There are two kinds of charity - one that gives a helping hand to people in our society who genuinely need and deserve it.
This is the kind of charity where you give food to the local pantry to help families where a parent may have been laid off and need a hand for a short time until they get back on their feet. It's where the neighbors host a benefit for a young couple with a child in the hospital or a senior citizen undergoing cancer treatment, because that's what neighbors do, and you would hope someone would do the same for you if you were the one in need.
It's the kind that makes a scholarship available to a promising young kid who might otherwise not be able to get their education, hammers nails on Saturday mornings on a Habitat for Humanity House, or makes a local program available to help hard-working immigrants learn the language. It's the kind that helps to obtain a van so a disabled person can get to school or a job, or offers counseling or job training for returning veterans who have sacrificed for all of us.
None of this is really charity, it is an investment.
It lifts people up, and gives them a chance to be productive and successful in their communities.
It would be a very, very lucky individual who never, ever needs any help from those around them. In many cases, a little giving at the right moment will be returned tenfold.
That's one kind of charity. There is another. In a very, very small minority of cases, there are people who simply exist off using the system. They have little intention of earning an honest living, and always have their hand out, not only asking people to support them, but feeling entitled to it. They are people who drive to a food pantry for a bag of free groceries in an Escalade, or get groceries with food stamps and pull out a wad of cash for cigarettes and beer.
They are the few who turn "charity," which should be a wonderful thing, into a bad word.
I'll give you an example. I've headed up the Mr. Goodfellow program in Storm Lake for years. In 99.9 percent of the cases, the recipients are truly in need and greatly appreciative of the warm winter clothing our program buys for elementary age kids who have none. In some great cases, we've helped a family one year, and the next they are doing better and come in to donate to help someone else's child. That's a great feeling for everyone! But then, there will be one who wants the nice new coat, boots and hats for their small son or daughter, and will be caught the next day trying to hustle the system, peddling the items back to the store in exchange for cash for themselves.
Local school officials have told us stories of going to check a home of a child who has not shown up or is troubled in school, to find children sleeping on a single bare mattress in the middle of a room with no furniture, but a huge expensive big screen TV and tons of video game equipment for the parents. In some people, you just can't instill a sense of priorities.
Again, this is the exception and not the rule. We're told that at the local Upper Des Moines pantry, a vast majority of those coming in for food are "the working poor" - they have a job, or two or three, and work their butts off for their families, but with modest pay and little benefits, perhaps health care bills hanging over them, they run out of food before they run out of month. As the director likes to say, everything is going up but pay.
I mention all of this because I read news this week of a legislative bill in Kansas to dictate what people on welfare can purchase and where they can shop.
This would prevent people from spending public assistance funds on a laundry list of things that lawmakers deem inappropriate.
Off limits would be tattoo parlors, lottery tickets, spas, fortune tellers, movies, jewelry stores, massage parlors, body piercing, nail salons, lingerie stores, smoking paraphernalia including vapor cigarettes, places that serve or sell alcohol as a primary product, bail bondsmen, video games, swimming pools, theme parks, cruise ships, strip clubs, casinos, horse/dog race tracks, concert tickets, pro or college sport tickets and more.
It is expected to be signed into law, and don't be surprised if Iowa follows suit.
I'm torn, really I am.
This kind of Big Brother politics sets off all kinds of red flags and alarms in my head. Do we really want politicians dictating who can go to Adventureland, buy underwear or go to a Disney show at the theater? How in the world would you even enforce such a law - follow people with hidden cameras?
But, one has to agree, people who can afford tattoos, slot machines or Bon Jovi, probably don't really need to draw on our limited pool of resources for public aid.
We should give charity freely, and without reservation or bitterness. It should be to feed the hungry, help out good people between jobs or during a health emergency in a family, and so on.
This falls into that yawning cavity of things people should be smart enough to realize and do on their own, but sometimes aren't. Word to recipients - spend wisely and appropriately, or Big Brother may come calling.