Tips to donate food or money anonymously
October 13, 2018 12:38 AM   Subscribe

When I am able, I have been anonymously mailing grocery gift cards to a food insecure family of three, that I am personally close with. Due to Circumstances, their mailing address has changed, which I know, but they have not told this to anyone outside of a very few close friends and even fewer relatives, if any. I have personally suggested food pantries when food topics come up, but for unknown reasons that idea has not yet taken hold, as far as I know. For the record, I have used pay-pal and zelle to send and receive money from this party for other typical reasons (think "thanks for driving, here's some gas money"), which is not anonymous. How can I continue the periodic anonymous food/food-related/cash donations to this family? I feel like there is no way to do this and remain anonymous. TIA for any tips or ideas.
posted by anonymous to Technology (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Are you good at fibbing? You could be an "intermediary" for the benefactor, who doesn't know where they've moved to but knows that you know them and could pass the gift along.
posted by praemunire at 12:49 AM on October 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

Do you know how they feel about it? Personally I'd be driven crazy not knowing the origin of gifts, like a real lack of control. If they're cool with it then I'd just carry on sending them as they are probably not the sort to obsess like I would and will just assume either some bureaucracy somewhere updated address or is someone they know well. I mean most likely the latter anyway right?
posted by JonB at 1:03 AM on October 13, 2018 [6 favorites]

Are they nearby? Can you just drop the card personally in their mail-hole?
posted by bendy at 2:37 AM on October 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

A few years ago, I won a grant to lead a fundraising skills workshop in my town. One of the participants was you, a guy who felt guilty and was anonymously helping a local family where he had been childhood friends with the wife. He clearly had a good purpose in mind, but the group felt it was strongly in his interest to own up and talk to them about how he could be a real help to them. The problem with anonymous giving is the same as giving a child a donated gift for Christmas: it creates a tendency towards self-shaming by the parents, who know they cannot afford the luxury of a gift. Imagine giving a child a toy that will cost £10 in batteries every month to operate and you are living on £400 a month after housing, food, and utilities? Offering actual assistance to move towards security is crucial. Helping them find better jobs, accessing benefits they deserve and qualify for, are better steps than gift cards and scrip.
posted by parmanparman at 4:34 AM on October 13, 2018 [8 favorites]

Mod note: Okay, we've had some suggestions that anonymous gift card/cash donations may have problem aspects, so OP can consider those issues. But going forward, let's please stick to the actual question or skip answering this one. Thanks.
posted by taz (staff) at 5:51 AM on October 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you can confirm that they filed a forwarding address with the post office you can keep sending the cards to the old address for a year, and they'll get forwarded. Which doesn't really solve your problem, but maybe this time next year their new address will be widely enough known that you can safely mail direct again.
posted by COD at 6:14 AM on October 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

Set up another PayPal connected to an anonymous email address. This is technically against PayPal's ToS but I know a few people who do it for various reasons (mostly that PayPal doesn't allow you to change your name on your account without a whole lot of legal documents).

Also for what it's worth, I've had someone do this to me a few times (check my question history) and I find it both mortifying to be someone's object of charity and troubling that a friend doesn't feel like they can be honest with me/might want something in return eventually. Maybe do some deep thinking about whether it needs to be anonymous. Something to keep in mind, YMMV.
posted by fight or flight at 6:15 AM on October 13, 2018 [5 favorites]

Get a P.O. box and send something to their old address - see whether it gets forwarded or returned. Bonus: if this really is making them uncomfortable or raising questions for them, they have a way to get in touch with you.

Non-anon ideas:
It sounds like they are close enough with you to be ok disclosing that they are food-insecure. Perhaps when one-on-one ask whichever adult you are closest to if there's any reason they are uncomfortable not using a food pantry/other resources. Perhaps there's a barrier you could help them sort out. (But perhaps not - food pantries sometimes just give out bags of food and you have to take what you get - there are multiple issues with this. Also keep in mind that they may already be going to a food pantry and not want to tell anyone).

Less efficient, but invite them over for dinner. Make a crap-load of something that reheats well and send them home with leftovers. Repeatable.

You somehow have a gift certificate for $thing and you'll never use it, will they please take the certificate and use it as a favor to you. You can only do this one once or twice.

You're going out of town for several days and you'd stocked up the fridge because reason. Will they please help you out by taking some fresh perishables off your hands so they aren't wasted. (A little tricky to pull off and hard to repeat).

Go visit. Leave $20 behind - in some place where it will take them a few days to find it and when they do find it, it will seem likely that they just forgot it was there.

If they are looking for work, ask if you can hire them to do things you need done anyway. For example, I would like to hire someone to sell my stuff on eBay and would give a very good commission just to get some sort of return. If they have a kid old enough to do chores and who is interested in doing odd jobs, hire the kid to mow your law/run errands/etc.
posted by bunderful at 6:55 AM on October 13, 2018 [6 favorites]

If you can confirm that they filed a forwarding address with the post office you can keep sending the cards to the old address for a year, and they'll get forwarded.

Fair warning, I'm not sure where this family is located but where I am mail-forwarding is not only not a free service but the base time period is only 3 months - you have to pay even more to upgrade to 6 or 12 months. (In times of financial constraint I personally always considered this service an unaffordable luxury and suffered the consequences of lost mail)

One strategy could be to ask if they signed up for mail forwarding and, if they haven't and it isn't free, offer to pay for that. That's a one-time practical gift that they might be more willing to directly accept from a friend than ongoing gifts of food. Then you'd be helping them get their mail and also be able to discreetly send them gift cards for a known period of time.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 7:56 AM on October 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Talk a mutual friend into spreading the address around your circle. "I was visiting Charlie at her new digs on Leicester Avenue..." on fb can create plausible deniability.

Don't mail anything until the information spreads beyond your circle. This is how some office criminals work. They wait until there is a new employee and only steal while there is one and stop when that person leaves.

Have a talk with your family, "Like, how are you guys doing really? I've been wishing I could help...." Use the information gained. For example utilities can often be paid at the service counter if you know the account number. Since they have a new address you could claim to have forgotten "your number" but would like to put two hundred on the current bill.

Find a helpful church who will forward gift cards or pay utility bills on your behalf. If they do charitable things they may be willing to do this for you as part of their program of benevolent assistance.

Send a message explaining how you have been taught that giving requires a thanks and is therefore never selfless. That is why you are giving anonymously. You admire them so much, and wish you could do more. They are the kind of people who have provided you with help in the past. You are paying it forward. This is a windfall that you would feel selfish to spend on yourself. You have deep respect for them, etc. Quote Matthew 6:3, if appropriate: "…But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret." Apologize in case they find it creepy.

Mail it anonymously to a mutual friend labeled c/o. Or better yet to a close friend of theirs who you hardly know.
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:43 AM on October 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

While you're figuring this out, here's a thread about subsidizing people's lives. The link goes to my comment because I think one strategy could be to basically offer to bring over dinner (as like a "let's get together! You came to my place last time, let me pick up some dinner and bring it over!" thing) but then cook there and leave behind a bunch of staples. Or just bring way too much and decline to take the leftovers with you. Have it be a weekly get-together? You could also use any upcoming holiday or birthday as an excuse to bring by a roast chicken, or whatever. I realize that's all harder to do if you're far away or don't have time to be social, but maybe other ideas in that thread would help you.
posted by salvia at 9:49 AM on October 13, 2018

I'm going to disagree with the following commenters and suggest that it's OK to donate anonymously. If you've ever been in a really shitty financial situation--the kind where finding food for your kid, or even just for yourself--sometimes it makes a BIG difference to get even ten bucks, and you are just grateful to get it.

My suggestion is a note saying "You are good people, I know you will pay it forward when you get a chance. Thanks for letting me PIF. We're all in this together."

Agree that you should try forwarding mail as long as your postal area will continue to do so. Generally there is a return to sender, address unknown if they stop forwarding, so your gift card can be returned to you.

Alternately, if you're in touch with them often enough that you can pay pal them for gas, you should be able to say something along the lines that you forgot your wallet, gimee your address and I'll send you the gas money I owe you.

Also, if you actually have a job they can do, call them up and tell them you were thinking of putting out a job to Craigslist, would they like to do it for you so you wouldn't have to have a stranger around. Tell them you'll pick them up and drop them off--what's the address.
posted by BlueHorse at 2:19 PM on October 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

When my sister was going through a bad time and too proud to accept help, I used to hide one, five and ten dollar bills in the pockets of jackets hanging in the hall. It's so easy to forget you shoved change in your pocket.
posted by Enid Lareg at 2:09 PM on October 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

« Older How to help get out the vote without stepping...   |   What to expect from a polygraph? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.