Creative Microphilanthropy: GOOD Staff Edition #30DaysofGOOD
For December's #30DaysofGOOD challenge, we're asking our GOOD community to participate in creative microphilanthropy by giving away $30 (in total for the month) in the most creative and inspiring way possible. This means adding your personal touch to small acts of kindness.
Here's a preview of a few inventive acts of microphilantrophy made by our very own GOOD staff.
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When I was in second grade, I found a $20 bill on a busy sidewalk. It was clear that I wasn't going to find the owner, and I couldn't believe my luck. Just down the block was a Tower Records (R.I.P.), so I started to beeline to that garish red and gold sign with dreams of being the first of my friends to acquire the sweet new Ace of Base cassette. Before I could get there, though, my mother gently suggested I should use the money to help someone else—it wasn't my money, after all. Reluctantly, I spent my newfound fortune buying toiletries, then took them to a local women's shelter.
What amazed my seven-year-old self was that I didn't regret the move at all. I still got to gleefully brag to my friends about how I found real cash on the street, and I got to feel slightly smug that I had done something noble with it (I probably left out the part about how Mom made me donate it). It still felt like my lucky day, even if I didn't get "The Sign" out of it. So this morning I dropped three $10 bills on the streets of Los Angeles. Each had a Post-It note attached asking the finder to pay it forward and email me to tell me how they did it. I assume at least one person will buy the modern-day equivalent of that Ace of Base cassette instead of buying toiletries for abused women, but who knows? And if they're anything like I am, they'll be smiling for most of the day regardless of how they spend their windfall.
Parking tickets are the bane of any urban dweller's existence. This month I'll be patrolling city streets armed with quarters, helping out anyone who's in the red. What costs me a quarter or two would cost that person $58. Think of it as a $57.50 micro-loan that never needs to be repaid.
I wanted to use my money on a creative small business—one that might not be the biggest moneymaker, but was fulfilling a passion. Luckily, at the Unique LA event, there were dozens of artists and designers—many whose "small business" was a one-person operation—who were all selling their own designs. I found a great art print by Diane Vadino, who handmade a map of a neighborhood I live near. We chatted about her process and now every time I see it on the wall I can also picture the artist behind the design.
I love Los Angeles, and I wanted to find a way to give back to all the people who make life in this city worth living. I decided to give my $30 to the strangers to who share my favorite city routine, morning hikes in Griffith Park. I really appreciate the people who share these trails with me—they clean up after themselves and others, are friendly and respectful, and are always within yelling distance in case I'm being pursued by some sort of murderous grifter (it's dark in the mornings!). This morning, I got some $1s, attached thank-you notes, and tucked them into cars parked below the Observatory. Think of it as productive littering—canvassing to keep the city beautiful.
I’m a mom to two school-age boys, which means that the only place my $30 can go is their school, Melrose Avenue Elementary. It’s a math, science, technology magnet school in Los Angeles, and it’s one of only 10 Apple Distinguished Schools in the State of California. Through innovative robotics, engineering, and animation programs, and the passion of the principal, teachers, staff, and parents, 82 percent of Melrose students—almost 70 percent are children of color and come from low income families—scored proficient or advanced in math on state tests.
Unfortunately, year after year, that record of achievement is rewarded with budget cuts. With billions being slashed from education, Melrose, like most other elementary schools in California, faces cuts that will result in the loss of the technology specialist, math coach, our library aide, funds for office supplies and our physical education and art programs.
To offset the cuts, we’re coming together as a school community with an ambitious goal: We plan to raise $150,000 by spring 2012. Every tax-deductible contribution from supporters of public education, no matter the amount, counts toward our goal and ensures that the next generation has the knowledge, skills, and mindset they need to succeed.
My weekend to-do list definitely included micro-philanthropy, but I had no idea what form that was going to take. To procrastinate, I met a friend for coffee across town, but halfway through my order, I realized that I hadn’t fed the meter. When I got back to my car, a family was in the middle of paying for my parking for me. The tables had turned!
It turns out that they weren’t being charitable, they just didn’t know which meter went with which spot, so I paid for their parking. It cost me a dollar. In the spirit of our promo video for this challenge, I paid another meter that was running down, which cost me another fifty cents, but I wasn’t getting anywhere near spending $30 and didn’t really feel like I was having a big impact on the world.
But it hit me: Why was parking so cheap? It turns out that ultra-cheap parking is largely just a subsidy for drivers, which is not the most sustainable move in the world. And the costs the city absorbs to subsidize parking mean less money towards sustainable transportation and a host of other public services. Studies show that market-price parking leads to less time spent cruising for a spot (and a lower carbon impact), lower traffic, and more money for public transit. Cities like San Francisco are already experimenting with the idea; there’s even an app for that.
Pricing parking right is part of a bundle of other good ideas about how we should build cities that are more pleasant, more sustainable and more equitable. Paying parking meters or buying coffee for folks might hit the micro aspect of this month’s mission, but I think I’m doing my neighbors in L.A. a bigger favor by donating my $30 to Smart Growth America, a non-profit that advocates for great neighborhoods.
Last week, my brand-new bike was stolen. I set it in front of my barbershop for 15 minutes while I ran inside for a haircut, and when I came out, it was gone. This was in broad daylight, at 11 in the morning, but everyone I talked to said they hadn't seen anything or anyone out of the ordinary. My bike vanished without a trace, and I'm going to miss it.
Considering how best to give away $30, I decided I wanted to put the money toward something or someone that would help ensure the next bike I buy isn't stolen. For some that may have meant donating to a police group, or buying a weapon to ward off thieves. Instead, I turned to the Bicycle Kitchen, a nonprofit organization in LA that helps people who don't have bikes build bikes of their own for the nominal fee of $7 an hour. If you can't afford to pay, the Kitchen will help you build, repair, and maintain your bicycle free of charge.
My bike was taken because somebody who wanted a bike didn't have one. With that simple truth in mind, I figured the best way to help prevent another bike theft in LA is to try and make sure everyone who wants a bike gets one for a price they can afford. Police can deter thieves, and I thank them for doing so, but to end thievery altogether we need to end the lack that causes people to steal in the first place.
I stumbled on a great blog that shares ideas about giving away small sums of money. It got me thinking. Growing up in Los Angeles, car culture has always been a part of life. For many years, my car was my ticket to freedom. In high school, it allowed me to leave campus during breaks. During the evening, it allowed me to explore the city with friends. On weekends, it allowed me to take road trips and beach hop. Today, I see my car as less of mode of transportation, and more of a boxy, fuel-guzzling responsibility. The older I get and the more time I spend in an office behind a desk, the less time I want to sit in my car. And the more time I appreciate walking and being outdoors.
Currently, 81 percent of Angelenos drive to work. On average, we spend 72 hours of that drive stuck in traffic every year. For this month's challenge, I am dividing my $30 into $5 dollar bills. I plan to drop these little sums of money in stairwells and on sidewalks to congratulate people for getting on their feet. Here's to the healthy lifestyle!