The older of you will probably remember a time when it was a treat to receive an orange in our Christmas stocking – although our many of younger readers will probably find this almost unbelievable, used as they are to receiving all kinds of expensive electronic and other luxury gift items these days! But for many families, even in the supposedly affluent West, the holiday period is still a time when they struggle to put a decent meal on the table. And the USA arm of one organisation, with which I am proud to be associated here in the UK – the Salvation Army – has long waiting lists of households hoping for Christmas dinner baskets… as well as toys for their kids.
So I was – at the same time – amused and delighted to see that an orange-growing ranch in the Sierra Nevada Foothills has just donated over one-and-a-half tons of Satsuma Mandarin oranges for inclusion in the local Salvation Army’s charity baskets this year. Tri-L Mandarin Ranch, Oroville – planted 17 years ago by Lou and Lola Lodigiani – picks a different church each year, to distribute its generous donation, and this year it was the Sally Anne’s turn. With the co-operation of customers (who were encouraged to donate, by a promised match-funding offer from the company) the ranch was able to offer 3,200 pounds of the fruit to Majors Wayne and Patricia Wetter this week, when they arrived with volunteer Carole Walte to collect the bumper crop. The five storage bins of fruit were subsequently transported to their premises by another local volunteer, Al Stiefel.
So even if the oranges don’t actually end up in Christmas stockings, many grateful basket recipients over the holiday season will be able to enjoy fresh fruit, along with the many other goodies that the charity has prepared for them. Major Wetter says that any oranges left over after the baskets have been distributed will be made available to the needy through their food pantry, which also helps those who are running out of food supplies.
Photo credit: Matt Hamilton, The Daily Citizen
For two years running the Salvation Army in the USA has received very unusual, anonymous Christmas donations… valuable diamond rings.
At this time of year the Salvation Army’s famous Red Kettles appear around the country, inviting generous citizens to contribute finances to its Christmas appeal, while volunteers play or sing carols, or ring bells. The Christmas Kettle street campaign was started in 1891, by Captain Joseph McFee, who wanted to provide free Christmas dinners to the poor of San Francisco. Normally, people drop cash or cheques into the trademark red pots.
But last year, in Dalton, Georgia (USA), one anonymous well-wisher left a surprise donation – a diamond ring. Described as “a round, brilliant-cut diamond just a shade over one carat, set in a 14-carat white gold, four-prong Tiffany mounting” it was put on display in July this year at Maryville Jewelers, Dalton, where there were a number of bidders. It eventually sold at auction for $3,100. The Salvation Army said that this would be a great help in its campaign to help local needy residents: last year the organisation’s food-bank there helped 4,025 families.
Now, history has repeated itself. During this last week another white gold diamond ring was deposited anonymously in one of the Salvation Army’s two dozen kettles in the Tri-Cities area (Washington), along with a short message wishing “Merry Christmas!” and saying that the charity would no doubt be able to make good use of the item of jewellery. As yet, it hasn’t been valued, but Major Julio Vasquez says that the generous donation will be used to help local families.
An interesting controversy has been hitting the charity scene recently. Congregations are encouraged (and have been encouraged since the dawn of Christianity) to tithe – i.e. give a tenth of their income – to their churches, but a number of high-profile figures have started asking whether this constitutes charitable giving. Some people have even questioned whether a church should be considered a charity at all, if it doesn’t carry out identifiably charitable work such as assisting the poor.
Underlying this debate is an even deeper philosophical question about what motivates anyone’s giving to help others. Can donations be considered charitable if we expect something in return (even if very indirectly – such as increased social standing or just plain ‘feeling good about ourselves’)? Of course, if this kind of thinking is taken to its logical conclusion it tends to call into question the whole concept of unselfishness. What has raised this particular line of reasoning is the so-called ‘prosperity gospel’ or ‘seed faith’, which teaches that tithing can bring its own directly-linked rewards, as suggested by the Old Testament’s Malachi 3:10, which says, “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”
Although this quotation doesn’t actually promise financial gain as a result of tithing, many people have interpreted it that way, which rather overlooks the suggestion in James 1:27 that our beneficence should also extend to those who have no hope of ever paying us back. What the Malachi quotation does promise us, however, is that we will receive our just rewards in one way or another – though not necessarily in the way that we expect, or (perhaps) even during our present lifetime.
However, the real issue here is how much (if any) of churches’ income actually goes towards helping the needy, and how much is swallowed up in administrative expenses – in perpetuating their own existence. This is perhaps a question that those of us who are members of congregations should be asking ourselves. And by extension, perhaps all of us – church-goers or not – should look very critically at those non-church charities we support, and reassure ourselves that their operating costs aren’t too excessive. I know that my own church – the Salvation Army – which is 100% a charity as well as 100% a church, manages its overheads very tightly, and pays its employees only modest salaries. But that cannot be said for all charities – and certainly not for all churches. And in the case of those churches which do little for the needy, perhaps they should consider exactly why they exist at all… particularly in the light of the guidance we find in Biblical verses such as Matthew 5:16 and 20:28 and Galatians 6:10.
So… are you a churchgoer, and is so, do you tithe? And if you do, do you consider this to be charitable giving? Let’s have some feedback with the following poll:
Do you consider your tithing charitable?
A new report from the Salvation Army in the USA highlights the growing need for its youth programmes during these difficult economic times. As parents struggle to make ends meet, and work increasingly long hours – often holding down two or three jobs – they are depending ever more on the charity’s summer camps, day-care centres, pre-school activities and after-school programmes.
According to “Growing Up In A Downturn” the Salvation Army’s youth work is facing greater demands than ever, as other youth programmes are closing, due to funding cuts, and at the same time the charity itself is facing reduced contributions in many areas. While Christmas donations from the public were up, at the end of last year, and there have been some notable large gifts from wealthy benefactors, overall giving has declined by around 15%. Yet somehow the organisation has to accommodate and provide services for ever more young people, who are regarded by the charity as the “true face of homelessness”; and programmes that were designed to provide recreation, music and the arts are now seen as crucial to alleviating some of the problems associated with poverty, such as drug addiction. Many programmes have waiting lists, as their resources are stretched to the limit, and facilities originally designed for adults are being adapted to cater for younger clients.
While it is perhaps difficult to draw conclusions from this report regarding the situation in countries other than the USA a similar picture is likely to emerge. In the UK the Salvation Army’s South and Mid Wales Division has for many years been running adventure camps for children whose home circumstances would otherwise preclude them from having summer vacations, and the indications are that this year’s camp will accommodate more children than ever. As a Trustee of the Chreda Foundation, which has already sponsored several children to attend the camp in previous years (and will be providing similar support this year) I am delighted to learn that some of the older young people who are ‘veterans’ of the programme are now being trained up as future leaders. To see disadvantaged individuals not only receiving much needed vacations, year after year, but also becoming responsible members of society, helping ensure that others following on can also benefit from similar opportunities, is very satisfying. As a charity we will be continuing to provide whatever support we can to this worthwhile venture. We are also currently planning to expand the outreach of our organisation through a new prize fund which we hope to officially launch later this year or early in 2013. Further details will be published here as soon as they become available.
To read “Growing Up In A Downturn” please see our Reports page.
As Spurs football boss Harry Redknapp was cleared this week of tax evasion charges local charities in the Bournemouth and Poole area, where Mr Redknapp lives, have been coming forward and speaking out about his generosity and willingness to support them.
Yesterday the Bournemouth Daily Echo revealed that he “is a staunch supporter of numerous local causes and charities”, and gave some typical examples…
Julia’s House Children’s Hospice: As a patron & loyal supporter of the children’s hospice, he has been attending Julia’s House events since their early days, when they were relatively unknown. His high profile helped them get started and build the hospice, which opened six years ago.
Lewis-Manning Hospice: He has been the powerhouse behind Lewis-Manning Hospice’s fundraising drives for the last couple of years, and as a patron of their Time To Care Appeal (which is seeking to raise £2.5m to build a new hospice) last year launched a ‘buy a brick’ appeal to raise money for their new 15-bed unit.
Aim Community: He also supports this Salvation Army arts-based charity, which enables young people who might otherwise be unable to, to explore music, dance and other creative arts. They say that he’s never too busy to help, and that he does so very cheerfully. This has included arranging for Spurs fans to meet players.
Café Shore: He has given talks to a coffee club, at this restaurant near his Sandbanks home.
Who would want to deny celebrities like Mr Redknapp their perhaps rather enviable lifestyle, when they aren’t too busy to play a part in their local community, and to use their position to do good for others?