This is the season of giving. Many of us search out fun and unique ways to show we care for others. However, there can be a dark side to this charity, and we need to be aware of this when we choose how to give.
I am of the opinion that charity should honour the dignity of the recipient. I believe that there should be no religious or political strings attached to such giving. If you agree, then read on.
There is a local organization that collects shoeboxes to distribute to needy children. The idea is that you fill up the box with various small but needed items as well as a novelty or two to be given to a child. It is a fun activity to search out items that fit in the box and to decide how to decorate it. This charity requires the families of recipients to attend their church and to receive the boxes in front of the local congregation. This is the part I take issue with. Limiting the giving to those who are willing to share your belief system, then robbing the recipients of their dignity by making the giving public turns what could have been an honourable action into something much more self-serving. That this is one of the more popular holiday charities in my area concerns me.
I strongly suggest that if you are asked to participate in a shoebox-filling activity this holiday season, that you research the process by which the recipients are chosen and the gifts are distributed.
There are other options for creative giving. At one of the malls in the area, you can donate a filled Christmas stocking. You indicate the age of the recipient and which of several local charities you would like to distribute it. The whole thing remains anonymous, with no requirement to subscribe to a given religion or lose face in receiving it in a public ceremony.
Another group to watch out for is the Salvation Army. They do great work, and historically have been there for people regardless of their religious affiliation. For this reason, I supported them for many years. However, when their religious extremism and related homophobic views and actions became more public, they lost my support. Again, there are many groups who are more open and truly inclusive through which donations can be made in order to improve the lives of the less fortunate.
It is also good to look for the organizations that have the most "bang for the buck" with less going to overhead costs and more directly to the recipients in need.
Some charities I recommend include Kiva (microloans), Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders), local shelters, and sponsoring a family through Family and Children Services (remains anonymous from both sides). Many malls and radio stations have "trees of hope" in which specific items are requested and you can choose to fill that need anonymously. Giving to your local food bank is always a great option as well.
Feel free to add your own suggestions and ones to avoid (please indicate why) in the comments below.