I’m the first to admit that I live a privileged life. It’s not that my complaints aren’t valid (postpartum is no joke), but I am incredibly lucky that I don’t spend every single day wondering how I’m going to make ends meet. That said, when you live that lucky life, as so many of my readers do, it can be hard to put yourself in the shoes of someone that doesn’t.
That’s where the United Way’s Make the Month challenge is such a valuable, eye-opening experience.
Make the Month is a ‘game’, if you will, where you put yourself in the shoes of a single person, a single-parent family, or a two-parent family that is part of the working-poor. One in ten Calgarians, after all, lives in poverty. The goal is to make it to pay day without your bank balance dropping below zero. Each day you get a new challenge, make a decision and have to deal with the consequence and the impact of that decision. It’s harder than you think, and this game doesn’t really have a winner.
For example, I chose the two-parent family. I had $200 left to make my month, was 8 days from pay day, and had to decide whether or not my kid could participate in basketball. From a financial point, the obvious choice was to tell them no, but the impact of that decision is that your child feels so isolated from their peer group, because all of their friends are playing. As a parent, it was heartbreaking.
I challenged myself to Make the Month about eight times. I only made the month once, and I had fourteen dollars left in my balance. I don’t like those odds. I was sitting behind a computer screen, but I could appreciate, on a tiny scale, the stress that someone in poverty goes through. I am so incredibly lucky that I’m not in that situation.
I know a lot of people who say that charity starts at home. There’s no judgement here. If you can’t take care of your own family, you can’t take care of others.
But… if you can take care of your family and giving back financially isn’t something that you regularly consider, I challenge you to Make the Month. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and see if it changes your point of view.
Whether it’s ten dollars, a hundred or a thousand, it makes a huge difference to that person living so close to the edge. Your donations to the United Way, or other organizations, help individuals and families to survive.
I used to have an aversion to the Drop in Centre in Calgary. I’d donate money, but I feared stepping in the door. Eventually I went to volunteer on the fourth floor, where men have a consistent bunk and a small locker, hostel-style. It really changed my perspective. These men had jobs. They were/are the working poor. If you saw them outside of the DI, you wouldn’t think they were anything out of the ordinary. And do you know why one of the men was living in the Drop In? Because he chose to put his daughters through school rather than to have a roof over his own head.
We don’t know the stories or the reasons for why people are in the situations they are in. It’s easy to judge, but it takes a little more time and effort to understand and show compassion.
This holiday season, if you’re able to give back, even a little, I really encourage you to join me in doing so. Find an organization that speaks to your heart. And if you don’t know where to start, an organization like the United Way is a great way to give back to those most in need.