Giving and Gifting


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.

Lets keep this tradition going, please.


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.


Money Alone Won’t Fix the Terrible Decisions


killer martinis

This Holiday Season’s feel good story starts with an extraordinarily well written blog post about poverty and the terrible decisions poor people make. Linda is the sort of writer that makes you pause and reevaluate everything you know to be true. Linda gave us 24 hours of poverty (plus or minus a few years) in 1500 or so beautiful words.

Linda is different than other poor people and Linda is different than rich people. She has insight and wisdom and an awareness of where and why she might be missing common sense. She seems to have a work ethic much stronger than my own and she’s a better writer than 95% of us.

Of course it’s entirely possible that this is a work of fiction (every memoir is part fiction) and she’s just really good at what she does. I have a friend who works with the homeless & when a local young mother tugged at my heart strings I called him and told him that I knew she was lying to me. He told me that they all lie. It’s a means of survival and if I were in their shoes I’d lie too.

Knowing this made me feel better. I bought her diapers even though I knew she was lying to me and I didn’t resent her for it because when a baby needs diapers a baby needs diapers.

Sometimes I give people money and/or opportunities even when I know the money will never help them. It only helps me feel better about myself.

The internet loves to help talented people who are down on their luck. Does anyone remember Ted Williams? He had a golden radio voice and lived by the side of the road? The Internet fell in love with Ted and got him a $10,000 gig which he promptly lost. He’s in and out of rehab, has strained relationships with his family and appears to be gaining traction each year but the reality is that a $10,000 job didn’t help him. Interventions did, many of them. The interventions came because of Ted’s internet (and then mainstream) fame. Ted is a success story insofar as he’s no longer homeless but the barrage of internet love didn’t give him riches or sanity, it gave him an opportunity to seek more help. It opened doors that he still needs to walk through.

Linda has monetized her very moving viral post and started a campaign where anyone can give her money to write a book. It’s no secret that I find these money grabs distasteful at best (and if I were desperate I assure you I’d do distasteful things) and fraudulent at their worst.

I’m not saying that Killer Martinis is an internet hoax/scam/ruse. I am questioning the intelligence of an Internet community who decides that $62,000 ($40 a word) and counting is the appropriate price to tip a stranger for a very well written blog post. I wonder if it will be enough to guide her to the help she needs?

Edit: Reading a little more I’ve decided that I believe about 50% of what she wrote. Lovely fiction. Good fundraising skills though. Maybe she learned that at her private school silent auctions?

Remember the gay server who wasn’t tipped but got thousands form the Internet and promised to donate that to the Wounded Warrior Project? Liar.




Winning the Lottery Fantasies


This American Life follows kids at Harper High School

I went to elementary school in Manhattan Beach. California had the best schools in the country and Manhattan Beach had some of the best schools in the state. Every morning my mother would leave the house about 15 minutes before us and head East to Watts in order to teach her students. My classrooms were bright and airy, my teachers were local to the community and beloved. Manhattan Beach wasn’t affluent at the time (though it would become so in later years) but all the kids came to class well fed, well loved and in in clean clothes.

My mother’s students came to school hungry, dirty and abused. Some were squatters, some were children of addicts, many were children of gang members and one child came to school and couldn’t sit in his seat because his parents had burned his genitals with a cigarette. This was a third grade classroom.

When the Manhattan Beach schools weren’t a good fit for us (meaning there were only great and not excellent) we went to private schools. My college education was incredibly adequate and nothing worth celebrating but everything I learned in those early years was enough to tide me over. We learned how to learn, which is arguably more important than learning things, whatever those things may be.

My mother, for her part, taught gifted reading and routinely took kids who were not identified as gifted into the programs. She made them read and she made them love it. I’d often hear her talking about how she could teach a kid to read from the back of a cereal box. Unfortunately many school kids may need to learn that way. The money is running out.

We spent a good bit of time at my mother’s school in Watts. It was a scary place for me and a familiar one all at once. We were the only caucasian children there and their blackness wasn’t what made the kids different from us. Even when they were the same age as us, they were older in ways that I could never articulate. I’m pretty sure they knew how to do things that we wouldn’t learn until we lived independently, there was a weariness that kids in the South Bay didn’t quite have. They were very different but I liked them because I knew these were my mother’s other kids and she loved them. The schools were dismal with no color, no lawns and loads of security. The smell was musty, it smelled like defeat.

There weren’t a lot of success stories in Watts but there are a few and I know my mother clings to them. It makes her entire career worth something and when she talks about one student in particular I know she’s as proud of him as she is of her own blood children. It’s a particular joy that only teachers in the roughest parts of town will ever know. He’s her one in a million.

The last two weekends This American Life aired a special where they followed students and administrators at Harper High School in Chicago. It’s a high school that saw 29 current and former students shot in a year. It’s a dangerous place to be a child and a very dangerous place to be an adolescent. The stories spoke to me, they reminded me of my mom’s other kids.

The most remarkable commentary comes at the end of the second part when they ask the principal of Harper High what she would do if she won the lottery and she spent 4 minutes and 38 seconds talking about all the ways she would help the kids. I share her fantasies. I long for a world where kids are gifted books of their own, where they play on lawns and wear clean clothes that will keep them warm in the cold or cool in the summer. Safe neighborhoods, after school sports and arts in the classrooms would absolutely delight me. I’d like to know that sick kids could go to the doctor or just stay home where someone could care for them and if I was dreaming really big they’d all get computers and learn how to make that powerful tool work for them.

This morning I poked around the house fantasizing about buying books and good food for the kids in Watts. I can’t even imagine what I’d do with a winning lottery ticket.

How would you spend a windfall?

Charity Begins at Home: Starting Tomorrow


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?

Epically Thankful


A few years ago my friend Melissa Leon introduced me to the The Twitter Kids.  #TwitterKids are a group of children from Shepherds Jr. School in Tanzania who use the internet (when there is electricity) to communicate with people on Twitter.

And by people, I mean me. I used to be really great about having twitter on at about 10 at night just so that I could message back and forth with the Twitter kids, lately I haven’t been great about it, but I will be.

Epic Change was able to raise money so that Shepherds Jr. School could continue to grow.

Three years ago I met Gideon and Leah online. In a few weeks I’ll be meeting them here in Los Angeles. Mama Lucy, the magnificent woman who farmed chickens to build a school will be staying here with Gideon, Leah and Stacey.

To say that my kids are thrilled would be an understatement.

I’d like you to watch this video.

And I’d like you to read about Epic Change.

Next, I’d like you to interact with these kids on twitter.

Now I’d like you to do one very important thing. I’d like you to join me here in Los Angeles on November 4th and meet Mama Lucy, Gideon and Leah. We’re getting together on the Westside (exact location will be announced later today) and I’d like you to bring your spouses, your parents, and your children to meet these folks.

Let’s build them an 8th grade.

Please support Epic Change in one of these cities: