The Day of Giving falls after the four days of extreme shopping, and though I’m happy there is a day acknowledging the need for charity, it angers me. I don’t have a problem with charity itself, I have a problem with where much of the charity goes. Too much charity in the United States feeds the myth that we are the country of wealth and there are no poor people here. Well, maybe there are a few, which is sad, but they are much better off than the poor starving children in Africa.
First, let me acknowledge the fact that there are millions of people in the world who need help. Millions of people are starving, living in refuge camps, dying of treatable diseases, living in war zones… I am not negating any of that. People do indeed need our help, and I don’t want to take away any of the support given to desperate people in Africa and Asia. But just sending money “over there” without a thought to the needs of the hungry children in our own nation perpetuates the fantasy that there is enough support here and no one lives in squalor like they do in Afghanistan.
When I worked for Easter Seals in Lake County as an early interventionist, visiting families with young, special needs children (under 3), teaching them the skills needed to help their children thrive, I witnessed American poverty. In the 2 years I did this work, I met many families living in trailers with broken windows and blue tarps covering their falling roofs, families who had to choose between heat and food, families in need of medical care without access to a doctor. There were large families who lived together, ten people crammed into a two bedroom house, because that was the only way they could afford housing. One little girl I worked with cried when her color crayons melted from the summer heat because she lived in a house without electricity; there was electricity available, but her family couldn’t pay the bill. Most of these families lived in the City of Clearlake, the largest city in Lake County (pop. 15,000), which still has dirt roads, poor sanitation, and mercury contaminated drinking water.
Whenever I hear someone living in beautiful Sonoma County talk about how sad it is that children are starving in Africa, I want to shout, “What about the children starving just one hour away from you?” To those who sponsor children in Mexico, is there a way to sponsor a child in Clearlake? Or Detroit? The schools could use new text books, heat, and repairs. The clinics could use more doctors. The roads could use pavement.
It is important that we try to help people in poverty all over the world. But when it’s time to send money overseas, lets not forget the hungry child who is probably living two blocks away from you.