I am a list maker. It makes me feel organized and productive and it also gives me something to focus on. When I’m weighing a decision, my sister always tells me to make a pro’s/con’s list but I’m far better at making to-do lists. When my trip in Asia was curtailed by COVID, I made a silver linings list about what things I would be able to do in London, where I was returning to for a month before ultimately heading back to the US. When further lockdowns resulted in my returning to the US after only a week in London, I also made a list of US activities to look forward to. After that, I gave up because none of these lists came to fruition. But while I was unemployed and dreaming of better days to come, I made a list of things I would do when I was gainfully employed again.
Top of that list was donating my COVID stimulus check which I had received from the US government. Granted, I was very relieved to receive one and tracked it down when it was sent to my old London address but once I was employed and had a steady income again, it felt like it could be put to better use. I was also in a position where I was able to stay with family, was safe and healthy, while so many were struggling as a result of the pandemic and existing inequities. And so, now gainfully employed and past the procrastination, having done some research, I launch into donating the $1,200.
The first group of organizations have been brought to my attention by a friend who has been donating $5 to organizations every Friday since July, dubbed The Friday Five, to raise awareness around these causes and to educate herself and others about their goals. So far, she has raised just over $900 (not including the donations listed below) which is incredible! And she has just launched a website devoted to The Friday Five so I encourage you, dear reader, to check it out!
$200 Fair Fight: The US election has drawn Georgia into the spotlight and the importance of Stacy Abram’s initiative is impossible to ignore. Fair Fight looks to educate voters on their rights, register new voters and call for fair elections. While we move towards Biden’s inauguration, Georgia is having a run-off election for Senate. The votes were so close (but actually so close) to warrant another election which will happen in January. The outcome of this election could determine who controls the Senate. And those who turned 18 between November 3rd and December 7th (the deadline to register), who couldn’t vote in the original election, can register to vote in January (or vote early, starting December 14th). Registering voters, much like Noah and Allie’s love in The Notebook, is never over.
$200 The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition: When the Black Lives Matter protests broke out in the spring, like so many people, it gave me cause to reflect and learn. I’ve read a few books coming out of the BLM movement, including The New Jim Crow which examines the prison system and how the war on drugs disproportionately impacts people of color (not past tense because it is still ongoing). I found myself nodding along in agreement when it discussed how the media (both the news media and the Hollywood screen) portrays criminals as being people who did something wrong and deserve to be in prison, that it was a fair system and as long as you were good, you didn’t have to worry about it. Until you look at the types of offenses and sentences carried with them, how they are slated against people of color and support a cycle of crime and poverty. And in many states, thank you California for overturning this, if you have a criminal record, you cannot vote until your court fees are paid. But with a record, you often can’t find employment and don’t qualify for public assistance such as housing. The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition works to “end the disenfranchisement and discrimination against people with convictions”. Serving your time in prison shouldn’t mean a life sentence when you are released.
$200 Back on My Feet: This was a new one to me but I’m a runner and have worked as a coach for elementary school girls to promote confidence and mental health through exercise. Back on My Feet uses running to promote community and support individuals as they move from homelessness to independence. Homelessness was already an issue before the pandemic and is certain to be worse, especially as rent-reprieve programs end.
$100 National Black Deaf Advocates: I have always been fascinated by other languages and it will probably be a lifelong regret that I’m only fluent in English. Sign language has always been something I wanted to study, but never have. I lived in West Hartford at one point where there is the American School for the Deaf and I would see teenagers signing around town and sometimes I would see hearing people’s adverse reactions to realizing someone was deaf and I wish the world were more inclusive and understanding of differently-abled people. Anyways, it came to my attention that the presidential debates, as chaotic as they were, did not have a sign language interpreter. When there’s a natural disaster with literal life-saving news, you usually see an interpreter to the side. But if someone wants to be informed or is politically interested and deaf, they can’t watch the debates. Seems unfair. This group works to increase awareness and advocacy for Black Deaf and hard of hearing Americans who are largely under-represented and more likely to suffer inequalities in education and representation.
$100 Reading Refuges: Recently founded by a local Southern Maine teacher, Reading Refuges works to provide books to children to encourage reading at home. The area is home to many refugee families and asylum seekers and the books are intended to help improve literacy and share the wonder of stories. I love reading and have greatly enjoyed volunteering at a bookshop this summer so this charity providing books to children warms my heart!
In addition to the charities brought to my attention by The Friday Five, there are also a few that are important to me because I have friends directly involved in the organizations:
$200 RTHM (Rowing Together for Healthy Minds) UK: A friend of mine is rowing across the Atlantic–as in the ocean. She and two rowing buddies are participating in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, under the team name Atlantic Antics. The race from the Canary Islands to Antigua will take place in a matter of weeks. Besides being absolutely bonkers and badass, they are doing this to raise money for local charities. As a former rower myself, I am hugely in awe of this undertaking! One of their charities, RTHM, focuses on the mental health of rowers and has partnered with Mind, a mental health charity which focuses on raising mental health awareness both in the UK and abroad, providing tools and resources to those struggling with their mental health. There is still a large stigma around mental health, despite increased awareness in recent years but I feel it’s important to normalize talking about your mental well-being and being able to get counseling (something that is often very expensive and not covered by insurance) and know that it’s okay not to be okay (thank you, Demi Lovato).
$100 Sango Kenya: A silver lining to living with my parents for most of 2020 has been meeting some of their friends (a total role reversal which shall be covered in another post). One such friend co-founded Sango Kenya, a charity focused on bringing food security and sustainable farming to a Kisumu County, Kenya through educating women in the local villages. I have never been to Africa but sustainable farming and empowering women has me sold!
$100 Feeding America: I have learned quite a bit this year about food insecurity in rural America (another bonus to living with parents in rural areas in 2020). Many rural communities find themselves in ‘food deserts’, large areas with few grocery stores. This often leads to either traveling great distances for food (which requires a car and gas to get there) or eating at fast food places nearby. Add the pandemic and the closing of many schools, where at-risk children previously received supplemental meals, and food insecurity remains a key issue. Food pantries continue to be important resources as many families struggle with the economic impacts of COVID.
This holiday season, I hope you will consider helping those around you. It’s been a hard year for everyone but some moreso than others. As the Friday Five has shown, every little bit helps and it all adds up for the greater good!
In light of Giving Tuesday, I’ve noticed that some organizations have matching programs so your donation could go even further. Additionally, there have been some changes to taxable donations, allowing for up to $300 to be deductable without itemizing your charity donations. This was an interesting read if you’d like to hear more (because taxes, yay!).
Have a charity that is close to your heart? Please share it in the comments so we can continue to pay it forward and educate ourselves!