Bob believes ‘charity begins at home’

Bob believes 'charity begins at home' By Bob Karolevitz Benjamin Franklin once wrote: "He gives twice who gives soon because he will soon be called upon to give again."

If that were true in his day, old Ben really hit the nail on the thumb when it comes to the computer mailing lists of today.

This is the time of the year when the mailbox is full of appeals for contributions. They come with gaudy or amateurish literature, with bulk-mail postage occasionally addressed to Occupant, sometimes with token gifts of calendars and prayer promises, and often containing tear-jerking letters with the name of the recipient computer-inserted throughout the message.

Right now I've got a drawer full of address labels with obsolete or misspelled information, including my name. They all arrive unordered but with an accompanying pitch to help this, that or the other cause.

Oh, there are lots of legitimate organizations with their hands out, but a lot of questionable ones, too. I wouldn't be surprised to get a mailing from the Society for the Protection of the Topeka Shiner, now that it's on the endangered species list.

We get personal-looking letters from well known celebrities asking us to donate to their favorite charity. I suppose our five or ten bucks would make a difference, but they could just give a chunk from their million-dollar incomes and save all that postage.

Especially vulnerable are the older folks (and, good grief, I guess I qualify as one of them now that I'm in the latter half of my seventies). We were brought up in the Great Depression era when alms-giving � often just a few pennies � was considered a worthwhile gift. Now we have sort of a guilty conscience if we don't respond to each plea that comes in the mail.

We can give to thwart diseases we've never heard of, political parties to which we don't belong, animal rights activists and religious groups which somehow got our address. And speaking of that, we can usually tell from the mailing label which magazine or credit card company sold our name and Mission Hill number to the various fund-raisers.

Then there's the income tax angle!

If we hurry, we can make our contributions in time to be included in our 1998 return. It adds a practical dimension to our giving. No doubt these year-end supplications spur latent donors to action, but somehow the thought of tax benefits seems to detract from the charitable glow one is supposed to get.

I don't think I'm a Scrooge or skinflint, but there are times when I find myself reacting to the mail entreaties like I do to telephone solicitors who always call at mealtime. Even if the form letters wish a happy holiday and a bountiful New Year, I tend to be put off by the impersonal treatment. When they call me Robert instead of Bob, I know they don't know me.

So Phyllis and I have developed sort of an informal system for our somewhat modest giving. First of all, we believe in the old adage that 'charity begins at home,' so we select our recipients pretty much in concentric circles.

For instance, if the appeals come from Florida, New York or some other far-away place, the envelopes generally go in the wastebasket. Those that get a reply usually come from South Dakota, or we have some kind of personal relationship with the donee.

It would be nice to give everybody and everything, but Phyllis hasn't yet won the lottery, and her sheep money doesn't stretch that far. I'm also not a mega-bucks shortstop or an NFL quarterback with no financial worries.

Needless to say, the solicitations will keep coming, and we'll continue to make the decisions on what to give and to whom. In the meantime, I've told Phyllis to invest another buck in the lottery because I think I'm too old and too slow for a professional athletic career.

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