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Letter: For the poor at Christmas

As we are now in the season of giving, I am hoping that we give radically to the poor, radically and as never before. 

Let’s do it because we are rich, radically rich. The richest culture in all of history.  

Rich? Are we rich? Anyone making $32,400 a year or more is richer than 99% of the rest of the planet, according to investopedia.com. By that standard, America is radically rich. It would be nice to believe that as radically rich folks we, naturally, give radically to the poor, more than ever. The statistics do not agree. 

In the Great Recession, when needs increased all around us, those making more than $200,000 per year gave less; those making $100,000 or less gave more, according to research done by The Atlantic. It almost always happens. As we get richer we give less percentage of our incomes. And less of what we do give is to the poor. I’m guilty. Somehow as I got rich — by global standards —I was giving less. In my best year, only 1.5%!

In an article titled “How much does it cost to end poverty” authored by the Borgen Project, a nonprofit that is working to end poverty and hunger, it states: “Jeffrey Sachs, as one of the world’s leading experts on economic development and the fight against poverty, stated that the cost to end poverty is $175 billion per year for 20 years. This yearly amount is less than 1% of the combined income of the richest countries in the world.”

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In 2018, Americans spent a combined $345.9 billion dollars on golf, sporting events, athletic equipment, gym memberships, and alcohol sales. I’m guilty, I spent plenty on all those things.

Henrietta H. Fore, the executive director of UNICEF, reminds us, “….whenever we fail to seize an opportunity …. to invest in the well-being and fundamental rights of children and young people in need and at risk, the opportunity cost is too high to bear. It is tallied … in promising lives tragically cut short. In vibrant bodies and minds diminished. In families, communities and nations undermined.”

Are we going to disband our military, quit golf, quit sports, quit the gym, quit drinking? Probably not. But we could all do all of it less (especially the war part) and give more. Give radically.

One of the most famous of the radically rich was advised: “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” He had done every other good he could think of. The story tells us he didn’t sell all, but I’d like to think he went and gave more than he had ever given before. 

Note that he was not commanded to solve poverty. Or pretend that it was solvable. He was told to simply give. To help.  

My hope is that all of us — church/synagogue/temple goers or not — pray on the “opportunity costs,” and then let’s just do it. Let’s give to the poor. A lot. Give radically, this year and next year and the next.

Wayne Sheldrake

South Fork


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