Tag Archives: charities

For “Giving Tuesday,” Can I Give Back All My Free Address Labels?

Black Friday – the biggest shopping day of the year for the brick & mortar establishments – is followed three days later by Cyber Monday – the most popular online shopping day. And since you already have your credit cards out and are floating on that high that only comes from the combination of spending a lot of money and getting a really great deal, some brilliant philanthropists (and of course some savvy marketers) came up with today’s Giving Tuesday. They figure that we have one day for giving thanks and two for getting deals, so why not balance it out and create another day for giving back? And by “giving back,” they don’t mean the return line at Wal-Mart after you’ve developed buyer’s remorse.

I think Giving Tuesday is a great idea and I hope it catches on like wildfire. Especially for those people who don’t really think about charities until the end of the year tax write-off, I think it’s a wonderful way to initiate the recognition of worthy charities and hopefully start instilling a desire to help those in need, without expecting a fancy meal and a door prize in return.

Even though I completely encourage Giving Tuesday, today won’t necessarily be a special day for me. I try to be a giver year-round, not just on some new cyber-Hallmark holiday akin to Secretary’s Day. My kids will probably joke that I like to give them crap (although they wouldn’t actually the word “crap” or I’d really give them crap), but I wouldn’t hesitate a second to donate a kidney, a lung, or even half a brain if I could spare it. I enjoy volunteering my time in the community, and I even get a kick out of donating blood. And I don’t do it for the free carbs and a sticker.

I’ve never had a garage sale. I prefer to donate my gently-used items to charities, although one organization that I’ll just call Charity-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named came to pick up my bags of goods one day and instead left a note that said “Landfills are expensive.” Apparently the jacket good enough for me to wear the day before was unfit for a homeless person living in a box on a freeway offramp.

Ever since I started making enough money to eat something more extravagant than air-popped popcorn and off-brand macaroni and cheese, I’ve been giving to charities. Whether it was a Girl Scout selling over-priced cookies outside the market, a friend participating in a walk, jog, run or jump-a-thon, or some tear-jerker infomercial, my checkbook was always out. In the early 1990’s I was doing quite well financially and probably donated to 40 different charities annually. I’d send $25 to anything that came in the mail and more if the request was solicited by a friend.

But for the past few years we have been in financial dire straits, and I now have to be more choosey about charities.

The problem is, like pesky gum on your shoe that you just can’t scrape off, I seem to be in these charity databases for life. To them I’m still a potential donor left over from previous flush years, and I still might have sympathy and disposable income left to burn.

They don’t just send a form letter. What really irks me are the gilt-ridden gifts I don’t need or ask for that are smuggled along with the letter. I receive glossy photos of a malnourished child in Africa, a sad-eyed pup that’s about to be euthanized, or baby seals stuck in muck. They send calendars filled with 12 months of those plighted children, puppies, and baby seals. I get incredibly cheap-looking Christmas or greeting cards that I just pass on to some other charity. And if I had a dime for every time I got a dime from the March of Dimes… wait! I do have a lot of dimes!

Even though they may be attempting to stretch that donated dollar as tightly as possible by paying bargain basement prices on these presents, I’m concerned that they might be manufacturing these gifts in 3rd World Countries with the same horrible conditions they’re hoping to wipe out from the lives of plighted children, puppies, and baby seals.

But the most prevalent gifts are the ubiquitous address labels. I have probably received a billion of them in a variety of “Miss,” “Ms.” and “Mrs.,” “Cathy” or “Catherine,” and even some with the married names I never took.

Even though I didn’t ask for them, I’ll keep the labels and these days I probably won’t end up donating to their charity. I used to feel guilty about it, but it’s not like anyone else has any use for them. I can’t fill up a donation box of “Cathy Flynn – Valley Village, CA” labels for Charity-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and hope that Mr. Homeless Man in a Box can find them constructive, with the exception of using them to tape up leaky holes in his habitat.

I like to use the labels for as my contact information on charity raffle tickets rather than handwrite the same lines 100 times. The money may not be going to the optimistic organization that printed and mailed those address labels, but at least it’s still going to a good cause.

Two weeks ago I donated about 20 bags of clothing to the Superstorm Sandy victims, and then gave literally a truckload of household items to our local public middle school during their Goodwill drive. We have a monthly credit card payment to our public elementary school as well as my local public radio station since I’d be a complete thief to listen to NPR as often as I do without paying something for it. And since I don’t really know today how I’m going to pay for those credit card charges next month, I’m praying that even if I’m a contributor this year, it won’t tip me over the financial cliff so far that I’ll be one of those charity recipients next year.

I guess the bright side is – if we lose the house I won’t need to worry about what to do with all those return address labels. I doubt those charities will be able to find me at my new home next door to the Homeless Guy in a Box.

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Filed under Anxiety, Debt, Financial Insecurity, Fundraising, Humor, Public Schools, Volunteering

From Pageant Contestant to Judge: What I Wish I Knew 30 Years Ago

Here I am as a contestant in the 1982 Miss Brea Pageant

Thirty years ago, I was a contestant in the Miss Brea Pageant, the local preliminary that leads to the Miss America Pageant. I fancied myself as a songwriter, and I had this grand idea that if I could climb my way to a televised performance at the state or national level, millions of people would hear my song and some popular singer like Sheena Easton or Olivia Newton-John would turn it into a huge hit.

Forget the fact that I just had a so-so singing voice or that my song was a terribly depressing ballad about time running away from me (funny how I still keep singing that same tune as a very busy mom). But it definitely was not in the vein of those Miss America standards New York, New York or Don’t Rain on My Parade. There was also the big stumbling block that I had zero self esteem, poor communication skills, and to top it off, another contestant bought my same evening gown in a better color.

No, I didn’t win. I wasn’t even one of the runner ups. However, I did win Miss Congeniality, a title for which I am extremely proud, although that sounds like a contradiction since one would expect Miss Congeniality to be a little more humble.

My problem was, I was in it for me – my fame and a chance for people to look at me and tell me I was pretty. I wanted my moment. And although that seems to be the goal of every reality show star these days, that hedonistic attitude runs completely counter to the ideal of Miss America.

Here it is 30 years later, and today (yes… today: Saturday, January 7, 2012) I have the honor of  being one of the judges at the Miss Placentia/Miss Yorba Linda Outstanding Teen Pageant, the younger version of the pageant I was in. Located in Northeast Orange County, both these cities were my home from age 11 to 18, so it is heartwarming to return to a place that holds so many memories.

Now that I’m older, I wish I could tell my younger self that the pageant wasn’t supposed to be about chasing fame and compliments. Although some people mistakenly refer to it as a beauty contest, it is actually a scholarship pageant, and the world’s largest provider of scholarship assistance for young women. The winners are ambassadors of their communities, and as such they are poised, intelligent, good conversationalists, altruistic, and of course beautiful and talented.

A few weeks ago, I received a packet of information about each of the 13 candidates, and without having met them yet, they already blow my socks off.

The girls are all great students who have won a variety of awards for academics and talent. But the most impressive aspect of today’s Miss Teen Pageant is that contestants must choose a philanthropic platform in which they would focus their efforts if they win the title. Some of theirs include animal cruelty, teen addiction, dyslexia, homelessness, and the Red Cross. They all seem passionate in their convictions and have dedicated themselves to causes that are close to their hearts.

I don’t remember having a charitable platform in 1982. I think it would be another decade before I would regularly donate to a charity.

The bios also include a marketing plan to promote their platform, and a description of what they would want their legacy to be if chosen. I am amazed that girls aged 13 to 17 are capable of putting such lofty aspirations into words. I don’t recall having to write such a testimonial, but if I had when I was a 19-year old contestant, it verbally would have sounded like: “Uh… uhuh… uhuhuh…”

Like many young girls who grew up watching the Miss America Pageant, I only dreamed of being the winner, yet there are more than 12,000 young women who are contestants, and nearly all of them walk away without the bouquet of roses in their arms. Those who do win at their local level will compete for their state, and 99 percent of them will come home with new experiences, but not the title. However, they will be very busy finishing their reign by serving as ambassadors: promoting their charitable platforms, appearing at the openings of new businesses, visiting children’s hospitals, and generally helping to serve the needs of their communities.

It was a wonderful experience to participate in the pageant as a contestant 30 years ago, but I was naïve, selfish and insecure. It has taken me three decades to develop just some of the traits required of the teens I will be meeting today. I am looking forward to spending time with these beautiful young ladies who I know will be able to teach me a thing or two.

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Filed under Anxiety, Humor, Volunteering