Friday, January 10, 2014

The 1st 10 days of giving

I'm 10 days into my New Year's challenge of giving something every day (a.k.a. 365 gifts) and so far it's been quite fun.

As planned, my daily gifts have been a combination of new/purchased items (i.e. coffee beans to thank our lovely hosts in Kitchener) and donations of used items (i.e. a blanket and flannel sheets for my favourite food bank).

But I've had to pace myself and am purposefully not filling up the donation bags as full as I can. 355 days to go, I remind myself. So in some ways this is curbing my generosity.

Like yesterday, when I was at the Parkdale Food Centre chatting with the Executive Director Karen Secord, she told me about a new bakery in the 'hood - Bread By Us. They have a suspend system where clients can buy a loaf of bread and pay for another one which is 'suspended'. Karen directs her clients to the bakery and they can receive a loaf of suspended bread, no questions asked.

"Go now," Karen urged me - and tried to convince me that 8-month-old Nisha really needed a cookie.

Sounds great, I thought. But I'd just dropped off my donation for the day, so I'm going to save it for another time. This delay felt a bit counter to the spirit of this project.

That said, I have had to make some modifications to the project. Since I don't usually have access to a car during the week, it's hard to deliver my gifts or donations outside of walking distance. So on the days I can't deliver, I'm setting the bag or box in the sun room. And I'm not going to let myself cheat here (no saying, I'll put that together tomorrow). By the time I tweet it (#365gifts), anyone can show up and say 'I hear you have a donation for ... and I have to be able to hand it over. I also appreciate organizations like the Ontario Federation for Cerebral Palsy who will pick up donations.

This means on the days I do have the car, I'm get to feel like Santa, driving around with my gifts to deliver. Ho ho ho!

But I have discovered that this project is going to require a lot of research, at least if I'm going to stick with my goal of trying to intentionally place items where they are needed and not just dump everything in a charity donation bin. I really appreciate the organizations, like Ottawa's Youville Centre, that provide an online list of items needed.

I'm also keeping a little notebook with ideas for donations, places that accept used items, etc. It's great too that friends are starting to make suggestions.

And more ideas are certainly welcome - 355 days to go!

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Donating baby clothes

It is amazing how one little person can have so many clothes!

As any parent knows, you end up with a lot of clothes when you have a baby. And given that most babies grow an inch a month in the first six months, then an inch every two for the rest of their first year, baby clothes are outgrown very quickly. There are cute little outfits my girls have received as gifts that were only worn once or twice before they were outgrown.

So, what to do with the mounds of baby clothes that have been outgrown?

There are consignment stores, such as Boomerang Kids in Ottawa, that will accept used items. But with so many families wanting to off-load clothing, consignment places can afford to be pretty picky and they prefer top brands. I have taken bags of clothing there, only to half of the items rejected.

While I'm not trying to pass on stained and worn-out clothes (those I turn into rags), I have been looking for places in town that will accept gently used items that are still in decent condition - and give (not sell) them to people in need.

Here's what I've found so far. Would love to hear more suggestions.

- Birthright Ottawa, a volunteer-run charity that supports women with unplanned pregnancies. They will take good quality clothes for infants and toddlers (up to 2 years-old).

- Youville Centre, a charity which helps single mothers. They have a handy pdf of the various gently-used items they accept, which includes children's clothing (infant to age 6).

- City of Ottawa's family shelters. There are two family shelters run by the City that assist families in need of temporary emergency shelter for a variety of reasons including financial, health and family crisis. The shelters accept donations of household and personal items - including baby clothing and bedding.

Additionally, those looking to donate cloth diapers can pass them on to Diaper Lending Ottawa, a volunteer-run not-for-profit that will accept donations of cloth diapers (in any condition!) which they repair, clean and lend out.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Book: The Year of the Flood

I was looking at the CBC Canada Reads list the other day and noted that I had read none of the five 2014 contenders. This wouldn't do. And, since I'm aiming to read 13 Canadian books before Canada Day, I decided to read at least one on the list.

I started with Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood (2009), a dystopian novel whose narrative steps before and after the 'waterless flood' that at some point in the future has killed most of the world's population. The book's two main characters have survived this flood because they were barricaded from contagion - one in a deserted spa, one in a high-end sex club.

The novel is dark, although its satire is amusing and the narrative is engaging. Atwood hooks the reader in - primarily because you have to read more than two-thirds of the book to find out what this destructive flood is, and even then she is a little vague.

Fear is constant throughout the book - of the impending flood, and then of the chaos and desolation it wrought. There are strange species (i.e. rakunks - a mix of racoons and skunks) that were gene-spliced by mad scientists. There is anarchy in the streets and gated communities controlled by private companies. It is all rather grim and more than a little depressing. At times when reading this book I had the strong urge to move to the country, plant a large garden, and raise bees.

This book is part of a MaddAddam Trilogy, and takes place in parallel with Oryx & Crake (2003).  I haven't read that book and am not sure I want to - although I guess it explains the 'waterless flood' in more detail. But if it's anything like this one, reading it would be to fall down the rabbit hole of the dread that happens when I read too many articles about climate change and environmental destruction. I'm already scared enough, without needing Atwood to throw in crazy scientists and genetic manipulation.

Reading this book is not unlike driving by a road accident - you can't help looking, but feel a little unsettled for doing so.