We have many people who come through our neighborhood asking for donations. Some come collecting for different organizations, while many come for their own personal needs. In the past I have always given – once in a while I refused if I thought the paperwork looked suspect, or there was a problem of some kind. For example, sometimes they will collect from me one day, then return the next day to try to collect from my husband.
Recently, I decided to stop giving at my door. It seemed as if the whole practice has turned into a “racket”. The driver gets a portion of the donation, and I assume also that the ones who come from Israel have to pay off whoever helped them buy their plane ticket. Also, I see many of the same people from year to year – collecting donations has become their livelihood.
Even deciding how much to give has its own problems – I have had fights at my door with guys who wanted me to give more!
My husband and I support many charitities – shuls, schools, feeding the poor, hospitals, etc. What I gave at my door was just extra.I’m wondering though if I have made the right decision.
This is a delicate question. Your donations to worthy causes are of course admirable, yet there remains something special about giving the poor person who comes knocking at the door.
The Torah instructs us to open our hands towards the poor: “If anyone is poor among your brothers within any of your gates… you shall not harden your heart, nor shut your hand from your poor brother.” When somebody poor comes knocking at the door, we are instructed not to close our hands and our hearts from him.
It is true that many of these people come back year after year. Collecting money is addictive, and there is no doubt that this is problematic. In addition, you are right that the driver gets his share. But this is no different from organizations, who pay a secretary, and other members of staff, for their service. Furthermore, it is hard to tell the worthiness of the cause from paperwork alone.
For these reasons, there is room to limit the amount one gives to door-knockers. However, most of these people are genuinely poor. Whether or not they got themselves into trouble (for instance by choosing not to work), they are needy, and many get into heavy debt.
Therefore, it isn’t right to ignore them. The princple mitzvah of charity applies to the person standing at the door and asking for help, and by giving each one a small amount one fulfills the mitzvah, and maintains an “open heart” to the human needy.
I understand the difficulties sometimes involved, and of course if the collector behaves in an uncouth or threatening way the door should be speedily and firmly shut. Yet, limiting charity to donations “over the phone” will somehow diminish its “human” dimension, and the Torah wishes us to “open our hearts to our brothers.”
Best wishes and good luck.