It’s around this time of year that drop-off boxes spring up around the county collecting everything from toys to food for people who are facing challenges due to poverty.
Each year the boxes look the same — a mix of good and useful items and then the detritus people have scrounged from their cupboards. They don’t want it, and yet they figure someone else who doesn’t have a whole lot of choice right now should just be grateful to get something.
How ... hmm, generous doesn’t fit here. Neighborly doesn’t either. And I’m going to take a pass on kind here too.
I’ll go with thrifty.
Yes, donating that three-year-old can of water chestnuts you swore you were going to use in that one recipe you found on Pinterest is ... thrifty.
If you’re planning to rummage around your cabinets this week to find something to throw in the donation bin at the grocery store or the lobby at work, perhaps consider this. Is the plan to be thrifty? Or are you hoping to be generous, neighborly ... kind?
If it’s the latter, how about considering a few things people could actually use:
- Menstrual products. Every month, millions of people menstruate in America — whether they want to or not. And according to research from Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri, some two-thirds of women facing poverty struggle to afford the necessary supplies. Nearly half can’t afford to buy both menstrual products and food at the same time, forcing them to choose between a decent meal and a basic hygiene item.
- The food you want to eat. Do you love whole wheat pasta? How about chocolate chip cookies? The peanut butter that comes in the jar with the jelly? Chances are someone living beneath the poverty line does too. And while they may have Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits — the technical term for “food stamps” — a study by the nonpartisan research and policy institute Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found SNAP adds up to only about $1.40 per person per meal.
- Special diet items. Living with a gluten intolerance, a peanut allergy, or any of the dozens of reasons people walk around with diet limitations is tough — and it can get expensive. A study published in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics in 2013 calculates parents of kids with food allergies spend about $4,180 in out-of-pocket costs per child each year. Of that, nearly a third, 31 percent, was spent on special foods to keep their kids safe.
- Exactly what they asked for. A mom recently asked neighbors in a local Facebook group if anyone was selling a number of items at a reduced cost only to be attacked viciously for having children who have Christmas wishes just like every other child. But children living in poverty are still children. Adults with incomes below the poverty line are still humans. They have needs like anyone else and hopes and dreams too. They have wants, yes, just like people who don’t think twice before sliding their credit card into the reader in the checkout line. If your aim is to be generous, neighborly, and kind, remember that.