Giving and Gifting

01.6.14

The holidays sort of meandered this year with Jane’s Birthday kicking them off, Stepdad three days later Mom the following week and Mr. G a week after that. A week later we had Thanksgiving and Chanukah all rolled into one and to be candid by the time your Christmas rolled around I really couldn’t bring myself to care about one more candy, cake or fried thing.

One of the nice things about the women I’ve surrounded myself with is their ability to give. It’s not their fiscal ability it’s the openness of their hearts. Bloggers see this on the web as my friend Heather supports parents in the NICU and Kim Prince has made it de facto that Mom Blogger events in LA support HAMO and you show up with your pack of diapers.

Sometimes, though, it’s really nice to see and feel and touch the things you’re giving. I’m happy to give cash to worthy charities but the best giving comes every December when my friend Elizabeth sends out this letter.

17 YEARS OF PARTICIPATION!
Lets keep this tradition going, please.

IT’S TIME FOR THE 17TH ANNUAL CHRISTMAS WISH LIST BENEFIT

We are preparing for the annual Christmas Wish drive for the children and mothers staying at the shelter for women and children of domestic violence. A charity program we started 17 years ago (boy, does time fly).There are 12 families this year with approx. 40 kids and 12 mothers.

The past 16 years have been TRULY incredibly successful thanks to all who have participated. We’re very serious when we say that this could not happen each year without the help and generosity of so many people!  Christmas morning is truly magical when they awaken to a tree full of gifts that they wished for.  The children are very grateful, as are their mothers and the Sisters that run the shelter.

We would like to continue our efforts in bringing Christmas to the families at the shelter. (Each year different families arrive for protection and rehabilitation).  The children and mothers have already put together the lists, which we are prepared to hand out within the next two weeks.  We know it seems early (actually, never too early for kids) but we’d like to get you a wish list before Thanksgiving in order that you feel you have time to participate, and can take advantage of the holiday sales.

If you would like to participate, please let us know and we will get a list to you.  We are very sensitive to the economic times and the burdens we have all been facing, so those wishing to group together to purchase a gift are very welcome.

Thanks, in advance, for your kindness! 

P.S.  For those that are new to this charity, below is some information on the shelter and the Christmas Wish List Benefit.

This is a shelter for women and their children that suffer from domestic violence.  The shelter’s campus has apartments that house up to 12 families, a school, common areas to eat, play, and socialize.  The shelter also offers job training, medical treatment, and legal services.  The families stay for a year, because the philosophy of this shelter is to aim toward complete rehabilitation for the families in order that when they leave they are able to begin a new life in a successful manner, and free of violence.  The shelter is completely privately funded, thus relying on community support.  All services are donated.  It’s a pretty amazing place; and what they have achieved over the years brings a truly positive spin under very difficult circumstances.  Their success rate is 98%!

We started this Christmas Wish List Benefit 16 years ago asking each mother and child to put together a list of 5 things they each wished to receive on Christmas.  The idea was to bring Santa into each home giving them exactly what they asked for since these families had never experienced Christmas in this manner.  In the beginning, the hot items were hand-held televisions and Nintendo.  Over the years, however, it has evolved to 3 gifts on each list.  They’ve asked for electronic games, bikes, a variety of princess stuff, skateboards, scooters, dolls, balls, and all sorts of games (generally things our children ask for). The moms have always asked for more practical things like pots and pans, but we encourage them each year to request at least one personal gift (perfume, watches, cameras).  Over the years, those that have participated really worked hard to ensure that the gift was exactly what was on the list.  Many drove far and wide to achieve this, and these people are forever grateful.  Each participant is given the name of the child and their age, which makes it quite personal and an item the child or mother has on their list.

In the beginning they shared Christmas morning together in a huge common room with one big tree.  Beginning with the second year we’ve supplied the shelter with enough trees and trimmings so that each family could share Christmas morning in their shelter apartment with their families, which is what they continue to do.  We give them disposable cameras for them to capture the moments.  One year we took it a step further.  We bought 1 to 2 gifts for each child and mother from the 3 on their lists, then collected money so that the mothers could buy their children the other item(s) on the lists.  We wanted to bring the mothers into this excitement and have them be a part of bringing Christmas to their own children.  The mothers went out on shopping sprees on 2 occasions to get the remaining gifts and had a ball.  It was the first time they were able to do this for their children and they couldn’t thank us enough for the experience.

Over the past 16 years we have brought Christmas to approximately 180 mothers and 815 kids — over 2,900 gifts!  And they are still talking about it.  Small gestures go a very long way.

As you might imagine this is my very favorite shopping trip of the year. I never care how much we spend or how many stores we need to visit to buy these kids gifts from Santa. I’ve never celebrated Christmas and Hanukkah doesn’t have the same sort of frenzy but I love that Elizabeth thinks enough of my family to include us in the gifting.

This year it was a little tight and friends near and far kicked in with gifts for the moms and the kids. We had boots from Zappos and iPods from New York, there were checks from Arizona and late night drives to Long Beach. Everyone loved giving. We all had fun and when gifts were just too pricey two of us shared the cost and got it done.

Many of you emailed me wanting to send gifts but Elizabeth & Nina had already filled the shelter list.

christmas gifts christmas bicycles

Similarly my friend April has a family member who lives in a group assisted living home for men with schizophrenia here in LA. We were talking the other day about mental illness and how it had taken this person that she loves and who used to interact with her and turned it into a one way relationship. She visits weekly but the other men at the group home don’t have an April in their life and she noted that Christmas might be a lonely event. In addition to a lack of gifting they’re all living on disability so there is no extra money. April used her Facebook page to ask friends for gifts for the men and their caregivers. On short notice she was able to provide new toiletries, underpants, socks and tees for the men in addition to used clothing and one person provided a $25 gift card to each of the 11 men which she describes as “overly generous but appreciated none-the-less”.

April was also able to gift the mens’ caretaker with some clothing. She lives at the house and provides meals, medication, cleaning, laundry, shopping for food, and general care. A relief male who takes over 4 days a month was also gifted some new clothes and these were the first gifts they’d ever been given.

I don’t know what April or Elizabeth might do during this calendar year. I’m not sure that I won’t adopt a charity and ask for more of all of you. I know that we all give pragmatically. I’m never going to show up with a gift wrapped iPod and drop it off at KPCC but I’ll send them a check and take my tax deduction. There’s a joy in giving directly that I’d like to share with all of you.

If you want to be contacted next year when Elizabeth and Nina need gifts for the shelter or in the summertime when there are new faces greeting April in the group home just leave a comment here and I’ll have your email address (it’s never public) and I’ll pass it along to these remarkable women. Who knows, I might have something of my own planned. Because gifting is the most fun that anyone can have.

 

Q: How Much Money Does McDonald’s Give to Ronald McDonald Houses? A: Not Much

10.29.13

If you’re ever driven past or needed one of the 322 Ronald McDonald Houses I’m assuming like me your heart warmed at the iconic clown who provides “a loving home away from home to families needing to be near their seriously ill or injured children while they’re being treated at metropolitan area hospitals.” Based on promotional materials like their own website Ronald McDonald House creates massive goodwill by branding themselves as the corporation who cares for children and their families.

Let’s talk about the value of goodwill. In 2012 Mc Donald’s reported its goodwill at $2.8 billion (up from $2.7 billion in 2011) [McDonald’s 2012 Annual Report, page 30]. It would be foolish for us to to shun cause marketing but we still need to look at it with a critical eye. Quite a bit of that goodwill stems from the easily identifiable Ronald McDonald character and the tacit association between Ronald McDonald and healing families is absurd on a good day and offensive on a bad one.

If McDonald’s was actually funding these Ronald McDonald Houses I think I’d be able to turn a blind eye. The fact is that they are donating miniscule amounts to the operating budgets of these very important facilities while reaping untold advertising benefits.

Fact: Ronald McDonald Houses operate at the local level where they have their own non profit status and have licensing agreements with McDonalds’s for the use of the Ronald McDonald brand. Ken Barun statesWe have sort of franchised the charity business.

Fact: The Tallahassee Ronald McDonald House told Corporate Accountability International that about 10 percent of their operating budget come from McDonald’s through local fundraisers and donation boxes.

Fact: The Dallas RMHC chapter says that only 5% of it’s budget come from both MdDonald’s and RMHC global in 2012.

Question: When 90-95% of your funds come from the community you serve why not rebrand as a Community Home?  

RMHC says they don't get money

Fact: McDonald’s places RMHC Donation Boxes in some of it’s outlets and makes a big deal of this in much of it’s communication about RMHC. The corporation calls it “our system’s largest ongoing fundraisers,” and boasts that in 2012 more than $50 million was collected worldwide.

Fact: In 2012 McDonald’s customers gave 1.5 times more to the RMHC than the corporation itself donated in 2011.

Fact: McDonald’s spent at least $18 million on a campaign that would donate one penny of every Happy Meal to the RMHC Foundation. McDonald’s estimated that it might raise $6.4 million. 

Question: Does this violate the Pledge McDonald’s took to not market junk food to kids?

RMHC gets funding

Fact: There is a “Tooth Truck” in the Ozarks that bears the Ronald McDonald image. The annual operating budget of the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile is $600,000 half of which is funded through Missouri Medicaid and the other half comes from community donations.

Question: Did the State of Missouri just fund McDonald’s advertising with $300,000?

Fact: Schools are rewarded with visits from Ronald McDonald when they collect pop tabs (pull tabs from soda cans). A boy in Sacramento, CA led his classmates in collecting 179 pounds of pop tabs (think about how much soda that is) and generated $12.57 for the Ronald McDonald House of Sacramento.

Question: How can anyone take this seriously?

ronald mcdonald loves soda

Fact: In 2012 the average McDonald’s worker made $8.25 an hour. The CEO was rewarded with an $8.75 million salary not including a 3-year bonus.

Fact: A report from the National Employment Law Project found that McDonald’s topped the list of fast food corporations whose workers rely on government assistance programs to make up for low wages. Forbes reported that McDonald’s cost taxpayers $1.2 billion annual in public assistance programs for their low-paid workers.

Question: Maybe the Tooth Truck is a $300,000 red herring? Oh nevermind. It all matters.

Many organizations no longer accept charitable donations from tobacco corporations and it’s my sincerest hope that the same will soon be said for food corporations with a similarly profound negative impact on public health. I suspect that in 5 or 10 years we’ll look back on Ronald McDonald with the same disbelief as Joe Camel.

You can read the full report at StopCorporateAbuse.org.

All photos are courtesy of Corporate Accountability International. 

 

I Don’t Know What Tempeh is but it Tastes Like Salt and Ass

09.23.13

There’s a nonprofit here in California that does a lot of good for our residents. It sort of starts with women and children but by extension it’s good for men too. It’s just a good solid non profit that I believe in and I support. In 2012 I gave them a little more than $400 in small increments.

Last week I was invited to a fundraiser for them. It was a small one with about 30 women in attendance. It started at 6pm and was $500 to attend. Since I’d given this non profit no money this year I decided that I’d have a $500 dinner with them, or at least appetizers. I attended the event out of curiosity but spent the money because I really and truly care about the work this organization does (which is why I will not be mentioning who is it and google will get you nowhere, this was not a public invitation).

When I got to the residence I knew I was in the land of rich democrats because the driveway sported a bumper stickered Prius and a top of the line Tesla. That this was one of the most beautiful homes in 90210 was not lost on me. It’s good to be green but let’s not mistake the setting for a yurt in Topanga Canyon.

I went in, dropped my check and met a few people. The owner of the home told me about her passions: cats. Oh, I bet you thought there’d be a list there, there’s no list she’s into animal rescue and she rescues cats. She also believes that meat consumption is responsible for more greenhouse gasses than automobiles. Which is why we were served tofu and tempeh that tasted like ass.

I don’t know what ass tastes like but I’ve changed plenty of diapers in my day and everything that was on that table smelled like something that had landed in the diaper genie a dozen years ago. I decided that I hated the homeowner for not warning people on the invitation that it was a vegan home. With a warning I would have done one of two things: eaten first or stayed home. I probably would have stayed home. I dislike people who prioritize animals over people.

I was going to add a paragraph about how I don’t dislike vegans but that would be dishonest. I really do dislike vegans (even though I am a reformed vegan). I hate feeding people with specific food needs unless they have a real allergy or disease. If you’re gluten free and not in danger of needing a colostomy bag you should never eat at my house because I’m not getting rid of wheat because you’re on your 93rd fad diet of the year. If you’re allergic to fish I will scrub down my kitchen and read the ingredients of every sauce in there to make sure I don’t poison you. I’m not likely to serve people veal because apparently raising babies in boxes isn’t very PC but if you look at a cow and don’t see deliciousness then my dinner table isn’t a good place for you. I’m sorry. I’m flawed and judgmental and irritable and one of the worst things about me is that I’m not trying to grow, change or evolve. I’m content to sit in judgement of you.

I like that people have taken to rescuing pets from shelters rather than purchasing them from breeders. We got Sparky from the clink and she’s been just lovely (even had a TV debut earlier this month) and had to buy Junior from a breeder because the rescues nabbed all the poodles from the shelter before I could get there and then wouldn’t let me have a dog because I had a gardner. Explaining to them that I already had a 15 year old poodle did not pacify them.

Had this event been about animals the Tofu-Tempeh Table of Ass might have been appropriate, had this event been about greenhouse gasses the lecture might have been welcome. This event was about neither of those things. In fact this event encompassed parts of healthcare that might have meant sacrificing a monkey or two and certainly hundreds if not thousands of rats. Recognizing that this lady had generously opened her home to a charity I cared about I ignored the animal rights lecture and grabbed a seat.

The speakers were good and reaffirmed for me the fact that I was in the right place. Well, not that I physically needed to be there but that I needed to support this organization. After the speakers were done everyone sort of mingled and I overheard someone talking. The snippets of conversation were about boys in foster care and finding a forever home for them. I assumed it was more cat talk but then realized that the conversation that I’d overheard was actually about people. For the first time in ages (years perhaps) I’d heard an Angelino talk about a boy being fostered that wasn’t a dog or a cat. It was an important moment for me.

Something is wrong with all of us that we have fetishized animal ownership to the point where we refer to them as orphans or foster animals rather than what they are, abandoned or unwanted animals. Recently someone in my twitter stream called me a murderer for eating steak. Murder is a term we reserve for humans as we hold human life to be sacred.

As the animal rights activists have co-opted the terms adoption and foster home I realize that the reason this gets under my skin is that I am, in part, to blame. Although I’ve blocked all the pet adoption updates from showing up in my feed I haven’t done anything to replace them. Obviously these work and I’m not one to reinvent the wheel so I’m going to go ahead and share some potential adoptees on my facebook timeline and hope that others will do the same

Destiny and Faith

Sometimes being a curmudgeon is good. I’ll see your 85th cat adoption post and raise you a couple of kids.

Heart Gallery LA has photographed some of the kids who need homes in Los Angeles. Sharing these stories might be more fulfilling than finding a home for a cat.

 

I Am the Worst Carpooler In the Universe

09.24.12

Last week I got a little shrill with my family and demanded that everyone clean their closets. And by “everyone” I meant everyone but me. Well mostly I meant Jane and Mr. G because they’ve done a lot of shopping lately and there’s a limit to how many things you need to own.

When clothes are crammed in a closet nothing gets worn. I’m a minimalist when it comes to wardrobes. Own a few high quality things and wear them all. My daughter is convinced that she needs more clothes than that because she cycles through three or more outfits a day: uniform, volleyball or gym clothes, and after school clothes.

In any event the closets were purged and Jane and I stared a pile of clothes. The brands were astonishing: Rag and Bone, Free People, AG, Theory, Hugo Boss, True Religion, James Perse and more, some still had tags attached. Jane wanted to bring it to Buffalo Exchange where she could get credit for new clothes and for a while I thought that was a good idea. It would teach her to be entrepreneurial. Then I remembered that I’m the one who paid for all those clothes (some virtually brand new) and I’m looking to support my community.

A new car showed up (Acura RDX review coming soon) so I filled the trunk with clothes and went across town to Ascencia. Ascencia is a homeless shelter just outside of Downtown Los Angeles that does good work. I like the folks who work there and I like their mission but I’d never been there and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

When I got to Ascencia Mark helped me unpack the trunk of the SUV and I noticed a few pair of Mr. G’s underwear. These people are homeless and times are tough but I refuse to believe that anyone needs my husband’s old underwear (they weren’t really that old, he’s just switched brands). Standing there with my friend Mark I sort of grabbed the underwear and tossed them out of sight.

Later in the week I was at home and texting the mom I carpool with. It was just about time to leave to pick kids up for school and I  wanted to touch base and let her know that Alexander wanted to stay for daycare, she shouldn’t pick him up. The reply I got was:

This is your day to drive.

What. The. Fuck? I didn’t even have to check the calendar because I know she is always right. I frequently have no idea what day of the week it is and she always knows (bless her!). I dashed out to pick the kids up from school still barefoot and then made my daughter take off her shoes so that I could pop into Trader Joes to pick up a pre marinaded frenched rack of lamb.

After dropping off the carpool neighbor I lamented to Jane that I was the worst carpooler ever because I was unsure of the days of the week and probably would never be clear on that. Jane looked me dead in the eye and said, “No Mom. You’re the worst carpooler in the world because you made the boys sit in the back seat with Daddy’s old underwear.”

 

Charity Begins at Home: Starting Tomorrow

07.25.12

Mr. G and I give generously to charity. Other people give more, obviously other people will always give more, we’re not Broads but we give what we can and sometimes a little more that what’s comfortable not because it makes us feel good but because it’s the right thing to do. We like doing the right thing.

Since I have the incredible privilege of you I’m carefully evaluating how I will give over the course of the next few months, perhaps year. After mulling it through I’ve decided that charity will begin at home. In my personal life I’ll be giving to nonprofits in and around Los Angeles and professionally I’ll be partnering with nonprofits close to home. It’s not a xenophobic move. I’ve loved the work that Epic Change does and in addition to personally supporting them my daughter has brought her entire school on board donating larger amounts from an entire school’s population. I know that my friends travel and some of the needs overseas speak to their hearts, charities form and blossom.

At this moment in time there are 84,000 homeless people in Los Angeles. For many of you there aren’t 84,000 people in your town.

Today a refugee family arrived in Los Angeles. They fled a country they once loved and came to America not knowing the customs, the language or how to get a job.

Dogs and cats are dying right now because our shelters are past capacity.

I can’t bring myself to talk about the dismal state of affairs in Los Angeles’ schools.

So after having resolved to give locally I hopped on the phone with my friend Surfer Luke. I’m looking to buy a stand up paddle board and I thought I’d ask him to help me pick through some of what I see on craigslist. Luke directed me to his sister’s paddleboard that she just had custom made and told me the price tag (not outrageous) and then as we talked he told me a bit about the 65k paddle she’s about to do across Lake Ontario to raise money for the MS foundation in Canada in memory of her cousin Sam.

Since Luke had told me before about their cousin Sam I knew that the loss was both tragic and fresh.

So starting next week charity begins at home, because I couldn’t look at this particular board and not give.

What’s your favorite local charity? How do they touch your heart and your hometown?