Who Actually Deserves Charity? Who is Really in Need?

I'm in a local Facebook group meant to help people there who are struggling for whatever reason, and one of the things that is really wonderful is that instead of p
eople selling things that they want to off load, usually things are offered for free on that group, so that others can benefit. It seems that some people in the group got upset, and there was a to do about it, because some people were upset that people who "didn't really need it" and "didn't deserve it" were taking help meant for "more worthy people", that things weren't just being given away to anyone, but to people in need.

So, I don't want to talk about that specific group and the to-do there, because I didn't see what went down, or the circumstances behind the posts there, but, inspired by that, I did want to talk about the concept of who "deserves help" and who "really needs it" and things of that sort. This is a topic that is especially meaningful to me because at many times in the past and even currently, I've been on the receiving end of charity, and I wonder how many people look at me and my life and say "Oh, she doesn't really deserve it" for whatever reason?

People are really judgmental, that's for sure. I know that in the past I really was judgmental, and its something I'm working on not being that way anymore. I think I've even written a post before about someone asking me for charity to pay for their children's diapers and formula, while I was cloth diapering and nursing so I didn't have to spend money on that. But as I go through my journey in life, I am starting to see more clarity about things like that, and how someone might seem to be rolling in dough actually can be struggling, etc.

I'll start with saying that poor people don't always look poor. Thankfully we live in an area that there are so many people that give away really nice things that one can be dressed to the nines without spending a cent. I know of some people whose self worth is very wrapped up in how they look, that they aren't willing to look like a charity case, and they've been known to go without food because they don't have money, but still will wear a fully made up face and be dressed really nicely. If clothes are something that matter to you, shopping thrift stores and getting things from places such as the clothes and houseware share and dressing in hand me downs can mean wearing only name brand perfect things, and makes you look like a moocher taking things that you "don't really need" but is far from the truth.

I remember when I was pregnant with Ike, I was completely and utterly broke. I was so stressed out financially, not sure how I would afford a single thing. Having two kids two and under meant that I was in desperate need of a double stroller, but I didn't have the funds to pay for even the cheapest one available locally. An internet friend, who, fortunately has money, offered to buy me a stroller, and I accepted her offer. I scoured the internet to find the best deal, and found a second hand but brand new stroller that someone had imported from the US, but after using it less than a week decided it was the wrong dimensions for her apartment and family, and was selling it cheaper than even the cheapest double stroller locally. I took a few buses to get to the city where it was located, and came back with this beautiful, gorgeous, fire engine red, essentially brand new name brand stroller. I was actually quite uncomfortable walking around with that stroller, because I felt everyone was looking at me and my fancy stroller and, especially those who knew that I was receiving charity, would look at me and think I didn't deserve it, because that stroller meant that I actually did have money after all. But couldn't have been further from the truth. I was actually so uncomfortable that I told pretty much everyone who commented about the stroller that it was gifted to me and second hand, because I didn't want to be judged based on my appearances.

I was supposed to go to Europe in January, to Germany and Luxembourg and Paris, for approximately a week, and I remember someone telling me that the middle of divorce proceedings isn't the best time to make such a trip, because if I'm saying I need financial support, traipsing off to Europe doesn't put me in the best light... even if the tickets were only 25 dollars round trip and in all the cities I'd planned on staying, I had arranged to sleep over at friends' houses, so my trip was costing me barely anything. Because people judge so much and say "How can she afford trips when I can't?", as I did for the first many years of my adulthood, until I discovered SkyScanner and how I can get super cheap tickets and was able to go on a few international trips that cost me very little...
Next month I have another international trip to Greece, and as I'm currently public about accepting charity, I know people will probably judge me tremendously for that... Appearances and all... But what people probably wouldn't guess is that a long time friend of mine from New Zealand is visiting her mom in Greece this summer, and since she really wants to be able to see me, is flying me out to Greece, paying my airfare, giving me free lodging, and providing food for me while there. So people probably would say "Oh my gosh, Penny is such a faker, asking for charity, while she has money to go Greece", but the truth couldn't be further from that.

Basically, my big point is that appearances can really be deceiving. Someone who is truly in need and has no funds at all, might actually look like they have funds for all these extras and yet are fine with taking charity "away from people who really need it", and it just ends up looking that way but isn't the truth at all.

However, there's another aspect that I wanted to touch on.

I've spoken to people before about what someone who is receiving charity should be spending that money on, and it seems that the majority of people think that charity money should only be spent on needs, and not on extras. And that if someone is receiving charity, even money that they have not from charity should only be spent on needs. That someone shouldn't ask for charity money or be willing to receive it, if they haven't first cut back on every extra thing, and are living bare bones basic.

The thing is, what needs are can vary tremendously from person to person. Especially if you add in any mental health struggles, what is totally a frivolous extra for one person becomes a need for someone else. In my case, the charity I'm getting is to help pay for mine and my kids' therapies, which works out to be roughly $1500 a month out of pocket (and no, getting therapy covered by insurance unfortunately is not an option),. Because of this, I feel like I need to be very careful about what I talk about on Facebook, that people will look at me and say "Oh my gosh, she's asking for charity and then spending money on x, a luxury I would never allow for myself, and I'm not even asking for charity." (By the way, if I didn't already have such a great therapist, I'd totally look for one through BetterHelp since their prices are so affordable.)
But sometimes, especially in the course of therapy, certain things might be needs as part of the healing process, and what is a frivolous extra for one might be a necessary thing for someone else. For example, after years of never swimming in a pool because there's no places locally where I can do that cheaply, I started going swimming on a regular basis as part of my healing process in therapy. In fact, I'd almost say that it was a prescription from my therapist. But when I posted that I was going swimming, people kept on asking me where I found swimming that was frugal, and I didn't know how to answer people, that I didn't find it frugal, I still don't know of a frugal way to do it, but for me, its a necessary expense.

In my religion, we have a phrase that says "Don't judge someone until you've reached his place" and a big part of that is realizing that you'll never truly be in someone else's shoes.

So who actually deserves help? When you're offering charity, give it with a full heart, and if someone says they need it, give it, without judging if they truly do. Because you really have no idea what is going on in other people's lives.

Do you give charity? When you give, how do you decide who to give to, who is really worthy? Or do you give to whoever asks?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. I encounter this attitude a lot as I'm part of various community initiatives to give to those in need. I always put it back in them: is it really giving if there are conditions? Either give freely, or don't give.

    You never know what is going in for someone. Yes, some people are scammers, or greedy or whatever. But most people aren't.

    Bless your friend for shouting you a holiday, I hope you have a wonderful, restful time.

  2. I really liked this post. I always find that as soon as I judge a person/group for doing someone, I find myself in a similar situation soon after... and realize that it's not nearly as simple as it seems.

  3. Enjoy your trip! So exciting! You deserve it. <3

  4. I enjoy your posts. Have a great trip!

  5. This is a great topic. I do give to charity, no conditions. I'm in the US, where we can get tax breaks for giving, but most of what I give isn't to a non-profit.

    In the discussion on universal basic income, the idea of being deserving comes up too. One of the Europeans working on the topic said that everyone should get it, because you never know what's going on in their minds or lives. Are they mentally ill and covering up well? Are they doing the best they can, given their location?

    Enjoy your trip!

  6. As a person who has always judged those who receive charity, your article really intrigued me. Being an incredibly frugal person myself (to the point that in addition to living frugally I deny myself luxuries), I have always felt that it is not right that people take charity while splurging on themselves. I would think, "I live with less! They can learn to live with less too!" In the Jewish tradition it is said that we need to give charity to accommodate people to that in which they are accustomed. So, if a very wealthy person suddenly has misfortune, it is up to the community to support that person to their standard. I struggle to understand this. But, as you said in your post, everyone has different needs. May we all feel that our needs are met.

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