Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Corona virus and charity

Every year at this time I make a contribution to a charity in memory of my friend's dad. She and her sister loved him dearly and miss him still. I met him a handful of times and found him very impressive -- tall, warm and funny. This year I chose The Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation. The connection between their good works right now and Dad is clear. Dad grew up in New York, raised his family in Chicago and retired to Florida. The Foundation is providing hot meals to health care workers at hospitals in both Chicago and Florida, and the hospital in Florida is named for Joe DiMaggio (the ideal representative of NY).

Then there's The Night Ministry. They are devoted to tending to the homeless during this crisis. I gave to them because I know some of Chicago's homeless. I worry about them and their pets, all huddled together in tents or under blankets. I worry about how vulnerable and compromised they were even before this crisis.

These contributions were incremental. I've learned over the years that, in times of crisis, it's important to continue to support the charities you contribute to in good times. Otherwise they will suffer in the crisis, too, and won't be able to provide the services that made you love them in the first place.

So I felt conflicted today when I received an email from the head of the prison ministry. He offered to make it easy for us to contribute to our pen pal's individual commissary account so he can buy antibacterial soap, wipes and masks.

I've received two letters now from my pen pal, Darius. They are touching in that he seems so grateful for attention from someone on the outside. He appreciates that, when I write to him, I use notecards instead of letters from my computer because he enjoys seeing the pictures and the colors and my penmanship. I've learned that he takes every opportunity he can to go out "into the yard" -- even in the rain -- because he's desperate for fresh air. He is curious about me, and bets that I was a supporter of Elizabeth Warren's and can't wait to hear if he's right.

I will continue to pray for him, to write to him, to share tidbits about my life and faith and ask him about his. But I'm afraid right now, when it comes to contributing to his commissary account, my wallet will stay in my purse. Because the unvarnished fact is that Darius murdered two people.

I don't want him to get the virus, and I understand that the very nature of prison means that he is at  greater risk for exposure because so many people live in such close proximity. I wish this man, this fellow human being, wasn't at risk. And if I were a millionaire, I'd help him, too.

But I'm not a millionaire. I'm just me. My priorities are the innocent and the vulnerable (The Night Ministry) and heroes on the front lines (The Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation). I also want to continue supporting local businesses as best I can. So Darius is going to get my attention and my prayers, but not my cash.

I am peaceful with this decision. I know that God understands.