At first I wasn't going to blog about my charity experience last night. Then I realized that I could turn it into something even MORE positive for others. For me, it wasn't about joining my fellow dads per se. It was just a personal interest in giving back. #GivingTuesday was really an excuse. The other dads picked the charity and the time/day, so it was a convenient opportunity.
But maybe by sharing a report/review, a few readers out there may feel motivated to jump in, too. I know quite a few people who hesitate to donate or volunteer because 1) they aren't sure what they're getting themselves into and 2) they are skeptical about charity orgs and non-profits being what they say they are.
Especially at the holidays (but why not the rest of the year?), everybody is looking to give to a charity so this time of year is a good one to remind people to research and be careful. Make sure non-profits are doing the smart, efficient, altruistic work you want them to be doing. And Charity Navigator is a good place to start. They rate the financials and transparency of organizations and act as a guide. You may--as I did last night--find out that some of the non-profits you've heard of may not be ranked as highly as one near you that you maybe never have heard of. Also, keep in mind that Charity Navigator doesn't rank many religious organizations because they are exempt from some of the tax filings that make other non-profits financially transparent. There can also be a healthy dose of skepticism about the true aims of religious organizations in having hidden motives to evangelize.
That said, last night we packed food for a charity called Feed My Starving Children which is both Christian and one of the most highly ranked 4-star charities for nearly a decade. Let me explain below why I think they get everything right.
92% of FMSC money goes to actually feeding starving children. Over 99% of all the food they pack to nearly 70 countries gets in the hands of the kids who need it. That's out of 850 million shipped! The meals are specially designed to provide nutritional needs for malnourished 4-8 year olds. And even though the organization is religious, the mission is to supply food not theology.
When you walk into the building, it's pretty much exactly what you'd expect. A few places to hang your coat are provided in the vestibule and then the front area where the restrooms are is a small shop selling a few items. But the majority of the space is a large warehouse room with forklift, tables, boxes, etc..
The front section of this room is a row of computers to check in and mark your name as present. Then enough benches for the 60 volunteers for your shift to sit on wooden benches and watch a video about the organization, a video about the food preparation steps, and hear some safety instructions from staff. The room is then split into a warehouse crew, several stations for packing the boxes, and everybody is off to wash their hands in rows of sinks at the back of the room. Hairnet is mandatory.
Your supplies are waiting and each volunteer has a job: scoop, weigh, seal, or pack. You measure vitamin/flavor powder, dried veggies, soy, and rice into a plastic bag. My job was to weigh each bag on a scale to make sure it was within the 20 gram window before handing it over for heat sealing. The heat sealer then lays the packaged food on the packing table for a boxer to place the packets in the shipping boxes.
Last night, in approximately one hour, our shift of 60 volunteers packed 72 boxes. Which is 15,552 individual meals. Enough for 43 children in Zimbabwe (where our food was destined) to eat for an entire year. That's approximately $3,500 worth of food as the per meal price comes out to around 22 cents.
At the end of the shift, you clean up your station and get a choice. Every shift's boxes get a group prayer said over them before they leave. But the staff is very polite about offering anybody who doesn't wish to pray a chance to sit over on the benches to wait for the group to join them for some closing remarks. That's really the only "Christian" moment you'll get aside from some posters on the wall quoting Proverbs.
Mostly, it's just people doing the truly Jesus-y work of feeding hungry people.