(Cross-posted at Walking Christian.)
Charity doesn’t just involve giving money to some sort of organization – it’s any action that helps those less fortunate than yourself. Whether it be donating money, volunteering time, or even just counseling a friend; all of these count as charity.
Unfortunately, there are some charity organizations which aren’t as good as advertised, taking big chunks out of donations for personal profit or to fund solicitation of more money. Giving money to a charity organization is great; but research the intended organization’s practices before you give. There are also many specific options available – foreign aid charities, medical charities, homeless charities, and religion-based charities are common options.
If you can’t afford to give very much money, there are other options. If you see a homeless person on the street, you can buy him or her a meal. You can volunteer time to a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. You can give canned goods to a church or international organization sending supplies overseas to third world countries.
But don’t be a jerk – give good food, not something gross like potted meat! Canned green beans, tuna, soup, and fruit are both tasty and nutritious. Boxed items are hit or miss – oatmeal or pasta is good, but macaroni and cheese or hamburger helper is not, since they require additional ingredients to make that the recipients may not be able to afford. Avoid anything in a glass jar (it will probably break en route). It’s also a good idea to donate non-food items, such as clothing, can openers, razors, or toothpaste. People need these things too, and they are often overlooked! Finally, probably the most important item to donate is baby food. While this usually comes in glass jars, you can find it in plastic if you look.
The worst times to donate are actually around thanksgiving and christmas – far more people donate during the holidays, and there usually ends up being a surplus of food which can’t all be reasonably sent out. The best time to donate depends on the items being donated. Clothing should usually be donated at the beginning of winter, and food donated in the summer, when the thanksgiving and christmas stock has run out. Other items should be donated at any time.
In addition to donating food or other items, you should also donate your time. It’s easy for lots of people to spend a few bucks on canned goods, but far too few people are willing to spend even part of a day serving soup or packaging goods for shipment. And not only is there a shortage of people volunteering to help, doing so arguably is even more beneficial to those in need than simply giving food. While people do need to eat, getting a box is a bit “faceless” – if these people see others actively working to help them, it does wonders to raise their spirits as well as sate their hunger.
There are many benefits of charity, so many that almost anyone can find a good reason to participate. Here are the most prominant, in no particular order of importance:
1) makes you feel better about yourself.
2) makes others view you more positively.
3) looks good on job applications and CVs.
4) directly saves lives by meeting the basic needs of the less fortunate.
5) indirectly saves lives by giving the less fortunate hope and lifting their spirits.
6) motivates others to also be charitable.
7) relieves the temporal and financial burden on the government to care for its less fortunate citizens.
8) puts the less fortunate in a more fortunate position, who then may help you in other ways later.
9) it honors and pleases God.
Not all of these reasons are going to appeal to everyone. Certainly, some of them are not good reasons for being charitable. But the issue of which ones are good reasons, and by extension which ethical theory is correct, is a topic for another time. For now, it’s enough to say that most ethical theories give some motivation for being ethical.
Charity helps yourself, helps your friends and family, helps those in need, and helps society as a whole. Charity also has a “snowball effect” – the more there is, the better off everyone will be, and the more it will create. Basically, charity begets more charity.
All these benefits mean that regardless of which theory of ethics you hold to, you can find some reason to participate in charity. Objectivist ethics, virtue ethics, consequentialism, Kantian ethics, divine command theory, feminist care ethics, or anything else – there is always some argument to be made in favor of charity. There’s no reason not to participate.