When I was growing up my mom frequently told me, “Charity begins at home.” She usually told me this when I would refuse to share a book or a toy with my brother but then turn around and share that very item with a friend or classmate. It was my mom’s way of reminding me that I needed to take care of my family first before I tried to take care of others.
It’s a lesson that has taken some time to sink in, honestly. For years I donated money to a nonprofit organization that provided food for needy people in the Caribbean. I didn’t really think twice about it – food is important to me and after all, needy people are needy people and it doesn’t matter where there are, does it? Or does it?
A few years ago I sat through a United Way presentation. And one of the statistics cited in the presentation really struck a chord in me. The statistic? One in four people in our county used one or more of the services provided by United Way agencies in our county. Imagine that. If you go out to lunch with three coworkers, chances are that one of the four of you are receiving services from a United Way agency.
Of course, not all services provided by a United Way agency are for those in need. If you belong to the YMCA and go there to use the gym or to play pick-up basketball games, you’re using a service provided by a United Way agency.
Even with that explanation, the statistic of one in four really hit a nerve. I attended a United Way presentation again in fall 2011 and discovered that the statistic had changed to one in three, likely due to the economic situation in our country. One in three.
While Americans in our own country, our own states, our own communities are suffering from homelessness, hunger, and health issues, we seem to be intent on sending our own contributions anywhere but here in America. We seem especially focused on Africa.
I don’t understand this. While I’m glad that the spirit of giving and volunteerism is alive and well in America, even in these tough economic times, why are we sending our donations of money, items, and our time overseas? If charity begins at home, then why aren’t we taking care of our fellow Americans first?
And the thought processor churns on…