It was the week after the election. It was late morning, and I was seated in an auditorium at work, waiting for a lecture on polio to begin. I was drinking coffee and feeling antsy, which has since become my new normal, and guilty.
I was feeling the weight of all the causes that would need to be supported over the next four years: civil rights, immigration, women’s rights, protecting religious freedoms, the environment, healthcare, the sciences, etc. I may have voted blue, but that is where my responsibility as a citizen begins rather than ends. I felt like I had to donate to all the causes and volunteer for all the organizations. The problem, of course, is I have a family, a full-time job, and due to a financially weird 2016, a bit more debt than is wise.
The speaker, a man who had written a Pulitzer winning history of polio, took the stage, and he was exactly the encouragement I needed that day. While I learned new things about the development of the polio vaccine and about early public health campaigns centered on the vaccine, what interested me most was the history of the March of Dimes.
These days, the March of Dimes focuses on birth defects, but in the beginning it was devoted to the eradication of polio. The March of Dimes did not want to be an organization that depended on extravagant donations from the powerful few, but a movement of the people. They chose a dime as their suggested donation because everyone, no matter how poor, could spare a dime for a good cause. And it worked. During that time, the March of Dimes gained more donations than any other health-related organization, with the sole exception of the Red Cross.
Hearing the March of Dimes history made me remember another story. A church I used to attend had partnered with a local food bank. One of the deacons spoke in front of the church, asking for our participation. He didn’t encourage us to all go home and clear out our pantries. Instead he asked that, each week, each family or individual bring one can or other non-perishable food item with them to church. Just one, which wasn’t a financial drain on anyone. However, when you have a church with 600 or 700 people, it makes for a very full food bin every single week, and it’s sustainable over the long term.
I have become a believer in the power of small donations. I am one person who wants to make a difference. All around the country there are millions of other people who also want to make a difference. We don’t need great wealth, but we do need all of us.
My four-year goal, or at least the financial part of it, will be to make a small donation to a different organization every month. I used the Jezebel list as my starting point and made my own list. I am trying to make the organizations as varied as possible, to benefit as many groups of people as possible.
This is my list, as far as I have planned it out:
January: Sierra Club (environmentalism, to be donated 1/20/17)
February: Community Foundation of Greater Flint (the Flint water crisis is an issue that is close to home for me)
March: Council on American-Islamic Relations
April: Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund
May: National Immigration Forum
June: Southern Poverty Law Center (fights against hate groups)
July: Human Rights Campaign (LGBTQ rights)
August: Native American Rights Fund
September: Anti-Defamation League (fights anti-semitism)
October: PEN America (protects free speech)
November: Campaign Zero (policy to address police violence)
December: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Tentatively, I am planning to move away from the national organizations you see listed here for 2018 and give mainly to local organizations.
I am still developing my four-year plan, beyond the financial aspect, and I imagine it will be a work in progress the entire time. Right now, I am committed to a small monthly donation, participation in local political groups, and some volunteer work. I am trying to do what I can and let go of what I cannot.
Like with donations, I am remembering that I am part of a whole, like a vivid dot in an impressionist painting. It’s when you step back and see the whole picture that you can appreciate the beauty.