Good Works (Part 2): In the Can

Man, it's been an exhausting day. Just wanted to unwind a little bit before doing tomorrow's reading...coffee ain't helping me stay awake. Watch that by 4am, I'd be too jittery to get any sleep.

Anyway, back on track with the charitable giving series. It's November, so you know what that means--food banks are especially in need of canned goods for the holiday seasons. They need food all year round, but the holiday period is significant for obvious reasons. It's sad that most people don't do anything to help out until now, but if nothing else, give families that are less fortunate a chance to have some holiday cheer. Some people may be apathetic about giving, thinking that food banks only help some drug-addict bum who just won't get a job, or some welfare mom looking to freeload. It may surprise you that a large number of families, including people you might know, don't have enough to eat. Sometimes even grad students need welfare or foodstamps. People who work hard at their jobs can barely make enough to feed their families. I'm not exaggerating--I've seen a lot of things through some volunteering gigs and I also personally know people in this situation.

Traditionally, supermarkets are the biggest donors because they often have overstocked goods. However, because of modern technology, stores are much more efficient with their inventory and hence there's less overstocked items, which in turn lowers the amount of donations going to food banks. Hence, it is more important than ever for individual citizens to do their part. Being a (educational) debt-ridden student, I can't afford to give much cash, but canned goods donation is a small way through which I can help out. It's virtually painless--everyone is bound to have something in their pantry that's been there for a while. It's probably going to continue to sit there, so why not get rid of it? Sometimes donating cans will get you a little something in return. Some business will offer a token gift (like a coupon) to customers that donate cans.

If you're in a leadership position, you can rally people to action. If you're able to give a small perk, you can really generate a tremendous response. In the same class where we generated huge donations for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, the professor got a load of canned goods donated. He made us a deal: if each person (in a class of 125) brings in 2 cans, he won't call on anyone in class for a day. Since it was a fairly difficult class, no one wanted to get called on. He allowed people to bring extra to cover for those who forgot. He instituted one rule: no cheap stuff. He was going to inspect each can and make fun of people who brought in some strange crap.

Peer pressure certainly worked; who wants to be the one that blew it for the entire class? Some people brought in lots of cans to cover for the absentminded; I remember seeing several pyramids throughout the classroom. Sadly, some people did bring in crap, but their public humiliation by the professor (who read the labels out loud to the entire class) was quite entertaining; I'm laughing about it as we speak.

The point is, it doesn't take a lot to make a difference, so just make that small effort. If you think "well, I'm just one person, so they're not missing out on much," imagine what happens when everyone thinks the same way. 2 cans a person can lead to hudreds of cans if enough people get involved, and that makes a huge difference. It's the cheapest way to solve a social problem and feel good about yourself at the same time...even better than retail therapy.

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