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Lessons in Giving
By Linda McCullough Moore
A mother teaches her children the value of being generous.


'Thanks, Mom, for Showing Me'
The Fortnight Rule
People of Action
Child-friendly Nonprofits

© Adamczyk

“THAT’LL BE $96.57 with the coupons,” the pretty young woman says as she begins to bag my groceries.

As I swipe my credit card, my four-year-old, Josh, shakes his head, despairing.

“You know,” he says, “if we didn’t spend so much on food, we’d have a lot more money for toys.”

But it is only after I have recounted this story to everyone I know that it hits me: It’s always a choice. And, yes, fewer carrots and pork chops do mean more PlayStation games and Legos.

That evening, I’m sitting watching It’s a Wonderful Life with my two sons when a commercial opens with the wide-eyed face of the dearest girl I’ve ever seen.

“Just $20 a month will feed and clothe Marie and buy her medicine and schoolbooks,” a man is saying. Both boys are riveted.

“Hmmm,” I say. “Twenty dollars a month. That’s how much we were going to spend on the new high-speed Internet. What do you guys think? Faster Internet or $20 for Marie?”

“Mom, don’t be silly,” eight-year-old Adam says. “Who would pick the cable thing?”

Who indeed? The movie’s back on. Harry Bailey is calling Uncle Billy. And we call, too. Adam does the talking.

“Hello, this is Adam. We’d like to wait a minute for things on the computer and give our money to Marie. Could you give it to her?”

A week later Josh shrieks out from the den: “Mom! Dad! Come look at the TV. Marie is on! She looks great!”

And so it begins. A few days later I go to the bank and get four rolls of quarters, which the boys unwrap in the middle of the table.

“O.K.,” I say. “Now let’s see what these little round silver things can buy.”

I give the boys a few catalogs from charities which specify what we can buy with what amount. We settle on Africa to begin. Adam and his dad—our resident mathematicians—do some serious long division.

“Here it is,” Adam says at last. “For 25 cents we could buy food for a day for this little boy, or a shot to make him well, or clean water for one whole week or a whole pair of sandals because he has to walk miles and miles to his school.”

“I hate shots,” Josh says. “Let’s get him shoes.”

“I think he’d like some food,” Adam says. “I’d like food.”

“Oh, wait just a minute. I forgot,” I say. “We only have so many quarters here.” I put on the table a few fliers from some local toy stores. “We need to choose what we will buy.”

“You mean we can buy toys instead of food and shots and sandals?” “Yep,” I say. “You guys get to choose.”

The boys peruse the fliers.

Then Adam picks up a World Relief flier to hold in the other hand.

“Wait a minute,” he says, laughing. “I can buy a camera phone for the same amount I could get a cow which could give milk to a family for a whole year. I think I’d like a cow, please.

“Or I could buy a goat for what it costs to buy a punching bag. I don’t need a punching bag. I’ve got Josh.” He jabs his brother, who starts yelling that he wants a goat, too.


This was three years ago—years that have rushed by in a heartbeat.

I sit here this morning looking at our refrigerator door. There is a crayon drawing of Adam and Josh done by our sponsored child, Rose Ibanga, who lives in Nigeria. There are also magazine pictures of not just goats and cows but every animal there is. Each one is labeled lest there be any misunderstanding.

Our first cow we named Camera Phone, and the two goats were christened Sega Genesis I and II. The walls of the boys’ rooms are plastered with pictures of the purchases, many paid for with the spoils of leaf-raking ventures and lemonade stands.

We can give our children choices: real choices. They’re smarter than we think. But we need to share with them how wide the world is and how great human need is.

In a time when our country is fearful, when we want to close our doors to keep our children safe inside, we must understand that the world is bigger than the United States. We need to know and teach our children that every person on the globe is more alike than different.

We need to share with them human needs and the understanding that we are blessed with a great bounty we can share, that what we give can make the difference. A child must also see that his or her parents value giving, too, and practice what they might be preaching to their children.

I have a friend—a mother of two grown-up daughters—who loves a certain kind of sugar-coated pecans. These pecans are expensive and hard to find. This mother got a letter from her daughter not long ago. Part of it read:

“Dear Mom,

“I’m sending you some of those pecans you like so much. I was surprised to find them. Remember when I was little and you took me to the grocery store? You were so excited one day because you came across those pecans. We didn’t have much money then, but you had $5 you’d gotten for your birthday and so you bought the pecans. You were so excited.

“As we left the store, just outside the door was a collection bin for the Food Bank. You reached into our bag for a can of tuna fish to donate, and then you said out loud, ‘No! I will not give to the Lord that which costs me nothing.’ And you kept the tuna fish and put the sugared pecans in the collection bin. You walked toward the car with a big smile on your face. I remember that every time I see someone in need.

“Thanks, Mom, for showing me.”

I’m not saying that this parenting project is all smooth sailing. Yes, Adam did decide to send his allowance to the mayor of Baltimore to help all the homeless we saw on a recent visit there. But, by the same token, when I suggested to Josh that he not only put his pennies in the Salvation Army collection pot today, but also when he is a man, he replied, entirely seriously, “I think I’ll let my wife take care of that.”

And it must be said that my children do still receive games and toys and presents, but not as many, not as often. They still sometimes struggle with this. Advertisements are very effective. They, and we, see so many things for sale that seem appealing and even necessary.

We have developed a rule for shopping that seems to serve us well as a whole family: Whenever we are shopping and we see something we hadn’t planned to buy, we invoke “The Fortnight Rule.” We go home and wait 14 days before deciding if it is something we want or need.

This rule even created a tradition: In the early days, the boys thought a fortnight was a night spent in a fort out in our backyard. From time to time, they will have a backyard campout at some time during the 14 days. It is a custom they love.

So very much of what we want to teach our children is the deep and meaningful value of community and experience over possessions. As an exercise in this direction, the boys have organized a few fund-raisers for special projects: garage sales, puppet shows and a dog-walking service one summer.

Children are practical. We fear that they will worry and feel sad when shown the world’s greatest needs, but much more often their response is action. They love being able to do something. They love to help.

There is much we can learn from children about the way in which they view the world. Presented with the enormity of human suffering across the globe, the typical adult might say, “What can we possibly do that would make a difference? The problem is too huge.” Children have more wisdom in this instance. Their usual response is more along the lines of, “Let’s do something.”

There is a story of a woman who came upon an old man while walking on a beach early one morning. She was amazed to see the shoreline littered with hundreds of starfish that had washed up and were dying in the morning sun, deprived of the seawater they needed for life. The old man was picking up the starfish, one at a time, and carrying them down to throw them back into the ocean.

The woman approached him and said, “Why do you even try? There are far too many. You’ll never get them all. Your efforts are noble, but they just don’t matter.”

The old man looked down at the starfish in his hand and flung it into the water.

“It mattered to that one,” the old man said. “It mattered to him.”

Child-friendly Nonprofits
by Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

FOR FAMILIES interested in donating such gifts, four popular organizations are the Heifer Project, World Vision, the Christian Appalachian Project and Catholic Relief Services. Each agency has an online catalog and is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, accredited by the Better Business Bureau and similar groups.

Heifer Project ( began in 1944 when 17 heifers were sent from York, Pennsylvania, to Puerto Rico. The program now includes 128 countries in Africa, Asia, the South Pacific, Central and Eastern Europe and North America. Recipients agree to “pass on the gift” by sharing the offspring of gift animals to further the group’s goal of sustainable development. Heifer Project is headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas.

World Vision ( sponsors more than 500,000 children in almost 100 countries in Africa, Latin America/Caribbean and Asia, as well as the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Its disaster relief and other programs reach almost 100 million people. This Christian, humanitarian organization began in 1950 and is headquartered in Federal Way, Washington.

The Christian Appalachian Project ( was begun in 1964 by Father Ralph Beiting and is an interdenominational, nonprofit Christian organization serving people in need in Appalachia by providing physical, spiritual and emotional support through a wide variety of programs and services. One of its services is a store that sells locally made products, aiding the economy of that region. It is headquartered in Hagerhill, Kentucky (near Lexington).

Catholic Relief Services ( assists people in over 100 countries, regardless of race, religion or nationality. CRS provides emergency aid and seed money for self-sufficiency projects regarding food, education and health care. It is the official international humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic community. Begun in 1943, CRS is headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland.


Linda McCullough Moore is the author of The Distance Between (Soho Press), as well as some 300 stories and essays. She also teaches creative writing in Northampton, Massachusetts.

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