For years, as a semi-celebrity, I attended many charity events. Some of them, I wasn’t even sure what cause was being supported until I arrived, having been invited by whatever-sho- I-was-on’s publicist. What always hurt my heart was the way that so many of the celebs attended these events to get their picture taken for publicity, drink and party, and go home with a gift bag full of expensive gifts. I recall one event in particular, a black tie affair, where there were donation cards at each place setting. I was with my then husband and other cast members of his show. When we stood to leave, I noticed that I was the only person who had even picked up the card. The rest of them had left them discarded as they headed out to the nearest bar, while the head of the charity was still speaking, no less.
I understand that publicity and public awareness are important for a charity, and therefore celebrity attendance is helpful, but as the director of the Desi Geestman Foundation, my task with every event we throw is to keep the cost down and get that money to the kids and their families. Celebrities will actually ask how many photographers are coming and what’s in the gift bag. I always tell them that the gift bag is a small thing when children are suffering and parents are losing their children. That usually sobers them a bit. Of course, many celebrities do a great deal of very real charity work and giving and I honor them for it.
This morning I took my daughter to our favorite thrift store, it’s a big affair that benefits AIDs charities. It is raining here now, very hard, and this is not only unusual, but especially hard on those who survive on the streets. I was perusing the linens section when I noticed the manager helping a woman who was obviously homeless. The manager was helping her to find a few warm blankets, because the ones she and her husband had were all soaking wet. I was truly touched at the way the manager was obviously concerned that the woman get the blankets that would be the best for her, and she gave them to her free of charge.
Later, as we drove away, safe and warm in my car, I saw the homeless woman and her husband, pushing a grocery cart covered in a blue tarp through the driving rain. They stopped on the corner to hug each other reassuringly, then paused again to speak to another homeless man in a park. They handed him something that looked like a half a sandwich wrapped in plastic, shook hands and went on.
To where? I do not know. But what struck me about both of those exchanges were the fact that they were done without pomp, without glory, without reward or even notice. There was no red-carpet, no celebrity picture in the paper offering congratulations to some famous rich person who can easily afford to give far more than they do, nothing. Just giving where it means the most.
I think the sandwich struck my heart the deepest, because these people were most likely giving up their own food to help a fellow person in dire straights. It really touched me. All too often we disregard the actions of people who live on the fringe because we find them distasteful or it makes us uncomfortable to have to look at all the sorrow in the world just outside our door.
But not everyone. There are those among us who always give, even if they have very little for themselves, and they do it because it is who they are, not what they want people to see. If you have one dollar and you give someone a quarter, I think there is a special place in heaven for you. If you are worth 100 billion, (the walmart family) and don’t pay your workers a decent wage, then all your fancy charity galas mean nothing except an excuse to wear fancy clothes and pretend that you are moral.
I want to share a native american story. A grandfather was explaining the nature of the human ego to his grandchildren. “There are two wolves inside of you,” he said, “One of them is greedy and angry and bitter, the other is kind and good and generous. And they fight against each other.”
One of the children looked up at the wise grandfather and asked, “But which one wins?”
The grandfather said, “The one that you feed.”
So maybe, just maybe, today, give up your angry political views and fears, let go of thinking that your religion is the only name for God, and just feed the kindly wolf. Smile, care, give, forgive, stop judging, try not to be afraid.
And kudos to the givers who have little, for they are the richest.
Shari, Friday February 28th, 2014.