Jewish World Review Feb. 28, 2002/ 16 Adar, 5762

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Consumer Reports

The dangers of organized philanthropy -- AN urban legend in philanthropy goes like this: A man, moved by the plight of the hungry, made sandwiches each day, loaded them into a basket, and walked the streets giving to the hungry. His kindness prompted passers-by to give money for the cause. Awash in cash, he made more sandwiches in his cramped and humble kitchen.

His sandwich philanthropy caught the attention of church elders who offered their building and long tables for production efficiencies. Church members, moved by sandwich charity, gave more money to the man. He arose earlier and spent his mornings making sandwiches.

Soon the television cameras arrived to film this remarkable effort. Executive directors of organized charities, as opposed to this chaotic, novice format of one-on-one contact, stepped in with advice on distribution, fundraising, board structure, annual reports and 501(3)(c) status. They told him to take Master Card, Visa, and American Express so as to up donations. Multiculturists clicked about homeless with allergies and nixing the peanut butter. Vegetarians demanded a tofu pita for the lacto-ovo homeless.

As the din of the advice and structure filled the air above the simple Wonder Bread effort, the man who had started it all with a jar of peanut butter, a loaf of bread and Thou, threw down his knife, grabbed his basket and walked away from the bureaucrats of noblesse oblige muttering, "Make your own damn sandwiches."

Bless George W. Bush for all that he has done to lead the country. But, the lad's program, "Communities of Character," is daft. September 11 togetherness has succumbed, as it inevitably must, to sixties peace and love and Euro trash intellectualism. Mr. Bush's prescription for feel-goodism with conscription via guilt and federal bureaucratic involvement are death knells for the true spirit of charity.

Organized charities enjoy a cloak of purity, but they are no different from capitalists. It's all self-interest. Anonymous giving is a rush for donors. Public service brings accolades. Identified donors command an entourage of obsequious executive directors seeking funds. Presidential candidates don't show up with hammers at a Habitat for Humanity for carpentry skills. It's the photo op, stupid!

Self-interest was obvious with the disastrous, as it were, decision of the Red Cross to use some funds donated for September 11 victims and their families for office equipment. Even folks who work in nonprofits want new computers.

President Clinton's AmeriCorps saw young people selflessly earn about $14,000 per year in tuition and living stipends for 20 hours of volunteerism per week. And they got to be politically correct to boot. They did "turn in your guns" programs in the inner cities and lectured on "anti-gay bias."

President Bush wants more of these silly federal programs that pay volunteers. He has proposed using $560 million in federal funds to create Citizens Corp., a slap-happy group of citizens pleased as punch to be noble, socially progressives volunteers paid for community service. President Bush may have cleaning up condoms in parks in mind, but these programs are likely to end up distributors of them instead.

Mr. Bush ignores the reality that many who devote time to charity and service should be spending time at home. Feeding and clothing the homeless are secondary to home responsibilities. Drawn by the accolades or driven by presidentially-imposed guilt, too many will fail individually even as they feel good in Citizens Corps.

The finest community service begins at home. Being a good neighbor doesn't require federal funding or new computers. The parents of the neighborhood druggies will be out scrubbing graffiti from walls whilst singing "Valderi! Valdera! My knapsack on my back" as a replacement for the difficult and thankless task of being a parent. The fruits of our loins are ingrates when it comes to rules and curfew. Mr. Bush's funding and demands for services embedded in patriotism elevate community service above the drudgery of family, individual responsibility and personal accountability.

Neither money nor program is required for a parent to spend 10 minutes a day helping a child to read, but Mr. Bush wants $50 million for a reading volunteer program. He wants another $40 million for senior corps so that the retired can help in their communities. How did grandparents in years past become so involved in their grandchildren's lives without funding, a national agency, or executive director?

Federally funded superficial volunteerism in the name of terrorism rings hollow. Altruism is not always glamorous or organized. It is most glorious when anonymous and often occurs within the walls of our home and in our cul-de-sacs. Begin at home and ease into next door in quiet ways, free from bureaucratic mandates and selflessly with no expectation of funding or praise. After all is said, done and funded, someone has to make the da-n sandwiches.

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


02/25/02: Don't take the gold
02/14/02: Ease up on the brothers and sisters
02/11/02: Because I was courted
02/05/02: Fat fault
01/24/02: Tolerance does not mean stupidity
01/17/02: Too old too soon
01/10/02: Ethically challenged firms
01/03/02: The year that was
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12/20/01: Free Speech and the political spectrum
12/13/01: Curbing brats
12/06/01: Power to influence
11/29/01: The disappearing art of grading
11/21/01: The Big Two-Five
11/13/01: You can never find a lib when you need one
11/01/01: Unlucky in sports
10/26/01: An epidemic of counselitis
10/16/01: A touch of class
10/12/01: Of human nature and monsters
10/05/01: Sensitive man
10/01/01: Post-September 11 security
09/20/01: No tinhorn terrorists can frighten us
09/06/01: If there is no honor in youth sports, it is because of the adults
08/27/01: The draw of Condit
08/23/01: Lowering expectations and flying high
08/17/01: Thoreau, Walden and stems cells
08/13/01: Our masters: The animals
07/30/01: When principle hits too close to home
07/13/01: Rage born of sublimation
07/06/01: Patient's rights and the Valley of Death
06/29/01: There is no excuse
06/21/01: I want an eternal soulmate, but the marriage thing is another issue
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06/07/01: No stroke of genius
05/30/01: The lesson of the Mr. Green Jeans senator: 'Moderate' is a classy term for wishy-washy
05/25/01: Baseball has not been so good to me
05/18/01: Clothes make the woman
05/11/01: Selective precaution
05/04/01: Grades: Equality of students, by students, for the students
04/27/01: The Horowitz revelations as seen by a college professor
04/20/01: First, let's kill all the tests
04/13/01: The continuing mistake of underpricing electricity
04/06/01: That pill, Julia Roberts
03/29/01: If it weren't for the parents, we might accomplish something
03/23/01: The melt down of the academy
03/15/01: Columbine redux: Moral infants
03/09/01: The lessons of Tom and Nicole
03/01/01: Pardon the temporary outrage
02/23/01: In defense of homework
02/20/01: A Message for faith-based organizations: Don't take the money, just run
02/06/01: Enough already with the Clintoons
01/26/01: The challenge to be better than we have been
01/19/01: Where have you gone Frieda Pushnik?
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12/23/00: Litigation: It's the American way
12/15/00: In defense of rhetoric
12/06/00: The company we keep: Lawyers and elections
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11/13/00: When it's broke, fixing it wouldn't offend the Framers
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09/09/00: Why rich folk don't bother me none
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08/18/00: Resenting the accusations of racial prejudice
08/04/00: Women: Their own worst enemy
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05/12/00: Taking your lumps
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04/25/00: Life's circle and tenderness
04/18/00: Womyn who want it both ways
04/11/00: The monsters we're raising with the ergo proposition
04/05/00: Endowing the Hooters Chair for Literature Appreciation
03/28/00: Dr. Laura: The passive/aggressive kid's mom
03/21/00: Dough and campaigns
03/14/00: The volunteerism of conscription and pomp
03/07/00: Hope and pray that religion remains a force in politics
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02/22/00: Cranky nitpickers make writing a [sic] experience
02/15/00: Those chameleon 60s activists
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01/25/00: Stroke of the pen, law of the land: Clinton's Camelot
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09/09/99: Selective censorship
09/01/99: The village, the children, judicial imperialism and abortion
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08/17/99: In defense of Boy Scouts and judgment
08/10/99: Ruining the finest health care system in the world
08/03/99: Nihilism and politics: ethics on the lam
07/26/99: Of women, soccer and removed jerseys
07/23/99: Not in despair, a mere mortal doing just fine
07/20/99: "Why me?" How about "Why us?"
07/13/99: Bunk, junk & juries
07/06/99: An Amish woman in a Victoria's Secret store
06/30/99: That intellectually embarrassing Second Amendment
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06/22/99: Dems and the Creator coup
06/17/99: True courage is more than just admitting troubles

© 2002, Marianne M. Jennings