$3.33 a day does it

May 6, 2015 | Editorial | Volume 19 Issue 10

That’s right—the mere cost of a cappuccino at Starbucks by 33 of your friends every day for three months provides relief for 1,000 refugees or some 200 families in war-torn Syria.

This innovative fundraising appeal launched by Allan Reesor-McDowell, community engagement coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Ontario, has already raised nearly $78,000 toward a $100,000 goal from 270 donors online and additional cheques from 10 donors. With a fetching title—“SOS for Syria” —the campaign provides a new platform for giving, especially among young people. (See also the story, "SOS for Syria," written by our Young Voices co-editor Rachel Bergen on page 34 of our April 13, 2015 edition.)

This is an important development for two reasons:

• First, global disasters are becoming almost daily fare. Not only has the Middle East been a boiling cauldron of war, destruction and mind-boggling displacement of its citizens, but as we have just witnessed, natural disasters like the earthquake in Nepal are hitting our planet with increasing regularity. We who have been spared these awful consequences need to develop a mindset of generosity that is as important as eating and sleeping, yes, as integral to our daily living as drinking a cappuccino at Starbucks or a mocha at Tim Hortons.

• Second, it is making it possible for Millennials to be just as generous in their giving to MCC as the more affluent Boomers and their predecessors have been over the past 90 years of MCC.  There has been not a little concern by those of my generation as to whether the younger generation, who will never experience the level of affluence of many of their parents, will have either the means or the motivation to give in the millions of dollars that has enabled MCC to expand its efforts over the years.

Add to that the long-term effects of these disasters and the increasing rapidity of their destruction, and we have what could best be described as “sustained suffering” in much of the world at any given time. Syria, for instance, is entering its fifth year of conflict characterized by extreme violence and brutality. The UN estimates that more than 210,000 people have been killed, with an additional million people injured in violent clashes. Some 7.6 million people have been internally displaced and more than 3.3 million refugees are currently seeking asylum in neighbouring countries.

The more than 6,000 killed in Nepal’s recent earthquake—that number expected to rise to 10,000—has destroyed the homes and livelihood of those families in one of the poorest countries of the world. Imagine the long years of struggle to get back to some state of normalcy with such an abrupt interruption in your family and community.

When we hear these numbing numbers and view the dramatic scenes on our TV and computer screens, we can be overwhelmed and think that our small efforts hardly count in addressing such huge needs.  

There’s where the imagination of Reesor-McDowell’s new approach to the problem is nearly ingenious. What he is tapping into, as a Millennial himself, is the crowdfunding model already gaining currency with his generation. What they might lack in big dollars is made up by large networks of friends who love to get behind projects that are of interest to them.  Hence, the appeal for small amounts of money to large numbers of people.

Persons like Jeremy Enns, featured in Bergen’s article, are looking for great ideas to get behind. Further, it has peer-to-peer appeal, rather than some institutional person coming to them with his hands out. Friends respond to friends much more readily than to persons employed to do fundraising.

The foundation is already there for both older and younger donors. With so many actors in the field of fundraising, MCC has earned the trust of our own faith community as well as a growing number of people outside our circles, who have come to put explicit faith in an organization that spends very little on administration and has developed the channels at the receiving end that avoid government corruption and other obstacles that prevent the food, clothing and other aid from getting immediately into the hands of those who need them.

What’s more is that this new approach by Reesor-McDowell is expected by him to bring some 150 to 200 new donors to the scene—expanding the efforts of those of us who have been faithful donors to the needs as they have been presented to us by MCC.

What a thrilling mustard-seed concept!

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