Column: Canning for charity cannot be a chore

By Andrew Mason

I see members of fraternities, sororities and RSOs constantly out collecting spare change for this cause and that cause. I don’t always have the spare change to give but it feels good when you plink those coins in the can and hear those two words we don’t hear nearly often enough, “Thank you!”

But I can get never away from this nagging thought that something is off.

I realize that everyone is busy with classwork and that many people do it to satisfy their chapter’s service and philanthropy requirements. But when it’s obvious that there’s somewhere else you’d rather be, it doesn’t encourage charity.

Don’t get me wrong here. The vast majority of people I see collecting change are cordial, enthusiastic people who convince me that they care about the cause. But every once in awhile, say like this previous Monday, I see someone holding a change can shaking it only every once in awhile and voicing the cause even less. He was trying to get your support to fight against a disease I won’t specify here. But the biggest problem I saw was he was wearing earbuds.

It matters little to me whether he was listening to anything or not. The image I got was someone who was just going through the motions. Many probably feel this way but do a better job of hiding it. I admit to sometimes thinking “Man, more people collecting change,” and I’m sure I’m not alone in having this thought. Unfortunately combining collector fatigue and donor fatigue results in a big loss for many worthy causes.

Furthermore, it seems like awfully hollow empathy with a cause when you ask people what they can spare while plugged into an iPod. Sometimes I wonder how much that girl spent on a purse or designer shoes last weekend or how much cash that guy blew on beer Friday night. Sometimes I wonder if change collecting really is the least we can do.

Granted, many, many organizations do all kinds of service work in addition to collecting change. But as Sheryl Bautch, executive director of Family Service of Champaign County said in a letter to the editor last week, the only way services like the Senior Resource Center will survive is with “is with community support, both financial and through volunteerism.”

If people would like to honor their service requirements or lend a hand in a student organization surely they can do better than change collecting. Sure, every little bit helps and something is better than nothing, but let’s remember what school we attend. Are we capable of doing much more? Yes.

The sheer gap between what this campus is doing right now and what this campus is capable of is quite large. Right next door to campus we have a failing school district. On Green Street, we have a homeless population. On campus, we have gum on desks, paint coming off walls and graffiti in bathrooms. I hazard to say that our time spent out in the community is worth more that than value of change drives.

Standing out on the Quad you’re just that faceless person shaking a can. People will not remember you nor will they will wish to be part of what you’re doing. But if more of us spend quality time with the people we’re striving to help, the benefits will be far greater than merely writing a check and sending it off to a far away organization.

Perhaps what I’m getting at is that as technology allows us to be more and more isolated, our volunteerism needs to be more hands-on. The anonymous collecting and the anonymous donating is a process that gives everyone involved a temporary, empty feeling of pride. But it is far short of the feeling of seeing the person you are helping.

If more student and greek organizations moved towards this, it can make a world of difference and possibly diffuse the impact of this fiesta fiasco.

In the meantime, I’ll keep giving my change when I can, but I hope the can shakers can keep on their toes about better ways to make a difference.