What have you done for me lately?

With U.S. Thanksgiving around the corner, I thought I’d share some thoughts about giving and gratitude.

With the economy the way that it is, with so many people having a really difficult go of things, it’s easy to forget about the many people in our world who are in desperate need in some way. The direness of the situation hit me like a slap in the face when I heard about the recent report from the United Nations that 1 billion people worldwide are facing starvation. To put this in perspective, if one were to count non-stop, it would take over 31 years to count to 1 billion.

The worldwide water crisis is also very bleak. Here are some startling statistics from Water.org. Almost 900 million people worldwide lack access to clean water.  When you consider that all it takes to provide clean water for a lifetime for someone is $25, you have to wonder why it is even an issue.

Malaria is one of the harshest sicknesses that is something we can combat. Malaria accounts for 500 million illnesses per year with more than 1 million dying from it.  Bed nets – which provide a protective barrier between mosquitoes and people – are one of the most effective ways we know to combat malaria. One net costs $10 to get to a family in need – preventing illness and potentially saving lives. Nothingbutnets.net provides some useful information.

It seems like every few months, at least one part of the world is hit by sudden devastation due to natural catastrophes resulting in lives lost, people sick, people who lose their homes. Organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, Red Cross and others providing ongoing support to areas in need as well as emergency assistance when tragedy strikes. Most organizations such as these have monthly giving programs to provide ongoing financial support for as little as $10 or $15 a month.

Aside from financial support, giving time to volunteer is something that can be even more rewarding. I’m not referring to simply tweeting a link but getting out there and taking some kind of action. If you need some ideas, here are some different things I’ve given time to over the years:

  • Provided respite care for autistic children for 2 years. I’d take out a teenager with severe autism for an outing every week to give caregivers a break.
  • Volunteered at an institution for autistic children on a weekly basis for a couple of hours.  I worked with younger children on arts and crafts.
  • Volunteered at the Montreal General Hospital Snack bar – which was staffed by volunteers.
  • Visited senior’s home. I’d play cards or board games with them. More than half had no regular visitors.
  • Volunteered at my family church’s soup kitchen and bazaars.
  • Put up a website during the ice storm that hit the Northeast to provide updates. We had a team together that helped people out of town know the whereabouts of family members. We helped coordinate bringing generators and other items in.
  • Put up a website to raise awareness of the devastation in Myanmar and raised funds for Doctors Without Borders & other organizations through direct contributions.
  • Read daily local news articles for a blind association.
  • Was a big sister for a high school girl who had been shuffled from one foster care family to another.
  • Volunteered at a homeless shelter to assist at holiday meals.
  • While on student council at Champlain College in my role of activities coordinator, I oversaw dozens of fundraising activities.

Don’t think you have the time? Think again. I am not some wonder woman (really!) yet I worked full-time through my last years of high school, college, and university; carried a full course load (and maintained great grades), had a social life, was involved in extra-curricular activities & sports yet I still managed to find time to volunteer weekly. It doesn’t need to be a weekly commitment. Finding 2-3 events you can help with each year that take a couple of hours each can make a huge difference.

There are other ways to make a difference. Many charitable organizations need “stuff.” Often you can get a receipt you can use for tax purposes for donating items you may have thrown out anyway. We gave our last car away. Unused clothing. Books to the local library. Getting some ideas?

Aside from the obvious benefits of giving in some way – to the recipients of what you give, the “feel good” benefit you derive and potential tax deductions (I am being realistic here – it is a motivator for many ;) ) – there are some other benefits:

  • Our lives become richer, especially in cases where we volunteer in a more hands-on way.
  • It helps us better appreciate what we have.
  • It helps us to feel more complete.
  • I think it can also help prevent depression. I’ve noticed that most fellow volunteers tend to be much happier people overall. Most I have talked to about this said that they have gotten back so much more than they have given through volunteering.
  • As with working out (see my About page here), I’ve noticed that when I have an active giving plan – financial and volunteering – the rest of my life seems to flow much better as well.

With Thanksgiving around the corner and a new year not that far ahead, maybe it’s time to consider your own giving plan for the year ahead. Don’t leave the thinking for emergency situations. It’s a lot easier for most of us to come up with $5-10 a week than to come up with $250 or $500 during a crisis. What do you do now and what will you do?

P.S. I hope you realize that the “me” in the title of this post was referring to the world at large and not me as a person ;)

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  • Outstanding post Sharon in content material, organisation of flow of ideas from actual state of our world requiring more charitable acts to supporting factual examples for volunteering acts drawing from your own experiences and finally what you deem to be the benefits of being involved in volunteer work. My highest respect for you, if possible standing ovation is in order :)

    Agree with you 100%. One should find the time to do volunteer work, however, busy we are in our professional and personal life. There is much more to gain from volunteering even after balancing out the time and effort to commit to it.

    Action speaks louder than words and ..“What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal.” ~ Albert Pine

  • Wow...great minds think alike eh? Well I was just tapped to help @mashcast spearhead their social media & online initiatives for #sillywalks4hunger which was a LIVE event on 11.19.09 and now is continuing to raise $ for @feedingAmerica & @globalfoodbank---so if you can help ...pls tell everyone in the U.S. to TEXT FEED to 90 999 ! We want to serve 1,000,000 yup - ONE Million MEALS this holiday season!

    Thank you!

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