidan's families first as they don't have the same level of community-driven financial support coming in.
If none of these causes is moving you to donate $5 or $25 or $100, find your own cause that you are passionate about. There are plenty of ways you can make the world a better place for your fellow man. I can recommend shelters for juvenile victims of sex trafficking, domestic violence shelters, homeless services such as soup kitchens and transitional housing, support centers for child victims of sexual abuse, international aid organizations to provide clean water or vaccines to villages...
You know how you feel when you get to the drive through window at Starbucks and the person ahead of you has "paid it forward"? You can do that pretty much anywhere - just do something nice for a stranger, with no expectation of direct repayment but the belief that the recipient will in turn do something good for someone else at some point. The more often you help strangers, the easier and more reflexive it gets. And you can involve your family, it is a great learning experience! My kids help choose what we donate to each month, and often they want to donate some of their own money as well.
Need more inspiration? Check out the One Spark Foundation. They have lots of easy and low cost ideas on how to make other people's day a little brighter.