How to Change the World as a Broke College Student

It’s no secret- life can be really stressful sometimes, especially as a college student. Every time you turn on the news, the world seems like it’s burning to the ground, and it’s hard to see any good in the world with a storm of pessimism constantly swirling in the atmosphere. Oftentimes, happiness can seem like it’s just out of reach, a memory of your childhood taken for granted until it was gone. You can believe me when I say that I have spent countless days and nights stressing over the plights in life; just as tigers have stripes and leopards have spots, I have an existential crisis at least twice a week. But, even though the common mortal man cannot singlehandedly dismantle the achievement gap or homophobia or terrible Los Angeles traffic jams during rush hour, there is a common way for everyone to throw a little bit of good into the world: charity work. “But, but, but!” I hear you cry. “The demographic for this article is mainly college students! Don’t you know how poor and overworked this group is on average, with the 5 and 6-figure debts accrued by these budding young adults as a matter of course?! How can any college student have time to donate to charity?!”

But, I implore you to hold your questions until the end of the article, as after reading it, you may find that contributing to your local community is easier than you think.

                                                                     Photo Courtesy of Foodie's Feed

Food Banks    

You know when you didn’t want to eat your broccoli when you were six and your mom would say something like, “Oh, you should clear your plate because there are starving children in Africa that don’t have food to eat at all”? Well, technology may not have advanced to be able to Prime ship your leftovers to Botswana, but there is a way to feed people struggling with food insecurity right in your community: donating to a local food bank. It’s alright, too, if you don’t have a spare $5 billion lying around to buy a year’s worth of dinners for everyone in California. If you’re at the grocery score and you’ve got some spare cash handy, buy an extra cereal box to donate to your local food shelter. A spare 50 cents can be a banana in the hand of a child that normally would not have had anything. Any food is a more filling dinner than no food at all, and you can make sure that someone who may not know where their next meal is coming from is able to survive another day. Now, this idea may be all good in theory, but there is still a pressing question: “How do I know that I will be buying what the food banks actually need? If I am spending my spare change to help someone without food, how can I make the most of my donation?” Canned food is always a classic in food drives, and without a doubt, if you have some canned food handy, it’s a very good thing to donate it to a food bank. But according to the Manna Conejo Valley Food Bank, canned food is frequently given, and dairy items such as eggs, milk, and cheese can often be higher on the list of things that are in short supply. If you ever do have any doubts and wish to donate locally to Thousand Oaks, Manna Conejo Valley Food Bank has a full list of their most needed items on their website.

Alternatively, if you wish to donate somewhere else, it’s never a bad idea to call and ask at your local food bank to see what they need the most. There’s another way to donate food that’s commonly overlooked, and you can do it without even stepping foot off of your property: grow food and donate it to the homeless! If you’ve got a fruit-bearing tree in your backyard, then gleaning extra fruit from it is a great way to donate. If you don’t have an orange or apple tree handy, that’s fine too; backyard gardens are always a trendy way to grow for good, which still turns your hard work into delicious and nutritious fruits and vegetables. A word of caution before you go prancing off to the grocery store or gardening center: remember that the food you donate actually goes to people. So if you wouldn’t give it to a beloved young relative - “it” being items such as dented cans, mouldy fruit, cans without labels, random ripped open boxes of food, or alcoholic beverages - it likely cannot be accepted by your local food bank either.

                                                                     Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

“But but but!” I hear you say, for the second time this article.     

“I do not have a backyard or spare grocery store gift card lying around! How can I impact my community now?!” The good news is that you have far from run out of options. If you can think of something that you have in your home right now, it can probably be donated to charity so that someone less fortunate can use it. For example, let’s provide a concrete scenario, relatable to all manner of college students. Everyone has that shirt they have, but just never wear. Maybe it’s too small. Maybe it’s too big. Maybe it was given to you by your ex-boyfriend and is now tainted by the haunting memory of him leaving you at the altar and skipping off to Paris on a brisk midsummer’s evening - I have a flair for the dramatics. 

Regardless of your reasons, you likely have clothes that you do not wear often enough to warrant them taking up space in your closet. In many cases, the best thing to do is not to let them rot in the back of your wardrobe for years to come, but to embrace the knowledge of what is dead weight in your life and to let your gently used clothes go to the people that need them the most. Some of my local favorites are the American Cancer Society Discovery Shop, Hope of the Valley, Goodwill, and Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, but there are many others out there. Doing one’s own research on this issue is helpful to see which store is local and provides for the causes dearest to you. If you have some spare toiletries in the cabinet under your sink, those can be donated as well. An extra tube of toothpaste and a bottle of shampoo may not be worth much to you, but it could mean everything for someone trying to practice good hygiene or interviewing for a job that may help give them a better quality of life. It is easy to find organizations that may accept these gifts in kind, a local example being Lutheran Social Services Southern California; as with food donations, it is a great idea to contact the organization of your choice ahead of time and double-check that what you want to give is acceptable.     

                                                                             Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

The Single Thing Commonly Overlooked yet Infinitely Priceless     

Even if you are someone with not a single possession or penny to your name, there is still a thing you can give that helps others in need: your time. Everyone is familiar with the age-old example of volunteering at a soup kitchen to feed the hungry, and while this is still very much an admirable path to travel, there are also more creative ways to donate one’s time. For example, if you have a hobby or interest, it is likely that it can be used to benefit your community. Like being in the outdoors? There are many environmental restoration programs that need a helping hand. Prefer staying inside with a cup of coffee and a knitting needle? Try your hand at sewing a blanket for soldiers overseas, hospice patients, or service dogs. Consider yourself an entrepreneurial sort? Try running a bake sale or other business, donating all or part of the proceeds to a charity of your choice. All of these are free or low-cost ways to help others in need, which also allow you to have fun in the process. Instead of sitting around in your dorm doing nothing for 8 hours, perhaps you can grab some friends and use the daylight hours doing something productive for the good of society. But what if you’re worried about advancing yourself as well as helping others in need? Though volunteer work doesn’t pay, it can allow you to reap more benefits than obvious at first glance.

Let me ask you this: if you are doing pro bono data entry for a local food bank, are you simply volunteering for a food bank… or are you an unpaid intern proving proficiency in your field working for an established local organization? Even if a position isn’t paid, it can still provide concrete proof that you have skills and experience that employers want. Do some research on employers in your major or future career path, and see if you can’t get your foot in the door by showing your skills in a volunteer position. While it may not feel like you’re doing much for your career at first, in the long run, it’s a lot better than slapping "team player on your resume.     

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In conclusion…     

This article is meant to be broad to give you a general idea of what you can do, as a checklist in itself or a launchpad for more individualized ideas. A message that I do not want you to take from this article is that you are on the same level as puppy-kickers and tax fraudsters if you’ve never worked a volunteer job or donated to your local thrift store. That's not what I mean, this article is not meant to condescend nor is it meant to guilt trip anyone. Rather, the intended moral backbone of this article is that helping a little bit is still better than helping none at all. You do not need to be an 80-year-old woman with millions in retirement money to better your community, nor do you need to have days on end of spare time. Donate $5 to an organization of your choice every so often, when money is less tight than usual. Choose a day each month to go out and pick fruit for the homeless or volunteer at your local animal shelter. Instead of simply lamenting to your friends that the world is dark and frightening (you can still do that - don’t worry), go out and make the world a little bit brighter yourself, support the causes that mean the most to you, and embody the kind of transformation you wish to see. That’s how you can really change the world.

                                                                           Photo Courtesy of Pixabay