New York City ranks as one of the top contributors to charitable organizations year after year. In fact, the New York Times said the Upper East Side alone contributed $459 million in charitable donations in 2008. That is an incredible amount of money. But where exactly is that money going?
Of the $1 million in donations made so far by New York state residents this year, only an incredibly small amount actually found its way to helping the poor — what most may think of as the purpose of charity. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, of the top five donations, which totalled $190 million, the largest were to Columbia University’s Business School, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation. The fact that money is allocated to improve these venues is certainly commendable. But what is truly unfortunate is that the amount given to the Brooklyn Bridge, for example, is 25 times the amount given to New Yorkers for Children, one of the many organizations in the city that strive to find homes for young children in need.
Organizations like NYFC are among the many that seem to be losing funding time and time again, facing the grim reality that they need to cut back.
I think it’s safe to say that in principle, most Americans understand the importance of giving to the poor. But I think it is difficult to conceptualize exactly what their money can do for a starving family. And I think it is partly because of the way we as a society look at the poor. It is easy to walk down the streets of New York and feel annoyed by the begging man who is holding up a sign that clearly articulates his desire for drugs or alcohol. And it is easy to take this annoyance and manifest it into a stereotype towards the poor in general — to
label them all as junkies or alcoholics.
I held those beliefs myself, until I worked at a non-profit in the city and saw that most of the low-income residents who arrived for help had not been poor all of their lives. Few, if any, were long-time drug addicts or alcoholics. A large majority of the people were poor as a result of unfortunate circumstances with their family or their health, which forced them out of their comfortable, middle-class lives into a world of poverty that was completely foreign to them. And few, if any, felt there were adequate resources available to help them crawl out of what seemed like an extremely deep hole.
I am not saying the New Yorkers that gave generously to the Columbia Business School or the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation this year did so because they do not understand where the poor are coming from. Nonetheless, this is a startling example of how the money directed at charities is not going to the right places and, for the most part, is not helping those who need it the most. I think the first step towards that level is shifting the misconceptions that we often form about the poor. By doing so, we may truly understand how much they need us.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Sept. 19 print edition. Brittany Sherman is a staff columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Weekend Roam: Little Germany
- WSN Editorial Board reflects on spring semester events
- Strawberry Festival promises delicious, intergalactic fun
- Clive Davis Institute collaborates with DJ Swivel
- Best places to dine on dumplings
- 'Heroes' is not super enough for Xbox Live film program launch
- NYU SLAM sees victory through 'badidas' campaign
- Victoria Ettore elected student council president
- Hester Street Fair hosts diverse vendors, delicious food