• Carmen Marie Fabio

Out of pocket


Within a two-day period recently, I was out of pocket close to $15 after giving a donation at the Costco checkout for a breakfast program, another for the group of students bagging my purchases at a grocery store for a European trip, and a hand-out to the firefighters stopped at an intersection in Ste. Anne's. I have no idea what they were collecting for but hey, firefighters.

This comes on the heels of my last excursion to downtown Montreal where I make it a policy to give food rather than money to the panhandlers at the traffic lights. That only cost me some ginger cookies and a Fibre 1 bar but elicited a genuine thank-you from the recipient.

By the time the young girl with the plastic bucket approached my car last Saturday at a red light in Île-Perrot, seeking a contribution for some sporting event, I locked the doors and avoided making eye-contact. Not because I didn't want to help but had depleted my supply of coins and was pretty sure she wouldn't take Interac.

I've always been a sucker for people who obviously need money badly enough that they would approach a perfect stranger to ask for it. I regularly give coins to street or metro musicians – the worse they are, the more I give. I tip wait staff in restaurants, delivery people, and even at take-out counters. But at a certain point, developing a thicker skin immune to imploring eyes means I've become more adept at saying no.

When my oldest first started kindergarten, he came home one day with a shiny, colour brochure containing information on an upcoming skip-a-thon to raise money for some fundraising cause. And while the campaign aimed to direct the funds to medical research, its methods were questionable. Taking part meant raising a minimum amount of money (face it, from mom and dad) to skip with your friends. Not taking part meant sitting out the event in the library. Any kind of emotional blackmail using kids as pawns doesn't sit well with me and, as I recall, I reported him sick that day and took him to the Ecomuseum and then out for lunch. Had the organization just funneled the money it spent on glossy colour advertising directly into the research fund, it would've likely come out kif-kif and not ticked off at least one outraged mom.

My alma mater calls regularly soliciting donations and I've become adroit at reminding them they need to sort out their own financial issues with six-figure severance packages for upper-level university executives before they hit up former graduates.

The traditional giving season will soon be upon us and while I advocate keeping a skeptical eye open on every empty hand that presents itself, I bear in mind there is a silent but hungry group that can include our neighbours, acquaintances, or friends without us being aware of their respective situation.

If you, like me, are essentially spineless in the presence of supplicating eyes and have the means to give to every organization, then go ahead.

If also, like me, you've learned to pick and choose, then support an initiative that takes care of people at the most basic level.

Food, shelter, and compassion will always trump a European vacation.

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