‘Twas the Season – A Review of Holiday Charities

By: Thomas Rose, Staff Writer


Ah, the holiday break – a time to forget the stress of assignments and readings and bask in the glow of togetherness and giving. Whether or not you were one of the many students celebrating various winter holidays while we were away, there’s no missing the many different organizations which were camped out around towns all across the nation, asking you to reach deep into your heart (and your pockets) and give generously. I’m sure many of you dropped a handful of change into a hanging basket, or pulled some dusty cans from a high shelf and patted yourselves on the back for a job well done. Christmas is saved. Roll credits. Not so fast, though – the next semester’s upon us, and I’m here to crush any good feelings you might have lingering around.

Just kidding! Giving to charities is actually pretty great, and you deserve to pat yourself on the back. However, not all charities are created equal. There are 86, 222 charities in Canada registered with the CRA. Perhaps similarly impressive is the 38, 070 charities listed as having their status revoked for various reasons. How can we be sure we’re giving effectively without having to pore through the results? Well, by using the search bar, probably. But with syllabi read and last week already becoming a distant memory, no one wants to do more research. That brings us to why I’m really here: to provide you a quick and dirty breakdown of some of the more popular charity options to help you do good and (let’s face it) feel good next time you’re possessed with the giving spirit.

The Salvation Army was out in full force this December; you could hardly enter a mall or department store without seeing that cheerful red kettle stuffed with Christmas cheer for those in need. The religious organisation came under fire a few years back for anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment in many of their policies and procedures worldwide, seemingly reaffirmed by particularly vocal members. The Salvation Army Canada’s website’s “Non-Discrimination” page reads that “Anyone who comes to The Salvation Army will receive assistance…regardless of race, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, or religion”. Critics such as Andrea Houston, writing for the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, remained skeptical as recently as 2014, saying that “the reality is, this is a massive, international organization that unambiguously condemns homosexuality”. Further, Houston argues, any donation to The Salvation Army is in support of “an extensive record of homophobia and transphobia and a symbolic approval of escalating Anti-LGBT violence in the developing world”. Add to that their frequent practice of throwing out donations they deem morally unsuitable rather than donating them to other charities, and those kettles seem a little less cheerful.

MADD, or Mothers Against Drunk Driving, seems like a pretty solid cause. Who can argue against preventing drunk driving? The guy writing this article, that’s who. I’m not unsympathetic to the cause – my own family was tragically affected by drunk driving two summers ago, and obviously I believe the less preventable fatalities we have each year, the better. But were you aware that a 2006 report in the Toronto Star found that contrary to MADD Canada’s claims that 83% of funds raised were spent on programs to reduce drunk driving, only 19% of those funds were actually used in that way? The CRA reports that in 2015, MADD directed 89% of their funds towards “charitable programs”, so it might appear that things are back on track. We must, however, remember that back in 2006 CEO Andrew Murie disclosed that the 83% figure was reached by categorizing payments for fundraising as charitable programs due to perceived educational benefit, a practice which the CRA insists is unacceptable, and Murie and MADD defend. The fact that the CRA hasn’t yet taken any punitive measures against MADD might give us hope that things have turned around in the last 11 years, and given that Canada is still abominably high on the list of developed countries with a high death rate due to drunk driving, you can’t be faulted for holding out that hope. Where many critics take issue with MADD is their seemingly neo-prohibitionist agenda. Overall, there appear to be convincing arguments on both the pro and con side when it comes to shelling out for MADD.

Canned Food Drives are another holiday favourite – a type of charity even students can take part in. Everyone deserves to eat, right? So why not offer up that Alphagetti your parents dropped off last time they came through town? As it turns out, if you don’t want to eat it, there’s a chance no one else will either. Given the logistical nightmare of organizing pounds and pounds of food that will eventually have to be thrown out, Tristin Hopper of The National Post suggests something that Food Bank organizers have been quietly insisting for years – if you want to feed people, money gets the job done a lot more efficiently. Noting the buying power of Food Banks over the average consumer, Hopper cites the staff of the Calgary Food Bank’s “promise that they can stretch $1 into $5”. The Food Bank saves money on disposing of rancid water chestnuts, families in need get to furnish their pantries, and you get to rest easy in the knowledge that you’ve helped your fellow human beings.

No one in their right mind would argue against giving, even someone as ornery as me. Hopefully, you’ll finish this article a little more informed and well-armed when it comes to choosing where your hard-earned dollars go. Websites such as charitynavigator.org or the CRA’s charity register are good places to review different organizations and make an informed decision. Many of the groups we’re familiar with over the holidays will accept donations year round, so be sure to contact your local branches if you feel like contributing throughout the year. If you really want to make an impact, keep in mind that direct giving organizations are an effective way to make sure your money is being used to its best extent. If you, like so many of us, can’t afford to part with your shekels, also consider that your time is the most valuable asset of all, and these same programs are usually looking for volunteers. Ultimately, the fact that you’re willing to help out others at all is something to be proud of. Not that you know how to help efficiently, Christmas really is saved. Roll credits.

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