Does American society blindly believe in the good in charities? I think so. It’s a safe, feel-good given. Perhaps seeing a 501(c)(3) organization status allows us to not work, think or question; we can give dollar bills away at checkouts, to 5Ks and to fundraisers, and quickly compartmentalize and check off our own charitable efforts. “Check. I donated money. I am a good person.”
How could anyone who works for or builds a charity ever be shady? How could the blessed Red Cross ever be anything but the greatest bastion of goodness known to modern man?
Let me tell you.
One morning when I was in high school, I asked my mom to sign a permission slip so that I could donate blood to the Red Cross at school that day. My mom looked up from reading the WSJ and in her steady, unemotional, Northern tone she said,
“No. You are not doing that. The Red Cross is a business and you will not be giving them their product for free.”
Then my dad chimed in, in his A-Oh!-Whoa!-Italiano-tough guy voice and said,
“Nooo-Oooo! That’s your blood, your blood, you don’t give it away! You better listen to your mother, girl.”
I went to school, obediently following their orders but thinking, “my parents are the weirdest, most cruel humans ever to live.” Being 16, I of course thought that. Plus, given that, when my appendix ruptured at age 11, they didn’t take me to the hospital for three days, never even got me the promised sorry-we-almost-killed-you-this-will-make-it-all-better pony and instead got me some cheap opal bracelet from the jewelry counter at the store Best, I knew for a fact that they were actually somewhat weird and cruel; and now that I didn’t trust them, at least with my life, I didn’t think in any way that my mom could be right. Yet, doubt did begin to seep into my mind.
Was the Red Cross just a business? Wasn’t it a charity, a non-profit of great hope for humanity in an evil world?
Three years later, when I was living and working in NYC, I found myself sitting very uncomfortably in the gazillion dollar apartment of a blood broker. My boss at the time, who was 10 years older than me, was his friend and invited me to this guy’s party. MY friends rented apartments in Mt. Holly and had posters of the band Hole up on their walls. HER friend sold blood to poor countries. Where did he get the blood? The more I thought about it, while sitting on a black leather sofa with views of Central Park that I’d never see again, I felt more and more uncomfortable, and remembered what my mom had said all those mornings back: “They get their product for free…”
It gets worse.
Not long after I met the wealthy blood broker, I was working at a high-end furniture store in Philadelphia. It was there that I met a client who was an executive at the Red Cross. He bought so much furniture; so much expensive furniture, like sofas that cost 10 grand. Maybe he had SFM (secret family money) or maybe he had an incredible salary at the Red Cross, but the three parts to this story forced me to be very skeptical and all these years later side with my mother—whom I have forgiven for the careless attempt to end my life through neglect and also the cheap bracelet/pony let-down.
This American cultural, nonstop fundraising, donating, charities, wristbands, bumper sticker ribbons, and checkout dollars… it is too much, too thoughtless. The common folks give their money and blood away without asking why or who for. Who is getting rich off of checkout dollars, Joe Corbi’s Pizza, and cancer? Is the world better for it?
I certainly don’t know that answer, but I don’t participate in throwing money at anything to make myself feel good or to validate my goodness; and, just like my parents, I am teaching my own children to question donations and not follow the pack. When my daughter came home from her Catholic preschool and asked what the box she got for collecting Lenten donations was for, I told her the truth and prayed that she obediently take the answer back to school with her.
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