Sunday, February 26, 2012

Paying the Bills: Two Great Ways to Help (One Is for Writers)

Modest Needs

            For people living paycheck to paycheck, an emergency expense like a car repair, a big heating bill, or necessary medical care can plunge a household into a budget hole from which escape is impossible. Modest Needs provides a way for the general public to help hard-working, low-income folks cover short-term emergency expenses. Since 2002, Modest Needs’ donors have helped more than 10,000 low-income individuals and families. Donors band together to provide small grants, generally between $750 and $1,000, to cover unexpected expenses so that a short-term budget shortfall doesn’t mushroom into a long-term financial crisis.

            A similar but much older program is the Authors League Fund. To quote from a mailing I recently received:

            In 1916, Ellis Parker Butler learned of the death of a young author that had left the author’s wife and two small children impoverished and in danger of losing their resident farm. Reminded of how easily anyone in this precarious profession can hit hard times, he decided to take action. As secretary and treasurer of the newly formed Authors League of America, Butler firmly believed that writers could accomplish much by working together. He quickly composed and circulated an appeal to members of the League.

            Butler’s instincts were right: that first appeal struck a chord with writers. Most of those who responded gave from $1 to $5, but the donations poured in, raising almost $2,000 in aid—the equivalent of about $80,000 today. The farm was saved, literally, and Butler and his colleagues began reviewing applications for assistance from other writers in financial distress. They also had charter papers drawn up, establishing the Authors League Fund in March 1917.

            Since then, the Fund has helped thousands of writers, with millions of dollars in assistance. The donations we receive each year affirm Butler’s initial hunch that writers would be willing to create and sustain their own support system. The publishing industry is always evolving, and relying on income from writing has become no less risky. Our mission remains: to provide a safety net—and a sense of community—to writers enduring financial hardship.

            The February 2012 appeal from the Authors League Fund also made these observations:

            The volatile economy continues to strain our ability to meet the needs of writers and dramatists for emergency assistance. More and more applicants to the Authors League Fund report having “nowhere else to turn,” and need more than we can give. Older writers have been hit particularly hard, many suffering severe health problems.

            For 95 years, the Fund has been providing interest-free loans—most of which are never repaid—to professional writers who are struggling to pay medical bills, rent, and basic household expenses. Our aim is to help these recipients continue their careers, and their lives, with dignity.

            Every dollar you send—100%—will go to a writer who has fallen on hard times.

            If you have a few bucks to spare, please consider supporting one or both of these worthy causes. It only takes a serious medical emergency or natural disaster to plunge almost any of us into dire straits. Help a neighbor or a fellow writer today, and maybe they’ll be in a position to give you a hand some time in the future.

The Authors League Fund
31 East 32nd Street, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10016

Modest Needs Foundation
115 East 30th Street, FL 1
New York, NY 10016

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