Why I Give

First I want you to read this. It’s a piece by John Scalzi, written in 2005, called “Being Poor“.

If you weren’t able to access the link, here are the first few lines:

Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.

Being poor is getting angry at your kids for asking for all the crap they see on TV.

Being poor is having to keep buying $800 cars because they’re what you can afford, and then having the cars break down on you, because there’s not an $800 car in America that’s worth a damn.

Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away.”

It goes on from there; and a ton of people added their own thoughts in the comments (“Being poor is the 39c. can of peaches that looks like an extravagance. The one you hoard in the cupboard for weeks because you know you can’t afford another”, for example). And I’m sharing that article with you for a reason: I nodded all the way through it.

Here are a few, drawn from my own experience:

Being poor means scraping together all the change you can find, then going through the self-check lane at the grocery store because you’re too ashamed to let the cashier see you using pennies to pay for 6 cans of tuna (4 for you, 2 for the cat).

Being poor means stealing sand from the kids’ play area at the park because you can’t afford cat litter until next week when you get paid, and you don’t want the landlord to get angry with you about the litterbox smell.

Being poor means using a combination of Febreze ($3.00/bottle, then diluted 50-50 with water to make it stretch) and steam from your shower to make your clothes last another couple of wearings between trips to the laundromat ($2.50/load, plus detergent and dryer sheets).

Being poor means getting a bag of rice, a roll of sausage, a pint of milk, and a small bag of flour, and combining them to make sausage gravy over rice–which you then eat for all of your meals for a week. By the end of the week it starts to smell a little strange, but if you microwave it a little longer, you’re pretty sure that’ll kill any bacteria in there.

Being poor means having scars on your feet from the summer you spent wearing shoes that rubbed your feet raw but which were the only ones you could afford…and of course, that’s the summer the car broke down and you had to save up to buy another $800 car, so in the meantime you had to walk to and from work every day.

Being poor means nobody is ever supposed to know…and having been poor never, ever goes away.

That’s me, at my old apartment complex where there were roaches and knife fights and the parking lot went completely untreated during the winter, so it was solid sheet ice from the first snow until the thaw. And now you can say you know what a poor person looks like.

I’m telling you these stories because I want you to understand why I’m so fired up about things like Hunger Action Month. I want you to understand–really, truly understand–why I’m forever going on about donating to your local food bank. I want you to know that my having a food donation drive for my birthday party had nothing to do with my trying to set myself up as some great philanthropist, and everything to do with trying to quiet the ghosts of my past.

I give because I have had to take.

I have the great good fortune of having gotten out of the spiral (and it really is a spiral–being late on one bill means you build fees, which means there’s not enough to pay all the bills next month, which means you get more fees, which just builds and builds; and when your ex siphons off a bunch of the bill money and runs off with a 20-year-old voice major, you lose control very, very quickly). Moon Man makes a very good living at his job, and we’re able to pay all our bills in full on time every month, with enough left over to buy food and gas and have some splurges.

But I still struggle with food hoarding–I recently did a kitchen cleanout of all the non-Paleo foods that I’d stored up, and gave it all to Mom…and she drove away with her car literally full of food–and I still struggle with feeling secure if our money isn’t tracked down to the penny. I have panic attacks if the car makes an unusual noise. I’ve learned to make my own shampoo, my own facial moisturizer, my own laundry detergent, and my own multipurpose cleaner, “just in case”.

I got out, but I still know how much everything costs…including the incidental expenses, like gasoline, that it takes to go get them.

So that’s why I give. And that’s why I freak out a little bit when people say things like “I work so that I have money to spend on myself and on spoiling my kids–not so I can just go give stuff away to the poor”. It’s why I have a hard time understanding the “why don’t you go get a better job?” mentality–I mean, think it through: take the number of people working crappy, low-income jobs, and compare that to the number of well-paying executive jobs out there. I suspect you’ll find a disparity.

Look, the bottom line is this: nobody wants to be poor. Nobody dreams of having a $50/month food budget for two people (pro tip: see if one of you can get on as a dishwasher or busboy at a restaurant. Lots of them will let their dishwashers eat for free). Nobody wants to need help.

But if they do need help, the least I can do is make sure it’s there for them. ‘Cause lord knows I’ve needed it…so now it’s my turn to pay it forward. And I hope that if you’ve ever been in those ill-fitting, cheap shoes, you’ll pay it forward too, or prepay against the chance that someday your house of cards might crumble around you and you’ll find yourself with your hat in your hands.

That, kids, is why I give. And that’s why I push so hard for you to give too: because you are decent, because you care, and because you know that we’re all in this together. We. Are. All. In. This. Together.

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2 Comments

Filed under Share the Toys

2 responses to “Why I Give

    • Right back atcha, Pookie! 😉

      (For the record, the reason I find that so funny is because my parents called me “Pookie” my whole life. Mom *still* calls me that–my official full nickname with her is “Pookie T Sissybutt” (my other nickname is “Sissy”)–and I sign all my emails to her with “Love, Pookie”.)

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