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What Is The Difference Between Begging And True Requests For Charitable Donations?

I just wondered, do you have any guidance on what constitutes a reasonable request, versus begging?  Below is the second email I’ve received via the school email list, asking for donations for this family, who recently had a house fire.  When I received the first email, I clicked the link, thinking I could surely come up with some blankets, or cookware, or something to help them, and found that all the donation options are for cash amounts.
As some background, this is quite a well-to-do school district.  Every house on the street where the fire was has an estimated value on Zillow of over $650k.  While it’s possible that the family owned the house outright and/or carried minimal insurance, I very seriously doubt that’s the case (the donation site even mentioned that they were looking for donations to help them while they waited for insuance items to be sorted out.) 
As I said, my first instinct was charitable – to help them though the first few days before insurance kicked in with food or goods, but when I saw the only donation format possible was cash (while I know that cash is certainly helpful) my feelings changed.  Personally, I’d be thankful for unsolicited gifts from family and friends, but I’d be horrified if I found the school district was begging for cash on my behalf.  Am I being unreasonable in feeling like asking for cash for this family is over-the-top?  0124-19


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  • Rinme February 15, 2019, 9:19 am

    One only needs so many blankets and old clothes… and it’s likely they family will need pricier items, such as beds, a fridge or even rent to pay.

    Also, coordinating a money drive is easier than sorting through piles of random donations.

  • 8 February 15, 2019, 9:51 am

    Something like this happened in our school community last year. Our school banded together in order to make things as normal as possible for the kids. There were meal trains and requests for clothing donations. I don’t think money was ever asked for outright. I think I remember a GoFundMe, but that was NOT set up by the school.
    Insurance in these situations can take a while. I understand they are trying to fill the gap but I also understand where you are coming from. Hopefully the family has a decent emergency fund and can cover themselves until insurance does.

    I am wondering if they were truly in need, is this something the Red Cross would be helping out with?

    My suggestion (if you feel comfortable and it is appropriate) would be to speak with a good friend of the family and see if they can use any of the items you were hoping to donate.

  • Michelle February 15, 2019, 9:56 am

    I completely understand where people feel like they want to help out by potentially donating extra of what they have, as opposed to just giving an outright handout of cash or gift cards. Sharing what you have is both generous and thoughtful; however, it is important to remember that when a family is displaced from their home, for whatever reason, no matter how much money we think they have (we should never assume what someone else’s financial situation may be), the family is now essentially homeless. They may be staying with family or friends, or even in a hotel, but they really are not in any position to start collecting other people’s “stuff,” whether it be furniture, household items, or clothing. Storage would be an issue, until they secure a new home, and the sorting alone would be overwhelming in the midst of all of the other paperwork and trauma they are potentially going through. Even if you know that the family wears certain sizes of clothing, of which you have hand-me-downs, etc., we all know that what fits one person in a size, may not fit another comfortably and the family is then left trying to decide what to do with the excess. If you feel lead to give to this family (you are under no obligation to do so), would it not be kindest to give whatever you can monetarily, so that they can go to the store and select exactly what they need at any given time? Having a cheese grater or blankets may not be something they need until months from now. At this point, they are likely just trying to cover their most basic needs…food, toiletries, and clothing in the least stressful way possible, which most likely means just going out and buying the necessary items in the brands they know work for them. Insurance claims can sometimes drag on for months and months before the funds are released, and this family is just trying to get by until then.

  • Val February 15, 2019, 10:05 am

    My first thought is that when a family I knew went through a house fire, they lived in a hotel for months afterwards. Inundating them with household items at that time would not have been the least bit helpful, in fact it would have added to their burden by forcing them to figure out what to do with all of these things that they wouldn’t even be able to use for the foreseeable future. Personally, if I am feeling charitable I would rather do it in the way that is most helpful, without the attitude of “beggars can’t be choosers”. The value of the house they lost shouldn’t really be a factor in this, watching all of your worldly possessions go up in flames looks the same no matter what your tax bracket you fall into (although getting back on their feet will go a lot differently). And knowing that children have lost all of their treasured toys, have no clothes of their own, and are falling asleep in an unfamiliar environment every night isn’t any less heartbreaking just because they live in an affluent school district.

    Is it begging? Maybe. But begging happens when people find themselves in a desperate situation, and a house fire absolutely is one. I would have a hard time feeling judgemental and superior while sitting comfortably in my intact home, surrounded by a lifetime of acquired possessions, memories, and souvenirs.

    • chigrrl February 22, 2019, 9:29 am

      this 100%^

  • LizaJane February 15, 2019, 10:09 am

    No. In my opinion, you’re not being unreasonable at all. If someone can afford a $650,000 house, they should be able to afford adequate insurance to cover the house and interim expenses. If they can’t, they may be living above their means. At the very least, they need to re-evaluate their coverage.

    HOWEVER, they don’t just give you a bunch of money right after the firetrucks leave. It’s common to have to go through a process of replacing items then submitting receipts for reimbursement. But a good policy should cover rent during displacement and some “start-up” cash. It stinks but some people actually have to borrow money to get started buying necessities, even with a “good” policy.

    • chigrrl February 22, 2019, 9:33 am

      I respectfully disagree. I’ve worked in insurance for years and my own sister had a house fire that had her and her two large dogs living in a motel (because options are limited for ppl with pets) for MONTHS with none of her personal items including work clothes etc. “Good insurance” doesn’t necessarily mean you are cut a substantial check before damages are assessed. Some policies will cover temporary housing, but there are far more expenses to be considered. As it’s optional to offer help to these people, implying they were lax in getting “good” insurance is a little victim blamey for my taste.

      • LizaJane February 28, 2019, 1:27 pm

        Maybe I wasn’t clear. I did point out that payments aren’t made immediately and I know that to be true.

        I used quotes around “good” not to imply they were insufficiently covered, but to point out that even the most reputable coverers will have criteria that has to be met.

        I wasn’t slamming the victim or their insurer.

        • Snarkastic March 3, 2019, 3:37 pm

          You were clear. I thought it was an informed and reasonable response.

  • Michelle February 15, 2019, 10:39 am

    I’m kind of torn on this one. If you can afford a 650k home, I would hope you have a savings/emergency fund account but I also know that it’s not always a possibility. As @LizaJane mentions, the insurance company doesn’t show up with stacks of cash as soon as the fire is out. I’m sure the family appreciates donations of blankets, cookware & clothing, but the truth is cash is almost always needed and easier for the family. Like with the clothing, I would have no problem accepting secondhand shirts, pants, socks, even shoes (I’m wearing a secondhand shirt now) but I would want new underclothes. They also will need basic hygiene items (shampoo, soap, toothbrush/toothpaste, brushes/combs, deodorant, feminine products) and, depending on what their temporary housing situation is, they may not have room to store a ton of donations.

    I might donate an amount I could afford and then additional emails could be ignored or deleted. You could also reply to the email and ask about donating non-cash items. If they were rude or obnoxious about non-cash items, then I would simply ignore any further communication about it.

    • LizaJane February 15, 2019, 11:17 am

      Good advice. $25 would be enough for toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo and bath soap. If the OP feels comfortable doing that, great. If not, there’s nothing wrong with sitting this one out.

  • P Watts February 15, 2019, 10:41 am

    The request is not at all unreasonable. Living in northern CA, thousands of people have lost their homes to wildfires in the last two years. Relief efforts have dissuaded physical donations, as the families often have nowhere to keep them. Having an expensive home doesn’t mean they have liquid capital to cover their immediate necessities. They still need to clothe themselves (in clothing that fits, they feel good about, and isn’t used cast-offs) and pay for necessities. As the previous poster noted, insurance doesn’t kick in immediately.

  • Girlie February 15, 2019, 11:00 am

    For me, the most apparent and obvious thing that separates a charitable request from begging is based on who is doing the action. When it’s done on behalf of someone else, I think much more kindly upon such requests than I do when it’s done for one’s self (although in cases of major disaster or illness, I do waive judgment if it is from a person who has never asked for such assistance before).
    The truth is that someone living in a home valued at a large estimate may not necessarily have a great deal of cash in their pocket and may still be lacking in the funds required to take care of their family in the immediate, foreseeable future before insurance kicks in. There’s still a mortgage to pay, for instance – but now you also have to locate a place to sleep until a new house is built. There’s still food to buy, but now the fridge, oven, microwave, dishes, table, and chairs all have to be purchased again. Insurance will surely help, but it won’t cover everything – and it usually doesn’t send a check overnight.

    As far as the school asking for monetary donations – sometimes it’s just easier and makes more sense to request money over “stuff.” I’d like to think that most people would donate new or gently used items, but there’s ALWAYS that unfortunate collection of individuals who will use such circumstances as the opportunity to clear out all of the trash from their garage. It’s a shameful fact that some people have no problem loading down an already distraught family with absolute garbage in the name of “charity.” That being said, even the most well-meaning individuals can cause issues if they donate the wrong size clothing or too many of the same items (no one needs ten stew pots, for example).

    Money doesn’t cause the same problems and allows the recipient to put it where it is needed most, be it towards kid’s clothes for school, new furniture, or a place to kennel the family dog.

  • lakey February 15, 2019, 11:18 am

    I had a nephew who went through a fire in his apartment. Foolishly, he had no renters’ insurance, so he lost everything but the clothes on his back. Red Cross was there almost immediately. They gave people $200 cash cards to cover immediate necessities like toiletries and clothing. I suspect they would give more for a family, but I don’t know if this is just in our area, or if they do it all over.
    There was no solicitation of funds, but many of us gave cash gifts without being asked. This also happened where he worked. Also, my hairdresser and her family had a fire in their house, and I don’t recall that it took very long for the insurance company to get them set up with funds for a place to stay and so on. This was a few years ago, but I don’t recall them scrambling around to get things they needed.

    I would have a couple of problems with what the OP describes. One problem is that people who are financially established enough to own a nice home should have a savings account for emergencies. Second, I would be bothered by the way this fundraising was handled, as OP was.
    In the end, if they really had nothing, and it was going to take a full week or so for the insurance company to give them enough to tide them over, I would donate.

    I know this is all preachy, but I’m older and have watched people’s attitudes about responsibility change. We all could afford to spend less on “wants” and put some money into savings accounts.

    • Natalia May 14, 2019, 3:39 pm

      Even if they did have a lot of money saved up..it is still nice for people to offer to help. They don’t have to.

  • JD February 15, 2019, 11:20 am

    My parents’ house burned, and it’s hard to imagine what it feels like to have everything being gone until — it is. Plus, I know people who lost houses in hurricanes and were left with only the clothing on their backs. Cash would be very helpful, I agree, but donations of items should also be an option. I would certainly appreciate getting items — bedding, towels, dishes (disposable would be fine), etc. if my house burned and they could be used or new. Some people in nice houses are actually living close to the edge financially and could really use some cash at a time like this. However, asking for ONLY cash donations sounds wrong to me, as some people might not be able to cough up $50 or so for people they don’t know, but would be able and happy to provide them with $10-$30 worth of useful goods; the list of items needed could be included in the donations request. Plus, getting the item itself means a displaced, upset and frazzled family doesn’t have to go shop for every single thing they need. They probably have enough to do, already.
    A bit off topic, but does the school do this for every house fire or similar loss? That’s my only other question, and has nothing to do with this particular family. I just know that my former workplace stopped allowing any donation requests from HR for employees that had tragedies such as fires or really bad wrecks/illnesses (with long recoveries), because, inevitably, some employees got overlooked, and the overlooked employees were pretty upset that everyone donated for Joe Smith’s cancer surgery, but not for their own total loss of a house in a fire.

    • OP February 19, 2019, 12:18 pm

      Yes, this was one of the aspects that bothered me…that the school would do this for this one family, since I know of other similar tragedies, and this is the first time I’ve seen such a direct request in my email box. Previously, there might have been an item in the school weekly email, etc., with a link or instructions, but these were the first I’ve seen that were so direct. I did wonder what made this particular family so worthy of the additional attention.

  • staceyizme February 15, 2019, 11:55 am

    While “cash only” can be off-putting when one is solicited for a donation, it is also the most flexible (and therefore the most practical) instrument of charity. “Upcycling”/ “repurposing”/ donating your unused or gently used items requires more research and a more direct match between the giver and the recipient and these endeavors are best restricted to specific instances (such as a coat drive or when a family in difficulty is accepted to be sponsored for holiday gifts or back to school supplies, where the age, size , gender and other factors are important in order to make an effective, relevant and useful donation. That said, there is a pretty short list of organizations that any of us might feel happy about giving our cash to. Some organizations with national/ international impact and long histories have been taken off of my list for amassing large funds but failing to render consistent aid to those in immediate need. I give to those that I am able to afford to donate to, in a way that I know will benefit them and through an organization whose stewardship I trust. If any of those three factors is in question, I will not contribute. So- a school soliciting funds for a neighbor? Yes, I would probably donate. The value of their house or the quality of their insurance wouldn’t prevent me from seeing that there might be needs in the short term. But- if the school system was a poor steward of the funds (failed to transfer them to the intended recipient in a timely fashion) , the appropriateness of the cause (if they asked for funds in questionable situations) or the use of those funds (they went to the right recipient but were permitted to be used for non-essential items/ items clearly not intended to be covered under the stated reasons for soliciting donations), then I’d definitely remove them from my list of possible future gifts. The etiquette in soliciting donations, in my view, is that a person or an entity should ask only for persons or causes they truly deem worthy, they should ask prospects only once (or once per season, if a standard charity), and they should take “no” for an answer graciously and extend thanks to the potential donor for having given their time to hear the request. They should also take the time to understand where their potential donors congregate and to further understand what channels of communication are preferred by them. Finally, their zeal for their cause and compassion for those served should not cause them to act without charity towards those they solicit. A “hard sell” is no more acceptable in a solicitation for a charitable donation than it is in regular commerce.

  • PJ February 15, 2019, 11:57 am

    I understand the request for cash. There’s only so much we need in the way of clothes and toys.

    I remember a family that came back from an overseas trip, having adopted six kids– this wasn’t their plan, but there were tragic circumstances and they were in a position to help.

    When a couple of us asked them what they needed, they kindly said “please: no more *stuff*” They were overwhelmed with clothes, dishes, toys, books, bedding, etc. After the kindness of only two neighbors, they had more than enough of those necessities, and they were taking all additional donations to the Goodwill because they didn’t have room (or need) for more. In the mean time, they had taken leave from work for this time of transition, so daily expenses were tighter than expected, and they were facing needs like a minivan to fit the whole family, and beds to sleep in.

    The non-cash donations covered all the small stuff, and the thought was very much appreciated, but the need was met many times over, while other needs were going unmet because it involved more than the stuff that people could pull together by going through their closets. I can imagine a very similar situation in the case of this fire.

    So I’d just consider this to be a poor match: the OP’s intended gift of non-cash isn’t going to meet the family’s stated need at this time, so he/she can ignore the request. Deciding that the family’s needs aren’t “correct” because they don’t match what you’re prepared to give isn’t fair.

    In addition to that, if the school is making this plea, they may not be ready to collect all kinds of items for the family, or to track what’s still needed vs what’s been covered. They can much easier gather cash from everyone to send on to the family. It could be just as much about logistics as anything else.

  • Mechtilde February 15, 2019, 12:53 pm

    Cash is the more practical option- that way they can get what they need rather than what people give them. Othwerise they could end up with five bottles of shampoo when what they really need are toothbrushes.

    • Natalia May 14, 2019, 3:47 pm

      At my office we collected stuff to help people affected by a hurricane and another time for people affected by the California Wildfires.
      We asked for donations of:
      -Water bottles
      -Shampoo and conditioner
      -Bodywash and soap
      -baby food and formula
      -feminine hygiene items
      -backpacks and duffel bags
      -gently used clothing
      -canned and non-perishable food
      -gift cards for Grocery Stores, Gas stations, WalMart, and Target

      Putting together a package of essentials such as those listed above would be a good thing for people to do for the family

  • Anonymous February 15, 2019, 1:30 pm

    I’d reach out to the family and ask if they could use blankets, cookware, et cetera. Maybe they’d be happy to have the items in hand, to save another shopping trip. Do you know for a fact that they set up the website asking for money themselves? Maybe a third party (church, kids’ school, well-meaning friend or relative) did it.

    • LizaJane February 15, 2019, 1:43 pm

      Good catch that the family could have originated the request since it was done via the school email list. I immediately assumed that the school was organizing it, which may or may not be true.

    • OP February 19, 2019, 12:22 pm

      The school email linked to a separate site – not go fund me, but something similar. I don’t know who set up that site, could have been friends of the family, relatives, or the family themselves. I don’t think the school set it up, just used their email list to advertise its existence. I don’t know the family at all.

    • Natalia May 14, 2019, 3:52 pm

      Or you could give them a care package/gift basket containing items (travel size is handy) such as:
      soap/body wash
      feminine hygiene items
      brushes and combs
      hair bands
      non-perishable foods (granola bars, canned food, cup of noodles)
      baby food/formula
      band aids
      gently used clothing
      giftcards to gas stations, restaurants, grocery stores, WalMart, Target, etc
      This stuff is great for helping them in the meantime

  • PrettySticks February 15, 2019, 1:41 pm

    My apartment building caught fire in NYC a year and a half ago. We owned our apartment, so we had homeowners insurance, but nothing elaborate. But they floated us several thousand dollars in advance of our claim, pretty much no questions asked – it was in our account the next day. (It gets taken out of your claim amount at the end when you settle up.) My office did send around a card for me, and people donated cash, but it honestly made me uncomfortable. I mean, we’re not rich or anything, but… we have a credit card. We can buy underwear and toothbrushes with that. The biggest immediate need would be a place to stay, and you can charge a hotel room, and your insurance will almost definitely reimburse housing expenses later. I would have trouble believing someone with a $650K house does not have a credit card. And for something longer term, were they asking for enough donations to sublet a home or the like? Also, I don’t mean to sound unappreciative of the cash! I do understand people wanted to do *something*, and it was so nice that my office was thinking of me. It was useful for all the eating out we had to do until we go settled!

    On the upside, we have been in a rental ever since the fire while they’ve renovated our apartment. But we’re supposed to be able to finally go home next month! Fingers crossed!

    • staceyizme February 16, 2019, 6:20 am

      Wow! Months of displacement would be so difficult! Hope you get to go home and live happily ever after!

    • Livvy17 February 19, 2019, 12:25 pm

      Wow, a year and a half ago? that would be so tough. Glad you’re getting your place back! And on the upside, at least you shouldn’t have too many repairs coming your way in the next few years. 🙂

    • DGS February 20, 2019, 9:55 am

      So glad to hear that you are finally getting your place back! Hope you get to enjoy your new home very soon!

  • lkb February 15, 2019, 2:21 pm

    I understand the OP’s point of view. However, I wonder if cash was requested because it is easier to manage without the logistics of trying to figure out where to send items, how to transport them, sizes, etc. The kids might be farmed out to various relatives and friends for the duration and it could be tough to sort all that out.’

    I’m a little disappointed by the tone of some of the comments here — just because a family is well off enough to afford a more expensive home doesn’t mean it hurts any less to lose it all in a fire. Insurance only covers so much and the Insurance Fairy doesn’t drop by instantly with a check. A little compassion, please?

    • LizaJane February 15, 2019, 3:53 pm

      We’ve acknowledged the delays in insurance payments and I don’t see anything unsympathetic toward someone who has lost their home.

      Some of us have pointed out that this family wasn’t exactly living on a shoestring. Being realistic doesn’t equal lack of compassion.

      • lkb February 16, 2019, 4:37 am

        Perhaps but the tone of some of the comments suggest we should give based on how the family in question chose how to run their lives, i.e. whether they had insurance or not. Maybe they had it or maybe they didn’t. (Maybe a less wealthy family didn’t have that kind of wealth because they “blew” their money on other things. Are they more or less worthy of their neighbors’ aid?)

        If I were in this situation (thankfully, I am not), I hope I would simply see that a family I know is in need, having lost everything, and do what I can to help. Who knows? The situation could easily be reversed tomorrow.

        • Natalia May 14, 2019, 3:54 pm

          Well said. The situation could be reversed anytime. Even if the family is wealthy..some money could be helpful to purchase essentials and food in the meantime.

    • Devin February 19, 2019, 11:13 am

      Depending on the area of the country, a $650K house isn’t necessarily the mansion some people may be invisioning. In the Northeast, that’s probably a 2-3 bedroom house that’s less than 2000 square feet (just looked at a 2bed/1bath that was $550k). And people will buy above their means if it ensures their kids get into one of the nicer school districts versus having to pay $30k + for private school.
      I also think if it is the school arranging it, it is so much easier to collect money than goods, and ensures that family can get what they need. It reminds me of the scene in Clueless where Cher is donating her old ski equipment to victims of a typhoon.

      • Liz February 19, 2019, 3:17 pm

        I agree. I’m also in the Northeast, and in my hometown, which does have its fair share of $1 million plus homes, and is a fairly affluent town, 650K really won’t buy you much there at all. Maybe an under 3000 sq foot 3 BR, which I get is a lot more than many have, but in certain areas of the country, it really won’t buy you much at all.

        And who knows, there could be extenuating circumstances that, even if they had a “rainy day fund” something like illness, unemployment etc. may have drained that, and at the time of a fire, they really didn’t have much extra. It’s really hard to say. So I kind of agree with the “cash only” donations, since no one really ever knows what anyone else’s financial situation is. And honestly, even if they spent frivolously, and had no savings, they still deserve to have the basic necessities.

      • DGS February 20, 2019, 9:56 am

        This…We live in the Northeast, and $650k is pretty much an average home around these parts, and in a decent school district, it’s probably on the lower end of pricing. Both Coasts are very expensive as far as housing and taxes go.

        • BMS2000 March 7, 2019, 12:44 pm

          I’m in the Boston suburbs. When we bought our house in 1999 it was $290K for a house built in 1920, ~1400 sq ft, with one bathroom, 3 bedrooms, one of which was barely big enough for a twin bed and a dresser, an unfinished basement, an ancient heating plant, no central air, and almost no backyard. I just looked on Zillow, and it currently is worth $723K. We finished the basement and replaced the heating plant, but otherwise we haven’t done any major renovations. We can’t add onto the house because the backyard is too small and we already violate the setback laws. So we have a $723K house, but that doesn’t mean its a mansion. And even with our emergency fund and our insurance, I don’t think we could actually rebuild a new house on the property, due to the setback issues (those laws didn’t exist way back when), and I don’t think we could afford anything else in our town. It’s really, really crazy around here.

      • EchoGirl February 23, 2019, 8:31 pm

        This also assumes that “owning a 650K house” means they bought a house for 650K. Market values can do weird things. For all we know, they bought a house for 325K and then the neighborhood went crazy and house values skyrocketed. (Scaling down the numbers, this is what happened to my parents; the house they bought for under $70,000 is now valued at over $200,000.) When you consider that mortgage is paid based on original purchase price, the value of the house alone doesn’t indicate as much about the owner’s finances as one might think.

  • Catherine St Clair February 15, 2019, 6:51 pm

    This post made me think about why it seemed a bit off-center to me. I worked for a school where some of us worked on a 12 month contract; and we earned vacation days. Some employees used a vacation day as soon as they earned one. Others saved them. When a true emergency arose, those who had used their days as soon as they had them asked those of us who had saved ours to donate our days to them. If you live an upscale lifestyle, you can choose to save six months expense money in case of an emergency or you can spend every penny you make and live paycheck to paycheck. If these were poverty-level people, I’d give without question. If they had more than I to begin with, I’d question why they deserved my savings when they had chosen to spend their own. I think that is the crux of the matter; and it reminds me of the child’s story about the grasshopper and the ant.

    • staceyizme February 16, 2019, 6:34 am

      Giving days you’ve saved isn’t a requirement. It’s always on a case by case basis. It isn’t a wholly binary dichotomy, when an emergency occurs. Maybe some who used up their days or spent down their savings had a disproportionate amount of difficulty in comparison to the average person. I guess that what I am highlighting is that there are many people who need help that could have made better choices. We all have an idea of the “deserving poor” in mind. But some help from community in the face of disaster shouldn’t be precluded because the potential recipient could have saved more, bought better insurance or is in a higher income bracket, in my view. We should be discerning, but I don’t think it’s necessary to remove people from consideration for help because their house is pricey or their neighborhood is upscale.

      • Catherine St Clair February 16, 2019, 10:46 am

        That is why I said I would question it rather than simply refusing the request. Karen Horney wrote on the “Tyranny of the Should” because we all have things we should have done: stopped smoking, lost weight, used sunblock, gone to AA, driven defensively, et al to avoid the probable consequences of our foolish actions. The workers of whom I wrote simply liked taking days off as soon as possible and said so. Few of us get what we truly deserve in life. As the old quip reminds us, we all get the same amount of ice in our lives-the rich get it in summer and the poor in winter. If it is my ice, I will decide with whom to share it.

  • Gina tonic February 16, 2019, 12:38 am

    As someone who has worked for charities, you would not believe what some people donate. Cash donations mean the family can buy exactly what they need and don’t have to spend weeks sorting through donations that are essentially other people’s trash

    • Devin February 20, 2019, 10:23 am

      Exactly this! If theyre currently stay with family or in a hotel, they don’t need someone’s extra slow cooker, a mismatch set of sheets, or a set of dull knives. What they probably need is clothes that are nice enough to wear to work, possibly a new computer to help with filing all the paper work and claims, a dog bed or boarding if they have a pet, and cash to pay for all the dinning out theyre doing if living in a hotel.
      Interestingly enough, if this is an upper middle class family, with well paying jobs, the more expensive it’s going to be to get back on their feet. You can’t show up to client meetings in a hand me down Winnie the Pooh sweater, or to a court case without polished hair and make up, or stand up in surgery all day without supportive orthopedic shoes. I can’t even imagine how quickly my saving would evaporate if I had to immediately go buy replacements for everything to get through a week of work, even if I was extra frugal and bought less expensive options than I normally would.

    • Natalia May 14, 2019, 4:00 pm

      Exactly. Cash is what will help them buy exactly what they need. That said, if someone wants to, the family might appreciate a care package with shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste, diapers, feminine hygiene products, razors, etc. Maybe even some gift cards to Walmart, Target, etc.

  • Wonderer February 16, 2019, 5:40 am

    This may seem off topic, but I sense an undercurrent of “Are these folks donation worthy.”
    There is a saying “Be kind to everyone you encounter, because you cannot know the burdens they may be carrying”. It is unreasonable to be judging the financial position of a family based on what Zillow says their house is worth. You have no idea of their employment situation or other issues that may drain their financial resources. To be judging a family in this manner, at a time of immense stress and possibly tragedy is unfair.

    That being said, I understand how it can be when so many of these pleas abound. I live in Southern California and it has been a tough time in recent month for many in communities near me (the Borderline shooting and then the fires). A number of people I know had to flee their homes. I help when I can, but I have to pass on some also. When I feel inundated with these requests I remind myself , that there but for the grace of the way the wind blows go I!

    Above all, please be kind.

    • LizaJane February 16, 2019, 8:43 pm

      I feel like “Are these folks donation worthy?” is exactly the topic.

    • Alysoun February 18, 2019, 9:18 am

      Yes, I had the same response. Should people be denied help because at one time they qualified for a large mortgage? Their financial situation may have changed since then, and it’s entirely possible that they don’t have an “emergency fund”. Maybe they “should have” done something differently, but that doesn’t make them any less homeless or traumatized. I might have more sympathy for a family with fewer options for starting over, but they all deserve empathy and (if possible) assistance.

    • JAN February 18, 2019, 12:59 pm

      I find the comments interesting because although we live in a nice enough home for the area we are in and we do have six months worth of savings, no one outside of us knows that we also support my disabled mother, how much support costs for my special needs child, etc. I’m sure we look like we have more than we actually do, but that’s because we are frugal and what we spend money on but we are generous at helping out our family who may need it. You really don’t know what someone’s financial situation is from outside.

  • Annoyed February 16, 2019, 9:52 am

    I have no problem with the request of money donations. I do have a problem, however, with any place of business soliciting funds. While a school is not a typical business, it is still a place that offers a service and is taking advantage of it’s list of e-mail addresses to beg for money on someone else’s behalf. I have stopped shopping at certain places who beg for my e-mail so they can send me their weekly offers/coupons and promise me it will not be used in any other way, but lo and behold start sending emails begging me to donate to their charity of the month. I even had one beg me for money via email for one of their pregnant employees, and another let me know that they were taking up funds so the owners daughter could go on some mission trip. The school e-mail list is supposed to be used to inform parents of school closings, programs, events, and other school related information.

  • InTheEther February 16, 2019, 3:14 pm

    This could very well be a matter of logistics rather than anything else.
    Donated money online? Requires 1 secretary maybe fifteen minutes to empty the funds into a prepaid credit card or something similar.
    A bunch of disparate items? First you’ve got to have somewhere to store all this stuff until someone can either deliver it or the family can come get it. Someone to sort through the stuff, because there’s always that idiot that kindly donates used underwear or that unwashed blanket that’s their puppy’s favorite potty ((yes we all wish people would be sensible and it may not happen if this is a small enough pool of donators, but if its a big school system then someone’s an idiot)). Then you still wind up with the problem that the youngest cutest kid or most popular kid winds up with a wardrobe more extensive than the one that burned while the rest have NOTHING, or they have 30 backpacks but no shoes.

    You can see why they would just ask for money.

    When you’re talking about donating after disasters or to 3rd world countries, send money. Don’t send things.
    A) The issues with storage and needing man power to sort through the things is still an issue, only more so cause there’s more stuff and you have to deal with customs.
    B) People tend to send stuff that makes them feel good rather than what is actually needed. It is a real issue that after disasters people send in thousands of teddies for the poor little children, which largely wind up in dumpsters because otherwise every kid would wind up with 5 bears each and it’s just not worth it to transport a bunch of stuffed animals when their immediate needs are more along the lines of tents. Ditto about going to Africa to teach the little children. They don’t need you, who barely remembers what you learned in school, to come in with no knowledge about their education level or specific needs to teach for two week. What they need is a decent septic system. But it’s cooler to say you taught the little children rather than that you dug a hole for a septic tank.
    C) Even if you’re sensible/knowledgeable enough not to fall into the above traps, you still don’t know what’s really needed unless you’re in the thick of it. Maybe they currently have a glut of diapers but really need blankets this month, despite really needing diapers two months ago? Things change and while with money you can go ‘Oh we got what was needed covered, now this can go to something else’, with items what you’ve got is what you’ve got. ((PS, don’t require that the money go to X thing. Same issues come up.))

    Sending just money can feel cold and impersonal, but in reality you’ll do more good sending that rather than items. The only exception is if X thing is specifically requested.

    • keloe February 17, 2019, 11:17 am

      B) This is exactly right. In my country it is customary for weddings to bring flowers for the bride (for the church wedding – it’s open to anyone who wishes to attend, the flowers are handed over in the receiving line after the ceremony). The flowers are usually splut between the newlyweds and their families, excess often gets donated to care homes, hospitals etc. Some couples specifically request no flowers, books instead of flowers, etc. Few years ago there was a trend to request stuffed animals. The couple would have their picturs taken with a pile of stuffed animals and then donate them to a chilren’s home, orphanage, etc. Soon those institutions started publishing polite requests for people to STOP with this. They had enough cute stuffed animals to last them for years, but also had more pressing needs, like school supplies, clothes and non-leaky roofs, that no one wanted to help them with.

      That said, I always pitch in when people collect underwear, socks and toiletries for the homeless shelters. That makes sense, and it’s unlikely they will ever have too much for those.

    • LizaJane February 18, 2019, 10:39 pm

      “PS, Don’t require that the money go to X thing. Same issues come up.”

      Aside from the fact that this “advice ” runs me the wrong way, having worked for a world-wide charitable organization for almost 30 years, I can assure you that donations and bequests are regularly designated for specific purposes. A well organized and ethical charity is set up and happy to those requests.

      I won’t name my employer because we have a strict internet/social media policy. They are one of the oldest in existence and well known for their work.

      • InTheEther February 19, 2019, 12:34 am

        I’m glad you haven’t had to deal with these problems in your charity. But they do come up.

        When that tsunami happened in 2004 aid agencies wound up having to build mini mansions because of all the money that was marked for rebuilding housing and couldn’t be used anywhere else. And a lot of people in Indonesia didn’t receive aid because the money was marked specifically for tsunami victims. So while there were plenty of issues inland that happened as a result of it, unless the area was specifically hit by the tsunami they were sol. This is just one example, but it’s not an isolated issue.

        It’s great to want to help. But isn’t it better to tramp down the first knee-jerk response or first thing that sounds heartwarming, and instead do the thing that’s most effective/efficient?

        • LizaJane February 21, 2019, 12:31 pm

          Mini mansions? I never heard that, but that was in Dec ’04 and in Jan ’05 we almost lost our home to massive flooding here. The whole winter was a daze.

          Where did you learn about them? I’d like to read it.

          • InTheEther February 21, 2019, 6:30 pm

            Specifically search for ‘5 Popular Forms of Charity (That Aren’t Helping)’

            It’s a lowbrow comedy site, but they do site and link to official sources to back up what they say.
            It’s a good site in general with a lot of first person accounts.

          • LizaJane February 28, 2019, 10:12 pm


            Thank you for that. I haven’t found anything about mini-mansions, yet but I did read the article you recommended and it made a lot of sense.

            For some time, I’ve found many of the “awareness ” activities tiresome and I’ve been wondering if other people do, too. The writer makes it sound like that may be the case which lessens their effectiveness. Whew! That was something that was hard to admit but now I know I’m not alone.

            The low overhead segment was great, but I would like for people to know that they can tell where their dollars go by looking at the executive salaries. That’s the portion of overhead to be concerned with. If executives are making upper 6 or 7 figure salaries, I’m staying away from it.

            Most of us have to work for money, not just for fun, and there’s nothing wrong with making a good living. However, not-for-profits shouldn’t be the place to get rich. I could have made more money in “the other world ” but I’ve never regretted the choice I made.

            Again, thank you.

      • Lynne February 19, 2019, 6:45 pm

        True, but our well-run non-profit also always appreciated “no strings attached” gifts for necessary line items that weren’t so glamorous/interesting for donors to fund. I think “no specifics” is the most truly gracious/generous way to be charitable, but there’s nothing “wrong” in choosing the gift that you are giving, so long as it is meeting a need.

  • Bea February 17, 2019, 1:55 am

    They’ve had a major emergency, it’s so gross to judge them for the acts of the school, who is just rallying around a distressed family. It’s nasty to cast judgement on their assumed assets. Many people save for years to afford a home or are assisted in purchasing one by family. It’s a good investment of money. Maybe someone’s grandparents left them enough in a will for a large down payment.

    So what if they’re well off. They should still be assisted the same as if an impoverished family lost all their worldly possessions.

    You can still donate things. Reach out directly to the family or their close friends to see if they are able to accept whatever items you’re thinking of giving.

    It’s unnecessary to ever lump a tragedy in with begging. Begging is asking for money for a vacation or fancy automobile just because someone’s always wanted a Porshe. Jeez.

    Feel free to ignore the notifications if you want to. But the vast majority of people with good hearts and souls do not stop to think about perceived wealth prior to offering their assistance after a disaster.

  • DGS February 18, 2019, 8:55 am

    Gosh, there are a lot of judgy Janes out there…So, if the family is upper-middle class and can afford a high end home, they are less worthy of a donation when they have lost everything suddenly in a fire, and their children are falling asleep in an unfamiliar place with no clothes and no toys or comfort items having just lost a home? They are less worthy of help than a poor family? How do we decide that? Two doctors who save lives daily lose their high-end home, and they are not worthy of help, but two factory workers are (what if one of them is an alcoholic? What if they are on a fixed income because they collect disability for a fictitious rather than real problem? What if the husband abuses his wife?) Is a cop’s family more worthy of charity than a lawyer’s family? How about if Mom doesn’t work outside the home? Is she worthy of less help than a Mom who works and thus provides a second income? Charity is supposed to be given freely, from the goodness of one’s heart and be devoid of judgment. If a family, regardless of income, loses their home in a fire, the trauma is enormous and devastating. Surely, insurance will help, and hopefully, they will have made provisions for their family, but in the immediate aftermath, they are all going to be bereft and struggling. How can we sit in judgment from the comfort of our dwellings, surrounded by our possessions and memories?

    The family is now essentially homeless, regardless of their income and staying in a rental or a hotel or with friends or family. They will need toiletries, undergarments, comfort items for the children, a week’s worth of clothing and laundry detergent. If they ran out of the house in the middle of the night in the winter, they might need coats and boots and hats and scarves and mittens/gloves. The children might need backpacks for school. They may need household items (it might be wise to check with a close friend to see what they actually need). I personally, would donate a gift card or cash or if I knew the family well, gift cards to stores I know they like to shop so that they could purchase clothes to wear.

    There was a family in our (affluent) school district that lost their home and one of their cars in a fire (it was inside the garage, and they didn’t have time to get it out). They have 4 children, and they were out on their lawn, watching their home burn down, shivering in their pajamas. Everyone pitched in and got them gift cards and money. We did not donate used furniture or coffee pots, but we did make sure that the kids and the parents had money to buy some clothing and necessities to tie them over and some gift cards to restaurants, so that they could eat until they moved into a rental with a kitchen (they stayed at a hotel for a few weeks). Yes, insurance helped them, and the parents are both highly-paid professionals, and they had savings, but it does not mean that they did not need immediate help.

    • CarolynM February 18, 2019, 10:43 am

      Well said. When your home is destroyed, it is devastating no matter who you are. Cash and gift cards are the most practical way to help – they may not be how you want to help, and that’s okay, you don’t have to! Sometimes the way that you want to help is not as helpful as you think it is.

      I volunteered with the Red Cross around the time of 9/11. I mostly worked the phones and answered calls from people who wanted to help. Many people wanted to donate blood … most would understand the gentle message that out blood banks were full to capacity, that further donations would actually be unusable. Many would still push and get angry that I was not letting them donate blood. It’s just what they felt they should do – they didn’t think about what was actually needed, just about what they thought was best. And sometimes they would balk at what was needed – once when mentioning that the reason we needed monetary donations was to purchase specialized items I gave the example of boots and protective gear for the rescue and recovery dogs, I got the raw edge of a guys tongue about how he wanted to help PEOPLE, not ANIMALS. Um, dude? Those dogs are helping people in a way people simply could not – it’s why they were there – we needed to protect them so they could keep helping.

      I had a woman call up and volunteer herself and her two teenaged boys to “dig” at Ground Zero. I told her that it was wonderful that she and her children wanted to help, but the recovery efforts at Ground Zero needed to be handled by people with extensive special training and that it would be dangerous for her and her sons to be there – I told her that what we needed more than anything were volunteers to come down and sort donations, that they could support the men and women doing the recovery work by making sure the socks, the cases of water, the food and things to meet their practical needs could be there for them. She got very angry with me and told me that if I (ME – powerful little ME!) wasn’t going to let them “dig” they weren’t doing anything! okay then … if you change your mind …

      (And I need to give some context here … these are not bad people – they were stressed, horrified and terrified – that is a powerful combination. People felt helpless and that is what their bad reactions were about – they were overwhelmed and not thinking clearly. And the vast majority of people were happy to help in the ways that were needed most once we explained what was needed and why.)

      But aside from being able to buy specialized items, giving people affected by tragedies cash or gift cards goes pretty far in making people feel a little more normal. Little things make a huge difference. You know what brand and cut of underwear you prefer … sure, underwear is underwear for practical purposes, but how do you feel when your underwear doesn’t fit the way you are used to? It’s annoying … but that annoyance multiplies when you are stressed and scared and feeling helpless. Let them go buy the brand and size and color they want – it’s small, but it’s comforting. At one point I went with some other Red Cross volunteers to the airport where there were many stranded travelers – we were handing out toiletries. I handed someone about my age (early 20’s at the time) a bag that had a travel sized tube of toothpaste and toothbrush … she started bawling. I moved her to a more private area and tried to help her calm down. She had apparently been watching me hand out the bags and she saw there were several brands of toothpaste. I had happened to hand her the brand she likes. She explained that while I was coming closer and closer she was actually panicked at the idea that she would get one of the other brands and she was so relieved she got the one she wanted because she knew she should be grateful for whatever she got, she wasn’t dead or hurt, just (just!) stranded, but she hadn’t brushed in a bit and she knew she would feel better if she just had her brand … but how could a beggar be a chooser? It was gutting – that morning I had used my own toothbrush and my normal brand and hadn’t given it a second thought. There had been plenty of times I had to settle for a different brand, even one that tasted gross … but no big deal, right? But when your entire life is upside down, sometimes the little things matter most.

    • LizaJane February 18, 2019, 1:52 pm

      The original post was about money vs. material donations…not about lack of compassion. One poster even went into a lengthy explanation of how organized charities should solicit funds, which doesn’t really apply here, but it’s a discussion.

      The only part of your post I take issue with is that charity should be given without judgment. It would be wonderful if that were possible, but we make judgments all the time, and often rightly so. For instance, giving cash to an addict is not only a poor choice, it can actually be harmful or deadly. There are other cases where this is true.

      The OP didn’t want to give cash, so she/ he shouldn’t. The option to give goods doesn’t seem to be helpful at this time, so that shouldn’t happen either.

      There will be other opportunities to help someone in need.

    • Sarah B. February 18, 2019, 9:39 pm

      People only have so many funds available to give to charity, and there are far more charities than anyone has dollars free. (I doubt even Oprah has enough cash to give to every last charity on the planet, let alone every last individual family who needs a hand.) Deciding where your funds would do the most good requires careful thought and consideration. It’s not being “judgemental”; it’s being judicious. Let’s face it, the family with the high end house is far more likely to have options other than a school fundraiser for emergency funds than the family of the gas station clerk who lives in a studio apartment in the bad part of town. And it’s far more likely to be poor management if they don’t. That’s not being judgemental; that’s simple logic and probabilities. There are always exceptions, of course, but if you aren’t close enough to know that they are the exception, then it’s not being judgemental to chose to give your limited charity funds elsewhere where you do know for sure that they need them and have no other options.
      For the record, I *have* been through a house fire. It wasn’t as bad as it could’ve easily been — only the wiring burned because my older brother didn’t panic and pulled all the fuses and turned off all the breakers before leaving (wiring only burned at all because the landlord was a horrible human being who never maintained anything but her stool at the bar, but that’s a long story and irrelevant here), so we didn’t lose our stuff. But we *were* homeless — not just until repairs were made, either. We were on a fixed income, and this happened just a few days after the rent and bills had been paid for the month (and the bulk of the month’s food had been bought), so there was nothing left for another place and very little for food. (Most of the perishables had to be thrown away because there was no refrigeration at the motel Red Cross would pay for, and we didn’t have a car, so there was only so much we could carry on foot the five miles between house and motel. Red Cross did not provide cab fare and no buses — actually only one cab and one cab driver — was a very small, but spread out town.) We had to get help from the Red Cross and local churches until we found a relative who could take us in until my mother could save up first, last, and deposit. So, yes, I know how difficult dealing with a house fire is, even when you *don’t* lose your stuff, just have to figure out what to do with it until you have a new place. I do sympathize with anyone, no matter how rich or poor, who goes through one. I still wouldn’t donate to this family based on the information given, though. I can’t afford my own expenses at present, let alone wring blood from the stone for a family that probably has more than I do even having lost so much. If a family who had even less than I do before the fire, I’d consider skipping my one meal a day a few days to give them the $5 because they’re probably going hungry more than I would be. You can call that being judgemental and lacking compassion; I call that reasonable priorities for limited means.

      • DGS February 20, 2019, 9:59 am

        I am sorry to hear that you went through a house fire – and thank goodness for your brother’s calm head and resourcefulness! You are both clearly very resilient people. Of course, you wouldn’t have to donate if you yourself are struggling financially; there are other ways to express your sympathy. Not donating does not make you judgmental when your own needs have to be met first; however, when people have been able to meet their needs without difficulties and with consistency, but are not willing to help out of a sense of judgment and speculation about the family’s financial status (that they know nothing about), is when there is a problem.

        • OP February 20, 2019, 3:32 pm

          DGS – So you’re saying that anyone who has met their own basic needs is somehow obligated to give money to anyone who has met with any kind of tragedy, regardless of a reasonable assessment of their financial position? So if Bill Gates has a house fire, I’m supposed to send him money, because it may take him some time to collect on the insurance? I know it’s a bit of a ridiculous question, but I just want to point out that some consideration for the financial position of the person in need is reasonable.

          • lkb February 21, 2019, 5:05 am

            Perhaps….if I knew Bill Gates. However,in the original post, the victim was part of the “school family” so to speak. I don’t know how large the school is and I certainly don’t know whether you knew the family or what, if anything, you were able to contribute, OP, and so your mileage can and will vary.

            However, in our small school family, with households ranging from single-parent-working-three jobs to wealthier-both-parents-are-executives-that-give-their-kids-every-toy etc., I’d be very, very disappointed in myself if I could not find it in my heart to contribute something to help a family I knew — even if only as an acquaintance — even if it was that wealthy Gates family in kindergarten while my children are in sixth grade.

            If you don’t want to give cash, no one is forcing you to do so. It is your money after all. I’m just expressing what I hope I’d do, if (God forbid please) this situation happened to me and mine.

          • DGS February 21, 2019, 10:26 am

            If you were personally acquainted with Bill Gates and felt warmly towards him, absolutely, you offer to help – it is a kind and gracious thing to do, provided, as I said above, that your own needs are met first, and you are not putting yourself in hardship’s way by doing so.

            We live in an affluent neighborhood, in one of those big fancy houses that everyone is making such a big fuss about because it’s located in a superlative school district. Our elderly neighbors live alone next door (their children are grown and reside elsewhere). He is a retired lawyer, and she is a retired physician. They could easily afford to pay someone to remove the snow off their path and their driveway. However, when my husband goes out to shovel snow off our driveway and path, he also does theirs because that’s the right thing to do – they are elderly, and they could easily fall and hurt themselves, and it’s no skin off his back to do their driveway and path if he is also doing ours. If he is working, and he is not available, he lets them know, and they hire someone. Kindness has nothing to do how much money people have – it has everything to do with wanting to go beyond oneself, it at all possible.

    • Natalia May 14, 2019, 4:16 pm

      At our work we had a drive where we collected toiletries and other essentials for those affected by the California Wildfires and also for those affected by Katrina and Sandy (as well as some of the other hurricanes). There was also a community drive to help a family who lost their house due to a fire.
      People donated all sorts of toiletries, blankets, backpacks, clothes, etc. A lot of businesses even donated stuff. People also gave gift cards to restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores and places like Walmart and Target.

  • AM February 18, 2019, 1:00 pm

    If this is taking place somewhere in the US, I think it’s worth mentioning that many middle-class families overextend themselves on their mortgage payment to get their kids into a good school. Schools are largely funded by local property taxes, which means schools in wealthier neighborhoods get more funding, which often means a better education. This creates a self-perpetuating cycle because the value of a home in a good school district increases, further segregating the rich from the poor. In general, it’s not a good financial decision to buy a house you can barely cover the mortgage payment for; you’re at risk of foreclosure if anything goes wrong (you’re better off “wasting” money on Starbucks every day, since you can at least cut that expense if you or your spouse gets laid off), and you can’t save for a rainy day. But if that’s the only way to get your kids into a good school, a $650k home when your budget says you should stick to a $450k home might look like the best option. Until something goes wrong.

    Bottom line, as many have already said, you don’t know their situation. You don’t have to give money, but you could give them the benefit of the doubt.

  • JAN February 18, 2019, 1:02 pm

    Here’s an interesting fact. Our neighbors house was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. They had savings and insurance but while they had to continue paying the mortgage on a nonexistent house, their insurance did pay their debt for an apartment. However, the rent on that apartment was considered taxable income! So even though they did everything “right,” besides losing their possessions (which is so hard to prove their value and receive replacement costs) they still were out more money.

    As for material donations, you would not believe how some people viewed this as a chance to offload towels and blankets with holes and stains and odors, etc. These neighbors had to spend their time to redirect their donations to places such as animal shelters. The last thing they had time for.

    • AM February 20, 2019, 1:45 pm

      Thanks for this. It’s hard to imagine sometimes the specific ways things can go wrong and why certain needs would arise; this particular scenario didn’t occur to me.

    • Natalia May 14, 2019, 4:21 pm

      If you are going to donate things instead of money, the best things to donate to a family whose house has burned down would be things like toiletries and other essentials. Make every member of the family a little cosmetics case with a toothbrush, travel size toothpaste, soap, travel size shampoo and conditioner, deodorant, a small brush, shower cap, dental floss, razors, etc. Throwing in a power bar or two would be good. You could also donate very gently used clothes and maybe a bag or backpack. Also, diapers, feminine hygiene items wouldn’t hurt as well. Gift cards to WalMart and Target and maybe a restaurant and grocery store would be appreciated.

  • ANON February 18, 2019, 9:31 pm

    Talk about judgy. How in the heck does anyone know about a stranger’s circumstances, regardless of the price of their house? You have no clue what their finances are. I hope none of you, who may need help one day aren’t judged on where you live, the size of your house, what you wear or shop, what kind of car you drive, or what they think must be in your bank account. And if the family was over their head, does that mean they’re unworthy of help? That’s like saying a person with HIV doesn’t deserve treatment because they had to have engaged in high risk behavior, even though it’s not necessarily true and even so, who cares?

    If don’t want to donate, then don’t. But don’t complain they don’t need it unless you know for a FACT it’s a scam.

    • OP February 20, 2019, 4:36 pm

      Thanks so much for all of your replies. I appreciate the different viewpoints, even those of you who find my viewpoint judgmental. I suppose I do tend to be a bit judgy on this….I was raised with the stories of the grasshopper and the ant, and with the general principle that the only time one should willingly accept charity (at least from strangers) would be upon danger of imminent starvation. I do believe relative needs matter too, and I’d rather give my cash to shelters for runaway teens or food banks than this family, who will, regardless of current difficulties, is far more likely to land on their feet in short time. As Sarah B says, I believe that to be judicious use of my charitable dollar.
      It’s very interesting to see how people vary, though, and nice to hear how many generous people are out there. Thanks again.

      • lkb February 21, 2019, 5:14 am

        Thank you for your humble responses to these comments, OP. I understand your point of view and understand it is your money and your resources. Of course, it is up to you decide how to apply “judicious use of your charitable dollar.”

        I do understand and agree with the fable of the grasshopper and the ant. We try and do the same. I guess from my perspective, I’d rather contribute my charitable dollar to help the ant in my colony who has just lost everything, regardless of whether the ant was able to store anything up.

        I’m not saying the following refers to you, OP, but I’m sure we all know people who say they’re good people and practically want a statue dedicated to them because they gave a few bucks to charity. (Yes, sometimes that’s all one can do of course.)

        In short, we should all do what we can, using prudential judgment of our own resources not those of the victim.

        • keloe February 21, 2019, 7:54 am

          This is just an observation, not a criticism of anyone.

          With the grasshopper and the and story I believe it is worth remembering that it deals with a predictable emergency. Everyone knows winter is coming and in the rural conditions of old it meant serious shortage of food. Preparing for it should have been a no-brainer. The ant would not be in any better situation than the grasshopper if the anthill burned down, or got flooded, or if the ant got sick and was uable to work for a year.

          That said, everyone should spend their charity resources as they see fit.

      • DGS February 21, 2019, 10:37 am

        OP, I appreciate you sharing your viewpoint and your honesty. I grew up very poor and by virtue of my education and profession and that of my spouse, have earned my way into a comfortable lifestyle. I am a clinical psychologist, and my patients run the gamut from the very affluent to the very poor. My husband is a physician, and his patients definitely vary very widely from those living on the fringes of society to those who are extremely comfortable. The one thing that I have discovered in my years of clinical practice, is that there are all sorts of people who are well off, and all sorts of people who are poor, and many times, it has nothing to do with the grasshopper vs. ant syndrome and everything to do with luck and fate (e.g. a critical medical problem that entirely wipes out someone’s very comfortable middle-class lifestyle or a series of poor decisions made by every preceding generation that leave a person drowning in poverty). Most people are genuinely doing the best they can every single day. Moreover, the problems in the 6 bedroom McMansion with 5.5 bathrooms are oftentimes the same as in a double-wide trailer, and the person riddled with those problems is not any more or less worthy of help whether they are working at a fast food joint or as a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. My approach to the patient, or my husband’s doesn’t change depending on their financial status. In life and in charity contributions, it is best to not judge unless one is aware of all the particulars. And of course, you have to follow your inner voice for guidance – of course, it’s up to you to decide how to apply “judicious use of your charitable dollar”, and I am certain that the shelters and food banks you support, are grateful for your help. As a frequent food bank volunteer and charitable contributor, I am especially grateful as that helps me put together packages for needy families!

        • OP February 21, 2019, 12:02 pm

          Thank you both. One point I should probably clarify as well, I don’t know this family in any way, shape or form. First time I heard of them and their issue was these emails. (It is also a very large school district.) DGS – I come from a similar background /history as you, and couldn’t agree more that apparent affluence does not rule out problems, and luck (luck in birth, luck in natural gifts, luck in circumstance) play a gigantic role in people’s lives from cradle to grave.

          • lkb February 22, 2019, 4:51 am

            Thank you, OP, for your kind, charitable, thought-provoking comments. This has been a very intriguing discussion: Everyone has a valid point of view and with a bit of polite back-and-forth we were able to get our sometimes seemingly opposing views out.
            Thank you for this discussion.

  • NicoleK February 19, 2019, 11:02 am

    Cash honestly makes more sense, they may need to book a motel, or get clothes or school supplies or food or whatever.

  • DancerDiva February 20, 2019, 11:46 pm

    The difference between asking for contributions vs. begging is need. A family that lost everything in a fire is a true need. A friend just sent an email asking for donations for a cotillion program for her son. That is not a need…it’s a want. And as much as I might adore her kids, they’ll be alright if they don’t get everything they want. I haven’t decided whether I will donate, but if I do, it will be a token amount.

    • DGS February 21, 2019, 10:27 am


    • Natalia May 14, 2019, 4:30 pm

      Yes! I feel the same way.
      My co worker’s kid’s youth orchestra was raising money for a trip to Europe..the orchestra was going to perform at various festivals and venues around Europe, including at a Holocaust memorial. I donated to that. No, the band doesn’t NEED to go to Europe, but they were doing fundraising so every kid in the band would be able to make the trip, not just the kids who were well off. Plus, they’d be staying in university dorms and hostels to save money. The orchestra is a nonprofit and survives by donations, fundraising, and ticket sales to perfomances.

  • Lisastitch February 21, 2019, 12:57 pm

    One other thought on this whole question–a dear friend recently lost her house in the California fires. Her daughters started a GoFundMe for her, which, she told me, she really didn’t need. Between savings and insurance and other kinds of help (being able to stay with family, rather than renting), she was okay. She was surprised by the money she received, and was told that this was the way people could show they cared. It really touched her that people cared enough to donate to her at this time of crisis. It helped remind her that things are gone, but family and friends are still there, and they care.
    Part of the reason for people to donate to this family is to say, “I’m sorry this happened to you”. As others have said, donations of physical items are not not necessarily useful. If you know the family well enough to say, “I have these things. Would you like them?”, that’s fine, it but is hard enough to go out to replace all your toiletries, get enough underwear and clothing to get through the week, work through the paperwork and insurance, figure out what other things are needed now and which can wait, without having to sort through donations to see what they can use, and then figure out what to do with things they don’t want.
    Financially, the family may be fine. Emotionally, they may really appreciate the caring that comes with the donation.

  • BMS2000 March 7, 2019, 12:33 pm

    A family who is in the Cub Scout pack I volunteer for had their house burn down a couple years ago. The family barely escaped with their lives – their smoke detectors didn’t trigger for some reason, and it was only the barking of the family dog that saved them. Some friends of theirs (without their knowledge) set up a gofundme site for them. But what really struck me was some of the small, but kind gestures people in the community made for them. The youngest of the kids tearfully asked one of the firefighters “Can you save my playstation?” The next day the firefighter showed up where they were staying with a donated playstation and a bunch of games. The mother was so grateful – something that 3 little boys who just lost all their toys could enjoy to take their mind off things. Our Cub Scout pack bought them all new uniforms, and since I actually like sewing, I spent a couple of days sewing on all their numbers, badges, and patches. Being able to show up to the Pinewood Derby with their new uniforms made them very happy. The money and the insurance helped them get back on their feet. But the mother just talked about all the little things the community did for them, and those were the most important.

  • Melnick April 3, 2019, 6:51 am

    When my parents house burned down, the neighbours literally started a cash collection as the house was burning. It was incredibly kind and compassionate but it also mortified my parents. My mother put the money back into their hands and thanked them sincerely but told them they had insurance and they could trust that they’d be ok. Within 24 hours, the insurance company had put $10k in their account to deal with immediate needs. I knew they didn’t want cash and I went and bought things for them (like new cookware and clothes etc) to get them through the immediately foreseeable future. Many friends offered their services/time and that was far more helpful and far easier for my parents to accept and not feel as though they were taking advantage anyone. I was shocked though at the cost of those first few days – the sheer cost of replacing just one person’s entire wardrobe – think underwear, casual clothes, business clothes, pjs, warm clothes, a coat, swimwear, the different shoes etc … there are so many more costs that you realise. Your insurance payout also covers safety fencing the property and removing the existing house – that was about $20k of their payout money that they didn’t realise they would have to pay. They were lucky the insurance company were really wonderful to deal with and they had somewhere to live (by themselves) immediately. They knew of others who had to fight for months to get their insurance companies to pay up.

    On a slightly related note, when my daughter was young, one of the boys in her class lost his father unexpectedly. It deeply affected quite a number of us and we were trying to think what we could do to help, despite not really knowing his mother well. We thought of all cooking meals but we didn’t know if they had special dietary requirements (one of the children was often in and out of hospital) and we finally arrived at the conclusion money would be most helpful – so they could grieve and possibly not have to worry about at least one expense. We composed a letter that we attached to an envelope that we sent home with every child in the class. It was made very clear that there was no expectation and no one should feel obliged to contribute or add to any financial strain they were already facing, this was purely optional for those who felt the way we were feeling and were in a position where they could if they wanted to. It was completely anonymous and they could donate any amount should they wish to contribute – they just returned the sealed, unmarked envelope with their donation to the teacher and no record was kept. I then wrote a letter from the class saying we just wanted to do something for them and that they should not feel obliged to use it for any particular reason. No one signed it. We just sealed it in an envelope once we had gathered all the money and asked the teacher to discreetly pass it along so that she would feel no pressure.

    In subsequent years I have come to know that mother very well. She never would have accepted it if we’d made a production of it and would have been mortified if she thought anyone was guilted into contributing – she seldom accepts charity. But through the years she has told me of that event and that it is incredibly precious to her. She has held on to the class note and she used the money to take the boys away for a night when they really needed it. It was a blessing from strangers that let her know she was not alone in this world and that people cared that this had happened to her family.

  • Margo Agatha April 12, 2019, 2:02 pm

    I couldn’t help thinking of wedding registries. It’s a pity there aren’t “emergency registries”. So someone whose house has burned down can list what they need. That way people who want to donate and at the same time know where the money is being spent e.g. toothpaste, soap and clothes know where there money is going. It also means also means you don’t end up with 10 tubes of toothpaste or 50 pairs of socks. There could be an option to submit a donation for larger more expensive items or hotel vouchers for immediate shelter.

    There will be a paper trail for the insurance company too. So if someone is insured £300 on initial hotel expenses for the first night maybe the insurance company could reimburse the charity? This could help stop abuses happening. E.g. of someone uses the charity and then tries to double claim expenses.

    Please note this idea is purely off the hoof. Might not even be a very good one or well thought out in detail.

    I’d make the point that people in expensive houses may not be rich. People who live in cheaper housing may not be poor. You can get people who are assert rich and cash poor and vice versa.

  • LonelyHound May 20, 2019, 2:59 pm

    I did not read all the comments so forgive me if this suggestion was made…If you feel hesitant about giving a large sum of money to the fundraiser what about donating a small amount and asking where you can send a gift card. This way the family would still benefit from the relief cash would bring and you can provide a larger sum for items later (many grocery stores have gift cards to them now, like Kroger). I have done this in the past.