The “Go Without” Challenge

My employer has established their own non-profit for the purpose of assisting employees in need. Anyone who works for my company can fill out an application to receive assistance — say, if their home got hit by a natural disaster or fire; or if someone is escaping domestic violence; or if someone in the family fell ill, or needed major surgery, or died unexpectedly. Sometimes life just takes a turn, and people don’t have the resources to cover basic expenses, even if they have insurance. That’s where my company’s non-profit comes into play: helping out with financial hardships outside one’s control.

Every summer, we have a pledge drive, and get the opportunity to make a one-time donation, or to sign up (as I do) for a recurring donation out of our paycheck. The pledge drive lasts two weeks, and always has a theme: being a hero for someone else, or walking in their shoes, or getting yourself in the picture. This year, the theme is The “Go Without” Challenge.

I know a little bit about going without. My family was never well-off while I was growing up, and was usually on some sort of public assistance. We didn’t go without food, or shelter, or anything major like that, but there were times when I was aware of going without certain things. 

I went without a proper Girl Scouts uniform in 4th and 5th grade, and instead had to wear cheap dress pants and a button-down shirt with no uniform sash.

I went without new shoes in high school, and put cardboard insoles in them to keep my socks clean and dry when the soles wore through.

I thought I was going to go without a high school class ring, and was confused when my family told me to go ahead and submit the order form. I still don’t know where Memaw came up with almost $200 to cover the balance at pickup time.

I went without my Class of ’94 Seniors t-shirt — the one with everyone’s name on the back — because I knew better than to ask my mom for $15 for a shirt. (She later told me she would have come up with the money for that, had I asked.)

I went without any extra drum corps “member shirts” (aka undershirts for my uniform) because I was lucky to be able to afford to march at all. I had to air out my stinky shirts as best I could and wear them for multiple shows in a row. I was always on the lookout for member shirts that people had left on the bus to claim them as my own.

I went without food on drum corps “free days” because I didn’t have any spending money. I’d spent all my money on corps dues so I could march in the first place. My corps-mates frequently took pity on me and bought me meals on the days when we were on our own.

I went without a proper winter coat in college until my roommate/BFF bought me one. Same with a blanket for my bed.

Of course, there were plenty of examples of when my family scrimped and saved so I could do certain things, like take ballet lessons or be in Girl Scouts or go to prom. And I’m sure there are even more times when I didn’t have any idea I was going without, because I was too little to realize, or because my family did such a good job of providing what they could. Like when my aunt made furniture and props for my dollhouse out of duct tape and cardboard and Q-Tips. Some might even say I went without a proper yard to play in or my own room until I was eight, since four of us lived in a two-bedroom apartment and I shared a room with my Mom (and my aunt shared a room with my Memaw).

Things are good now. My family — my husband, my son, and myself — are pretty solidly in the middle class, and money is not one of our big worries. But what would happen if one of us got laid off, or injured, or worse? What would we have to go without?

Our cable TV and internet. Our unbridled grocery shopping. Eating out. Our cellphones, or at least our unlimited data plan. New clothes and shoes. Comic books. Our once-a-month babysitter. Maybe even Connor’s preschool, if things got bad enough.

Thanks to a combination of good luck and good decisions, we’re finally in a place where having to go without is unlikely. We have health insurance, life insurance, emergency savings, and limited debt. But others are not so fortunate.

When my co-workers come upon hard times, it gives me the warm fuzzies to know that my contribution can make a difference in getting them back on their feet, so they won’t have to go without for long.

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