I was not going to post this as it's very personal to something I care about, but after I shared it with a good friend she was so convinced it's a great technique that she encouraged me to share it.
So here goes…
The cause that always gets to me on an emotional level is hunger. The idea of anyone starving makes me tear up. So I donate a lot to charity water because they leverage my dollar to its highest value and help those most in need (as you know, we need water even more than we need food). But when I walk or drive by someone with a sign that says "Hungry. Please help." I can't just walk by.
I used to give them money until I realized I had no idea if they would really use it for food. And then I started asking them what kind of food they wanted, then I'd go out to buy it and go back to give it to them. But that would take a half hour! So I came to be resentful of the entire process.
Then it hit me that I could get $5 gift cards for food, and keep them on me, as well as in my car. That way I didn't have to spend time buying food, but I could still know they would use it on food. Problem solved! McDonald's makes it really easy, because they're everywhere, and it lets the person decide what food they want, when they need it. And there's something about a gift card that makes it feel like a true gift.
The thanks you get can make it very worthwhile, but keep this in mind… Have you ever been in a bad mood because you skipped a meal? Now imagine skipping several meals while sleeping on the street. You might not be in a stellar mood. So if you don't get a warm, friendly response, just smile to yourself knowing it will hit them later.
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