One of many incarnations of Theodor Geisel's grouchy green protagonist — this one on a train in Italy. | Credit: Nicholas Gemini / WikiCommons

Hohoho, it’s December — and we all know what that means — it’s the time of year when everyone is supposed to give to others. Even if you don’t want to give, you have to give. That’s right, Santa Barbarians — it’s time to pay our property taxes.

Now we address and mail our tax payments to a “Harry E. Hagen” — I think it’s suspicious that we make out our checks to an individual and not to a county tax department. I can picture this Mr. Hagen — which is obviously an alias — sipping a Mai Tai on a beach in Palau while opening his December mail and laughing about how gullible we Santa Barbarians are. But, whatever scam Harry might be running, December is definitely the month to be a giving person. Because no one wants to be seen as a Scrooge or a Grinch — even though both characters personify themes of self-transformation inspired by the generosity of others. Which means — even if our skin is green — that we want to give generously this Holiday season. But to whom?

Since we were just discussing taxes, it’s worth noting that charitable donations to Non-Profits (NPs) and/or Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) are usually tax-deductible — which might motivate the wealthy to give. And Santa Barbara is full of wealthy people. And poor people. Living side by side. Metaphorically speaking of course, because the wealthy and the poor in this town rarely share living space — unless you count the times Teslas are taken to car washes. But, with or without deductive motivations, those who don’t have much to give are often the ones who give the most — and that describes a lot of Barbarians. Whatever the reasons, I’d say that, as a town, we are a pretty generous bunch.

Though maybe not quite as generous as the tree in Shel Silverstein’s childhood classic, “The Giving Tree,” in which a tree gives and gives until it’s just a stump — some critics argue that this story is not really about giving at all but rather it’s a dialectic about narcissism and codependency. These would be the same critics who maintain that Humpty Dumpty’s definition of “slithy” is about gender fluidity. So let’s just stick to Silverstein’s theme of being generous by considering donations to Santa Barbara NPs and NGOs, organizations which are trying to make the world a better place by helping out in all kinds of ways.

Which raises the question: how many NPs / NGOs are there in Santa Barbara? 50? 100? Maybe 150? How about 1,960? That’s the number Causes Count came up with in 2019. No one knows the exact number because it’s like trying to count the number of tourists in this town — they come and go every day. And all these organizations exist because of volunteering Santa Barbarians. I think the alternate spelling of “philanthropic” just might be “santabarbaric”.

To give you an example of a Santa Barbara NP / NGO, I borrowed a quiz idea from NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”. Here are the names of one real and two fake local NPs / NGOs, including quotes about them from their real and imagined websites. Can you guess which one is real and win Bill Kurtis’s voice on your answering machine?

Poem People: You’re in an emotional crisis and your therapist is in Vail (on your dime), and your older sister, the person you usually call, is the reason you are in an emotional crisis — so who do you actually call? Well, you could try Poem People. These are trained virtual responders who will “listen to your problem, and then read you a poem relevant to your situation, thus providing the power of literary support just when you need it most.” Of course it works. Who wouldn’t want to hear “The Wasteland” in the middle of a melt-down?

Adopt-a-Cow:  So what happens when a cow is past her milking years? All she does is wander alone around the pasture. But not anymore. Because you can adopt a cow and save her from that dire loneliness. Each donor will receive a package which includes “a picture of your cow, her name, her milking history, and detailed instructions on how to visit your adopted cow during the Holidays and provide her with a very Mooey Christmas.”

The Santa Barbara School of Squash: Choose one: 1) This Vegan Culinary Academy teaches students “to bake and serve this most venerable vegetable in order to create a more antioxidantal society”.  2) This Institute’s goal is to teach the “ancient Druidic belief that the crushing of insects releases their positive energies into the universe”.  3) This organization uses the actual game of squash to provide 5th-12th graders “who qualify for the National School Lunch Program” with “academic tutoring, community service, enrichment opportunities, and mentoring”.

You guessed right if you chose the third description of The School of Squash. But Poem People is a close second — never underestimate the power of poetry. Especially nursery rhymes. I’ve spent my life wondering why Humpty Dumpty is portrayed as an egg (as depicted in Lewis Carrol’s Through the Looking Glass)because the rhyme never specifies his species — and how in the world does an egg climb up a wall?

Many Santa Barbara NPs / NGOs have names that tell you what they do. Heal the Ocean is about as obvious — and as big a job — as it gets. But some names may initially mislead you. Though Doctors Without Walls sounds like a group of physicians in the middle of an office remodel, it is actually dozens of men and women who go out into our streets and parks helping those in need of medical care. And CASA is not an acronym for Clever Abbreviations Spell Acronyms. CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate — whose mission is “to assure a safe, permanent, nurturing home for all abused and/or neglected children by providing a highly trained volunteer to advocate for them in the court system.”

One of the harder-to-guess missions of an organization might be that of the simply named Sarah House. No, it’s not the female version of a TV show spun off from that long-running drama starring Hugh Laurie (that guy is a natural to play The Grinch — without make-up). The mission of Sarah House is much richer and rewarding than any tv show:this organization “provides a beautiful home and end-of-life care for people of low-income. … And all this is carried out with what is called “extraordinary kindness””.

And what is generosity if not a form of kindness? The message we get from all of these organizations may simply be that we should remember others, especially during the Holiday Season, and try to help in whatever way we can.

To which you say, “That’s how you end this!? With a positive message!? Where’s your usual cynicism?”

To which I reply, “It’s a Holiday piece — I have to end it on an upbeat note.

But — I did just find out — that, according to military historians, Humpty Dumpty was, in fact, not an egg — he was a cannon. So thanks for wasting my time, Lewis Carroll.”

With the exception of Poem People, the writer wishes to note that, though he encourages a reader’s generosity, he is not endorsing any particular NP or NGO


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