| Print Story | E-Mail Story | Font Size
H. LORREN AU JR., THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Dr. Monica Mehren, of Mission Viejo, founded Believe in Miracles, a group of philanthropists who save $1 a day to donate to locals in need. The group is looking to expand its membership base.
Loading ...

Giving group believes in small miracles

Giving group believes in small miracles

THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

Saving a dollar a day is relatively easy. That's the vending machine you avoid or the latte you didn't buy.

More interesting, though, is what you would do with that $365.

Monica Mehren, a hospice doctor from Mission Viejo, thought that if people pooled their resources (by joining forces), multiplication could pay off big time for those in need.

The concept is called a giving circle, and it's catching on. A national study in 2007 identified at least 400 circles linking more than 12,000 people who have given nearly $100 million.

Mehren, who started Believe in Miracles in 2004, isn't after millions.

"A dollar a day just sounds easy."

The idea is that individuals contribute money and jointly decide where to give it. This group, which started with seven members, has given away at least $25,000 over the past six years – most of it directly to local folks in need.

They favor gift cards, but other gifts have included a computer, one student's high school football fees, and paying the rent or dental bills for others.

Consider them leprechauns with the very real power to grant wishes. They deliver gifts with a rainbow-decorated letter that can be anonymous to protect the recipient's pride:

"You are the recipient of a gift from our giving circle ... Believe in Miracles is a Christian group that would like to extend a helping hand to someone in need...It is our hope that this indeed will make a difference for you."

This is benevolence without the tax deduction or the middleman. Call it local philanthropy on the fly.

To me, it's not the saving that's fascinating – it's the spending.

To know what you can give, first you have to know what you've got. The group will only give away the cash it already has in hand.

So each quarterly meeting starts – and ends – with the writing of checks.At this meeting, nine members write their checks for $91.25. Added to other contributions, tonight they have $1,635.

Mehren and three other members suggest six families in need, and the discussion starts.

Member Ali Duncan describes a disabled woman, cared for by her grandson, who sleeps on the couch. She needs her own bed.

"I have a friend who owns a mattress company," someone offers.

"Maybe you can help us a get a deal," Mehren responds.

Janey Horvath describes the 19-year-old working at her regular coffee shop. This teenager will become a single mother in September.

"How much can you make at a coffee shop?" Janey wonders. "I don't know how she's going to manage."

Becky Gelbart describes the manicurist who works with her daughter at a salon. This widowed mother of four lives in a one-bedroom apartment where the water was recently turned off.

"How much is the water bill?" someone wonders.

"Those kids are all going to need shoes for school," another member observes.

Mehren describes three families she would like the group to help:

There's a family with two daughters, 11 and 14, who go to school with her son. Both have a genetic blood disease. The group has helped them before, but Mehren says they need help again.

"It tugs at my heartstrings."

There's also a 20-year old woman, with no family support, starting classes at Vanguard University. Perhaps the group could outfit her dorm room.

Third, Mehren describes a music teacher and mother of two who lost her job and might lose her house.

"We could also give her a gift basket and movie tickets," someone suggests. "Those things make you feel good if you're struggling."

Now it's time to set priorities, to get to the nub of it all.

Mehren asks: "Who has the most urgent need?"

This is budgeting in the first person, with nothing abstract about it. The closer you are to the problem, the better you feel about helping.

As a hospice doctor for Kaiser Permanente, Mehren is familiar with people in crisis.

"I'm so intimately aware of family needs."

Cathy Ross is an original group member who knows Mehren from church. She says this tithing is different because the scope is smaller and local.

"We are directly involved in deciding where that money is going to go...You feel like you can make a difference."

This night the group starts with $300 for a bed and maybe $200 to outfit a dorm room. How about $200 at Target for the expectant mother, $400 at Albertsons to use on food and medication for the sick children and another $225 at Albertsons for each struggling family?

"Let's look at our totals and see if we like it," Mehren says.

They shuffle numbers – maybe less here and more there.

There's a few dollars left.

"Let's give movie tickets," someone suggests. "Sick kids watch a lot of movies."

Acting treasurer Sylvia Andereck-Birt cautions they are running out of money.

The group finalizes its figures. Members volunteer to take responsibility for gifts and receive checks on the spot to pay for them.

They will give away $1,550.

Talk returns to that student and her dorm room. Would she like to shop alone or have someone go with her?

"I'll go with her," Gelbart offers. "In case there is something extra."

Andereck-Birt laughs. After four years in the group she knows that once you get involved you want to give extra.

"We're all suckers for that."

The meeting is ready to wrap up, but a new member has a question:

"How do you do this without tears?"

My question is pretty much the same:

If a dollar a day isn't too much to ask, is it too much to need?

Believe in Miracles accepts donations and welcomes new members. Contact: mmehren9@cox.net or 949-348-0368.

Contact the writer: Contact the writer and send story ideas to terylzarnow@gmail.com.


See archived 'See OC' stories »
 



ADVERTISEMENT
OrangeCounty.com on Facebook