Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Somehow I was coerced into collecting for a major charity last week. When I say 'coerced', what really happened was that some quietly-spoken young woman phoned, and politely asked if I would door-knock in my street. In reality, I was held to ransom by my own conscience. This particular charity is a very deserving charity, and one which funds projects that benefit the health of millions of Australians. We're not talking a fund for visually-impaired seeing eye dogs or anything.

I set off, wearing the supplied badge that proclaimed me as a bonafide collector. I spoke to many friendly people who all disappeared back into their homes for some small change. Our neighbour in the big house next to us donated $10. Towards the end, I rang the bell at one of the fanciest houses in our street.

I should clarify that our street is an old street in this city. Although we aren't far from the city centre, this street was once part of a farm. Eventually, around the turn of the century, the farm was subdivided and the area was developed. There are many old houses - some renovated and lovely, and some in states of disrepair. There are also some more modern, but plain, houses. There are no architect-designed mansions. The most glamorous houses are some modern houses built to replicate the look of the older houses (I call them replicants), except they are twice the size with none of the character of the older homes.

I buzzed the doorbell at one of these flashy 'replicants'. A woman came to the door, and I explained the reason for my visit. She frowned and shook her head at me. "No, we're only donating to cancer at the moment", she replied.
"Sure, no worries", I reassured her.
"I mean, you can't give to everything, can you?", she persisted, a little tetchily.
"Yeah, that's fine, " I answered, "Thanks anyway".
I thought very little of what she'd said. I figured perhaps her family had recently given a large amount to cancer research. And what she said made some sense - I supposed she was right that you can't donate to every worthwhile cause.

But then I crossed the road to a small, derelict-looking home. The roof sagged. The yard was overgrown. As I passed a towel-covered deck chair on the front patio, there was an unmistakeable reek of urine. I surmised that an elderly person lived here - probably alone. It was evident that funds were tight. I considered not knocking at all, thinking it best not to bother this pensioner with requests for money they obviously didn't have to spare.

I decided that it would be patronising to make this decision myself. I decided to rap on the door and let the occupant decide about any donation.

A quavery voice called from the depths of the house - "Who is it?"

"It's Jellyhead, your neighbour from number 17, " I bellowed through the door. "I'm collecting for the National Heart Foundation".

"Hang on!" came the quavery voice, this time a little nearer. The door rattled as bolts were drawn back and the knob turned. The smell of cigarette smoke hit me almost before I glimpsed the wizened old lady. Her face was weary and folded with age, and her hair hung around her cheeks in clumps, like dreadlocks. Shadowing her face and hair was a black hood, giving her an extraordinary and very witch-like appearance.

The old lady smiled at me. "I'm sure I can find tuppence to give you", she remarked cheerily, shuffling off into the sooty darkness of her home. I stood at the door, amazed. I had expected to be turned away. Yet this ancient crone, who evidently had so little herself, was willing to donate to charity.

Returning with a twenty-cent piece, the old lady croaked, "It's not much, but here you go."

"Thank you!", I replied, meaning it with all my heart. "Just imagine if everyone gave twenty cents - how much money would be raised". (for our population - approximately 3.5 million dollars)

"Well, that's true!" the old lady cackled gaily.

We said goodbye, and I walked away across the acrid-smelling porch. My mind was racing, and my emotions were whirling and eddying. I felt that something profound had just happened with this cigarette-puffing, odd old lady.

Generosity is a small old woman on my street.


Val said...

An interesting experience, Jelly. I'm glad there are people like you willing to do the door to door work.

We don't turn down people door knocking for charity but we have started drawing the line at the telephone requests. The more you give, the more you get called, and often by the same charity that you've just donated to not that long ago. So we choose a large organisation (Salvation Army), donate substantially twice a year, and tell the telephone brigade that if they send us something in the mail we will consider it. It's amazing how many of the callers say they have no provision for sending things out in the mail. I think it might have something to do with them not getting their "cut" of the donation.

Kerri said...

It's what makes the world go 'round...people of all shapes, sizes and characters. What an interesting experience for you Jelly. Oops, I just read Val's comment and see I used the very same words that she did. Great minds.... :)
Hers is a good strategy. We don't give over the phone either.
What a generous nature the old lady had. Makes me think of a Bible story I've often taught my Sunday School kids.

Motherkitty said...

Just goes to show you. Some people will give you the clothes off their back without question and others (those who can best afford it) will refuse to help anyone. That rich one reminds me of the Gollum in Lord of the Rings -- always yelling "my precious, my precious." Your neighbor may be a foul-smelling old hag, but isn't she beautiful?

thisisme said...

I'm with most others - I'm loathe to give over the phone too. I have to say though, I've very likely to give when I have a volunteer at my front door. What a generous woman, and what a contrast.

Alice said...

I have been a 'door-knocker' for Red Cross and Heart Foundation over the years, and often found that the most unlikely people were the most generous.

Live Val, we donate to those who come to the door but rarely now to the telephone requests as there are just so many, no doubt all very deserving, but .....

Alice said...

I've just remembered an incident that happened when I was at High School. There were catastrophic floods in NSW in the mid 1950s and, although I went to school in Victoria, we spent most of one week door-knocking the houses in the town. One elderly lady, who didn't appear to be very well off, gave us a brand new pair of shoes that she'd only bought the day before. When we asked, "Are you sure you want to give these away?" She replied, "Oh yes, they need them far more than I do. I'll just keep wearing my old ones for a few more months."

Remiman said...

I love you Jellyhead;
because your nice, your real people, you have an understanding heart, and just ,just, well just because. And that's all I have to say.

fifi said...

How kind of you to volunteer!
bless your jellyheart.

What a great tale also. You may have been the only company she had that day, so your act was doubly good: a coin for the charity, and a smile for a lovely old character.

shellyC said...

It is so nice to read your blog first thing in the morning - you just bring more sunshine to the day!!!

meggie said...

Lovely post Jelly!

Anonymous said...

She is still from the generation that helped man kind with out thinking of selfishness.

It's ashame that that is lost in most people.

Puss-in-Boots said...

That brought to mind my own door knocking experience, Jells. I, too, found that those who had the least gave the most...putting their more affluent neighbours to shame. Ironic, isn't it?

LarryLilly said...

I do stuff for the diabetes foundation, and that is door-to-door solicitation on our block, and while we all generally have similar income and aged people living here, we do have one retired and older couple. They give the most, and even though I know the woman to be a diabetic, I dont think that is the reason. Like me, she sees that stuff done today wont benefit us, but there are those behind us that will.

Heather said...

Beautiful post by a beautiful person.

Sandy said...

It's getting so that we receive more & more phone solicitations and I don't give by phone anymore for the specific reason that we gave to a non existant charity once by phone. I'd much rather see a neighbor or someone I know collecting for a good cause door to door.

Princess Banter said...

It's very true. Little amounts of money goes a long way if we really think about it. When I went to San Francisco earlier this year, I noticed some kids pan handling and asking various people for a dollar. Most will just give it to make them go away. Imagine how much those kids get by day-end???

Heidi said...

This post is so wonderfully written... I felt as if in the middle fo a good book... not wanting it to end. I am serious... very nice.

(And what an experience to share!)

Heidi said...

Sorry about the typo in my comment... "of" ... there we go!

Mimi said...

Beautiful. This is an old story from the Bible where Jesus proclaimed the poor woman greater than the rest because she gave her last penny. In another story a wealthy young man asked how to follow and Jesus told him at last to sell all and follow him and the man walked sadly away knowing he couldn't.