Teach a woman to shop…

I’ve got a ridiculous stockpile of stuff I’ve gotten for free from all of my couponing and rebate adventures. I have more than the teen shelter needs, but not enough to make a dent in the needs of bigger organizations. Plus, I don’t like bigger – it’s very impersonal, which might be what most people want from their giving experience, but not me. It’s not so much that I need to be thanked or feel like some big shot benefactor, it’s just that after you hear enough stories about fraud and embezzlement in the charity sector, well, I hate feeling duped.

Last Christmas, I found three families on Craigslist who wanted Christmas for their kids. Two of them were in legitimate need, it was pretty obvious. The third, eh, not so much, but I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt because it’s not always easy to recognize the concept of “the working poor”. Well, I think it’s kind of sad that we only look after people at Christmas, and I’ve got a closet full of surplus necessities that food stamps don’t cover…so back to Craigslist I went. I searched in Volunteers and Goods Wanted, and found this:

I am a single mom with 2 kids. I am employed but I am having a hard time making it to this payday. I hate to do this, but I really need just some basics to make it to Friday. Anything you can spare will be appreciated. Maybe you have some canned goods that you don’t like or maybe detergent to wash clothes that you don’t like. Thanks for helping.

Apparently these women get bombarded with anonymous hate email either telling them they should have kept their legs closed or suggesting they exchange sex for money, because I always get responses that sound so incredibly relieved that there’s someone decent out there. There were one or two other worthwhile results for my searches – terms used were simply “milk”, “need” (lots of results, but that’s how I found this one), “shampoo”, that sort of thing – but they were geographically impossible for me. Anyway, I emailed her a long list of the kinds of things I could offer her – toothpaste, deodorant, cheese, mustard, toilet paper, dishwashing liquid, etc. – mentioned name brands so she would know it wasn’t scary dollar-store stuff, and explained that I got all these things from my shopping-for-free hobby. I threw that last bit in there because if I were to spend “real” money doing this, I would definitely lean more towards food.

She didn’t reply for 3 days, which of course puts us at her payday and beyond her immediate but not ongoing need, but I guess she unsurprisingly doesn’t have regular internet access. She emailed me her phone number and asked if I could show her how to shop like I do. I left a voicemail last night and also replied by email. I hope she gets in touch this weekend. I love that she asked to learn how to shop for free – I took it as a sign that she hates asking for charity and would be happy to do all this for herself if she could just figure out how. Too bad a lot of if involves double-coupon shopping in the suburbs – something she doesn’t have access to. I didn’t get into all the pharmacy stuff because it’s hard to make it work well without regular internet access and $20 of “start-up capital”, neither of which she has.

I hope she follows up. I like the idea of adopting a family so informally – asking for help is hard, and it probably feels like failure to sign up for some kind of program for ongoing charitable assistance. And someone asking for partial containers of laundry detergent and random unwanted cans of food – things that wouldn’t cost us anything – is not scamming.

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4 Responses

  1. Yes, I think that is wonderful she asked how to do it. I haven’t been bringing in enough surplus to support a whole shelter but I have been giving lots of excess to one family of six with the dad out of work. (And lots of random excess to everyone else.) I haven’t met these people but I just know “of” them through someone else. For me I think this is probably best. When I get to know some people and see why they’re in the mess they’re in (not to say I don’t have MY own messes) it can be very irritating for me that they don’t want to learn how to “fix” some of the problems. Especially when I’m more than willing to give them the coupons and instruction! And some of these “situations” are certainly created by their belief systems that I know I don’t agree with! Sad, but the way of the world.

    • I understand what you’re saying about situations and belief systems, but it bothers me so much that men never suffer the same stigma, judgments, etc. They can just write a check or disappear.

      In any case, 3 of the 4 single moms I’ve helped started out as normal married family units – one was ostracized by her family for marrying a black man (from whom the young woman was divorced, and he was in prison). One took the kids and ran when she found out her husband was molesting all three kids (he’s in prison for that now), then she had a small stroke 9 months before I met her and was only just physically able to try to get back into the workplace. And yesterday’s mother was married to a man who, after he lost his job, took out his frustration in the form of such extreme verbal/psychological abuse that their then-8-year-old daughter became a suicidal cutter and the 10-year-old gained massive amounts of weight.

  2. Kate- Do you take any deductions for your donations? You certainly are very giving (and inspiring). Wouldn’t it help your taxes to do so? I think the value of what you are donating easily reaches into the hundreds for the whole year even if it costs you nothing.

    I just started searching for a shelter near my new home that would accept donations. I am v. excited because I think I have a lot of stuff I can de-clutter and give to the shelter.

    Thanks for the ongoing inspiration. (I’m going to have to learn the drugstore coupon system.)

    • It only helps if you itemize, for one thing. And although I do itemize, my accountant has warned me about claiming $1700 worth of deductions (taking that figure from the “Year to date savings” on my CVS receipt) at my net income level – which is really low because practically my whole life is tax deductible, and the economy sucks. I am going to start getting receipts though to give people who do itemize – like my fellow massage therapist friend Bluejay, or my new homeowner brother.

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