Remembering ‘Charity Begins at Home’

Jan 10, 2014 | 7 comments


Kansas Billboard

When I was growing up, I often heard the adults of the family say, “Charity Begins at Home.”  I don’t think I understood the full implication of that statement until I was well into adulthood myself – maybe not until I retired and fell into the category of ‘living on a fixed income.’  Now, it seems, the words fly to mind constantly and, when they do, there is a bit of defensiveness attached to them.

I can’t think when begging became institutionalized to the point that we are given opportunities to ‘just say no’ at every turn.  The reader boards in front of banks and grocery stores ask us to attend fund-raising dinners.  Restaurants encourage us to eat in their establishments on certain nights to benefit sports teams or youth groups.  At supermarkets we are asked if we’d like to put our change in a can for this charity or that…


Sign of the Times?

Traveling, too, gives us opportunities to repeat the Charity-Begins-at-Home mantra.  Freeway exits and entrances are clotted with sign-bearers who profess being out of work and needing money to feed their families.  Ditto, Rest Stops along the highway.  And, of course, every downtown sidewalk in every city I’ve visited in recent years has become a maze of the presumably needy.

And on it goes.  I hesitate to answer my telephone nowadays for fear it will be a voice identifying itself as a sheriff or a fireman requesting donations to a retirement fund or a safety program.  Or it might be my ‘grandson’ (I don’t have one) asking me to wire emergency funds.  To say nothing of the robo-calls asking me to stay on line to set the date for delivery of the security system I [didn’t] order.


The Wallmart Sign That Went Viral

I no longer try to differentiate between scams, hard sells or just plain begging.  It all translates to the same thing:  people after my hard-earned money.  And somehow all that asking comes with a load of the apple-pie-and-mother sort of guilt.  Well, I’m not buying it. I resent all the hard-sell junk mail I get and I hate it that FaceBook now is literally in my face with advertisements.  I feel like I have to be constantly on guard,

A few days ago Caroline Miller, wrote in her blog, “Write Away”:  Solicitations for bequests, even for a charitable purpose, are crass and frankly, not always as charitable as they seem. I stopped giving to one organization dedicated to third world children when I saw the salaries of the executives.

I suddenly flashed back to the 1960s when United Way was the ‘blanket charity’ and we were pressured big time at work to give a monthly amount which would be taken directly from our salaries.  I resented that, but I was a beginning teacher and when I made noises about it, I was put in charge of having my colleagues sign up for said charitable donation.  Somehow, this extracurricular duty came with overtones about job security.

A few years later the exorbitant salaries of United Way’s top executives made the headlines…  And that was the beginning of my uncharitable attitudes.


  1. Nancy

    No complaints from me (us) about your words today. We do have a list of charities to which we contribute on a regular basis. Close to home charities such as the Food Bank, county Humane Society, etc. plus a few others. Not lots of money to anyone because we too are living on a fixed income. I noticed this week that at least 3 of the charities to which/whom? we sent a check at the end of the year are asking for additional donations. AARP recently carried a story about scams that we elders need to be aware of. Thank you for the honest and realistic words. A risk, perhaps, but our generation was silent in our youth and are now, trying to make up for that!

  2. Stephanie Frieze

    The number of those in need can be overwhelming and we have had to cut back on our giving. I believe some organizations, particularly the Republican Party, targets the elderly. I have finally trained my mother to do as we do and not answer any toll-free or unidentified calls. Caller ID is worth the expense. Should we accidentally answer such a call, we request to be taken off their list.

  3. Suzanne

    My family donates money to World Vision. We have corresponded with a boy in Ethiopia for almost 10 years, and have watched him grow to become a handsome young man. Americans sometime forget that although charity begins at home, the poorest among us would have many more possessions than the average person in 3rd world nations. Mindful giving doesn’t need to be monetary. Thinking of others helps the giver as much as the receiver. I believe that God puts it on our hearts to support certain causes. If some people like local causes, that is good. But wouldn’t we all hate to be known as a rich country full of people that barely care at all for the rest of the world? I think that if there is room in a person’s heart (and their pocketbook) for missions in other countries, it is great.

    • sydney

      I’d like it even better if we were known here and abroad as a country who takes care of their own. We aren’t doing a very good job of that, unfortunately.

  4. Carolline Miller

    Re World Vision: I know nothing about that organization, but I “sponsored” a child from Guatemala with a similar organization for 10 years. I got suspicious when the child’s drawings and hand written notes never matured. I began to suspect what I got weren’t really personal responses from the child even though I received photo’s her every year. The comments each year were generic and repetitious from year to year.. Nothing personal. I was discouraged from making personal contact and there might be good reason for that, I suppose. But I got curious and took the time to look up the executive salaries of this charity. For one thing, administrative overhead was 18%, extremely high. I dropped the charity. The experience opened my eyes. Sometimes doing good can lead to something bad, like the exploitation of children. Wanting to do good isn’t enough. I learned that when giving to a charity, I had to do my homework and be intelligent about giving. A warm fuzzy mission statement isn’t enough..

  5. Crystal

    There’s several places that verify the authenticity of charitable organizations, and some, such as Network for Good, that actually report the financials of each organization they endorse… including the salaries of the executives vs. the income of the organization. Just because there are a couple bad apples, doesn’t mean the entire barrel is rotten.

    • sydney

      I couldn’t agree more, Crystal. My biggest frustration, however, is with the increasing credence our society gives to the very act of asking (and in many cases, begging.) I think if more of us paid attention to the adage “Charity Begins at Home” and paid attention to our own family needs, followed by those of our neighbors, etc. asking/begging/expecting others for help would not have become such a social issue. I think it has to do with taking responsibility. Somewhere we’ve gotten off the track or we wouldn’t be needing so many charitable organizations.


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