How do YOU understand philanthropy?

Maybe you don’t even know how to say the word. Maybe you’ve never seen the word before. If you have heard it, maybe you believe it is what only a wealthy person can do because they have all the time and money in the world. Time and money—you know, those things most of us middle-class Americans don’t have an abundance of as we juggle work and home life. Work-life balance—what is that? Who has time for that? Well, a trust-fund baby, a wife of a high-powered executive, or a celebrity sure does. Actually, they have a work-life balance because they don’t have to work!

Well, what if I were to tell you that I believe **you** can be a philanthropist, too—without the gobs of time and money. You might not be able to jet-set around the world going to Africa and digging a well (or appearing before photographers doing so for 15 minutes). You might not be able to give extravagant amounts of money…you might not even be able to give a dime.

But, if you put any time, passion, or commitment to a charity, I believe you can call yourself a philanthropist.

Redefine it with me. Declare it with me. Don’t be shy. Be proud.

I am a philanthropist! Here is my evidence: today, I collected canned goods my neighbors left out on their front porches for me to pick-up to bring to our local food pantry. I found myself driving cautiously and nervously during the beginning of a big snow storm. I wanted to get in and get out so I could put some chicken soup on the stovetop before the snow started accumulating and we could hunker down as a family together, all warm and cozy in our home. I committed to volunteering this wintry morning, and I wasn’t going to let anyone down despite my hesitation regarding the forecast. I pulled into the parking lot behind five other cars. We were a line of food drive coordinators unloading our trunks with our bags of donated cans.

As I waited my turn to pull up to the door, I curiously looked at the volunteers in the car. Who are they? What is their life like? I couldn’t tell exactly, but I judged them to be like me; middle to upper-middle class (caring) individuals. Individuals who wanted to help less-fortunate families who fell on hard times. Individuals who felt responsible for helping their neighbors. Individuals who had only to commit six Saturdays a year to make a small difference for a lot of people.

Then, I scanned the volunteers packing up the bags into boxes and loading them into the building. Of course, I couldn’t tell exactly who they were, either, but I got the sense from their appearance that they were probably going to be recipients of the canned goods later in the day or week. I felt an immediate surprise, relief, and excitement all at the same time! It was exciting to see their commitment to the food pantry, too! Sure, they probably personally benefited, but that doesn’t make their commitment any less. It also made me feel relieved to know that people from all walks of life were coming together as a community to help each other; the tall older blonde woman, the young skinny bearded guy, the middle-aged Hispanic woman, the bald white guy, and me—the young mom with her 18-month old screaming in his car seat.

There we were: a snowy New England winter morning donating not just our time to drive to the pantry, but also our time and money to pick-up our own canned goods to donate, and the time and money of those who we picked up the canned goods from.

Today, 200 people joined together to donate 2,700 pounds of canned goods to a food pantry. I like to think we’re all philanthropists. Don’t you?

Here are more ways to understand philanthropy:


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