Shire Sharing Feeds the Needy: Private Charity FTW!
Among those focused on the principles of liberty, those passionate about changing the world, there is always debate. One topic that gets less attention is welfare. Most of us, if not all, tend to agree that charity is best given voluntarily, and we usually agree that the funding method the state uses--taxation--is immoral, if not outright violent. Usually the discussion ends there, and we sit back, self-satisfied. Taxation is theft, end of story. Now the world will get better, right? What commonly happens next is we are called cruel, Darwinist, unloving, uncharitable. We are accused of not caring about the needy, of wanting the poor/disabled/drug-addicted to die so we will finally have time to roll around in our giant piles of money, laughing maniacally.
In early 2011, my dad passed away very unexpectedly, and this loss made me seek a way to honor his memory and feel connected to him. Thanksgiving rolled around, and I had an idea: to duplicate the charity work he had been doing in my hometown in Texas. For the last decade of his life, every year my dad organized his friends and coworkers to bring Thanksgiving dinners to families in need. I posted the idea on Facebook, and it took off. My supporters were Free State Project participants like me, and Shire Sharing was born.
In a fortnight, more than $1,000 poured in. With that money, and about 20 volunteers, we bought the necessary groceries, assembled appropriate bags according to details like family size and dietary needs, and delivered Thanksgiving meals to 52 Concord families. We found these families with the help of Lutheran Social Services and Friends of Forgotten Children. The recipients included single moms, elderly folks, many political refugees, and a few veterans. When I was interviewed after the deliveries, high on all the excitement, I foolishly declared that I wanted to feed 200 families in 2012.
We celebrated, a year went by, and Thanksgiving was again upon us. Encouraged, I initiated fundraising, again solely using social media, and about $6,000 was raised. I was stunned. We ended up delivering Thanksgiving dinners to a whopping 192 families, expanding our reach to include Nashua. This was accomplished through the efforts of some 50 volunteers, around 15 drivers, and the addition of a U-Haul truck.
This year, I was hoping to grow, but I had no idea what would be possible. Almost $9,000 was donated. When we gathered to organize the groceries and label the bags for their intended destinations, about 150 volunteers showed up. More than 20 cars, an overstuffed U-Haul, and a bus full of volunteers delivered food to a total of 373 families--that’s 1,317 individuals, which is almost as many people as there are early FSP movers! We added Granite State Independent Living and Harbor Homes to the list of organizations to help us find families in need.
Our geographic reach expanded again, and we made deliveries in Manchester, Salem, and Grafton, in addition to the established cities of Concord and Nashua. The local organizer for the Nashua deliveries is a New Hampshire native and friend of the FSP; the organizer for Manchester is the organizer of Occupy NH; the organizers in Grafton run a wonderful Tolstoy-inspired church called Peaceful Assembly Church. I also invited a local charter school to bring their students on a special, separate day to help prepare the bags for delivery. For what it is worth, when my dad did his first Thanksgiving delivery, he did it for only one household. I wish he could be here now to see how much his idea has grown and inspired others.
What may be the very best thing about Shire Sharing is the way in which it is organized. Those who want to donate do so; those who want to heave 50-lb bags of potatoes around step up; those who want to knock on strangers' doors and hand them bags of food harass me incessantly to make sure they are on the sign-up sheet to help. Top to bottom, Shire Sharing is a voluntary pursuit. It goes without saying that it is somewhat chaotic--something goes awry and we run around in circles until it gets figured out. But there is beauty in the chaos; so many people care, so many people want to live meaningful lives engaged in fulfilling activities, that in the end, it always works out. I will never, ever believe the people who claim we need top-down control to ensure peace, prosperity, and love.
In case I haven't made this perfectly clear: when I started Shire Sharing, all I did was say: "Hey, I have this idea." I didn't demand any minimum number of volunteers; I didn't force anyone to participate. In the beginning, I was ready to do it all myself if no one else wanted to help. Every single person who helped with Shire Sharing made an internal, totally independent decision to show up and DO something, which is the very spirit of the Free State Project. The idea itself has been the organizing factor, every step of the way. And ideas like Shire Sharing can, and do, change the world.