Service of What’s the Difference?

June 17th, 2024

Categories: Charity, Donations, Homeless, Make a Difference, Politics

The often-told story about the little boy and the starfish is attributed to an essay by Loren Eiseley although I suspect, like a game of telephone, the version I heard recently might be quite a leap from the original.

Here’s the story I heard. A little boy was tossing starfish back into the ocean at low tide. A man walking by asks him why he bothers because there are hundreds on the beach, and he can’t save most that will die before the tide returns. “What difference will you make?” asks the adult. The child responds, as he tosses another into the ocean: “It makes a difference to this starfish.”

The wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, world hunger and disease were the beached starfish mentioned in the talk I attended. We were told that we are not expected to fix these things but to think of what we can do, even if it’s the equivalent of saving only one of the thousand starfish.

Almost daily I walk by a homeless person begging outside a church, restaurant or drugstore because I have been warned over and over only to donate to legitimate charities that, in turn, are set up to help. Last Friday I passed parents, who appeared to be foreign, sitting on a sidewalk under scaffolding on Second Avenue. Their two young children crouched between them. A pedestrian, holding a hard hat, handed some bills to the father who made the sign of the cross and thanked the donor. Oh my.

There are politicians whose visions and perspectives I support but I could empty my bank account in a few minutes placing myself in the poorhouse if I donated to each or a significant amount for me, to one.

Do you feel overwhelmed when you consider all the needy, issues and wars that result in life or death? What metaphoric starfish do you save?

13 Responses to “Service of What’s the Difference?”

  1. Martha T Takayama Said:

    I constantly feel overwhelmed, sad and often helpless when I consider all the needy issues and wars that are part of our daily existence and news. I often am at a loss as to what tiny difference I can make. Sometimes I try to help on an individual basis. I am also a volunteer to help an organization called REquipment.Inc, directed by friend Adriana Mallozzi, which furnishes “Durable home medical equipment and assistive technology” to anyone with such needs, in Massachusetts. I try to make a small donation annually to Medicins San Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders. I dislike and usually reject all the political requests for signatures in support of various issues that require a donation to be processed.

  2. Linda Levi Said:

    Linda on Facebook: I’m more concerned that you might be walking around with $100 bills in your wallet?! If so, be extra careful at cashiers and ATMs that no one is watching and sees you as a robbery target. Can never be too careful.

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Linda. I do not walk around with more than $15 or $20 cash. This was a birthday gift many years ago that I have kept for emergencies and sentimental reasons hidden somewhere in my apartment.😮

  4. Linda Levi Said:

    Linda on Facebook: That’s a relief!

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I love Medcins etc though they send me far to many fundraising letters in the mail wasting their marketing money. Reequipment sounds like a wonderful organization.

    As for the politicians who want $ so you can comment or chime in, shame on them. If they take store of the results from such a “survey” they are fooling themselves.

  6. Loretta Adams Said:

    Loretta on Facebook: It is overwhelming who/what charities and political persons/parties to support. I have learned not to be impulsive with tv commercials and sometimes research how much of $$ goes to the charity snd how much yo administration. I donate to MSKCC and support the kids on my family who
    Play sports or are in scouting, as well as veteran groups and local food pantries. Lately Israel is tugging at my heartstrings.

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:


    It’s crucial to check ratings in Charity Navigator or other such organizations. Some well known 501c3s, such as the ASPCA, spend far too much on marketing in my opinion. Others spend on administration, junkets and fancy offices as you pointed out.

    It sounds like you are extremely generous. Your pantry may have enough Girl Scout cookies to feed all the first and second graders in Fishkill.

  8. Deb Wright Said:

    I have always loved the story of the little boy and the starfish. It echoes the quote, “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” It has been attributed to Helen Keller and a few others.

    Yes, I do feel overwhelmed by the barrage of worthy charities. Some even include dimes or quarters in their mailings. And, I have enough return address labels to last a lifetime. I try to limit my small income to just a few charities. UNICEF is a priority. St. Joseph’s School in North Dakota is another. Two wildlife organizations, and I am trying to keep to those. The trouble that I have is that these charities sell or give my address to similar charities. One day last week, I received Save the Bees, The Elephants are Dying, World Hunger, and Doctors Without Borders. This was in just one day. My recycle bin is always full of these pleas for help.

    So, although I would like to give more money to worthy organizations, I do not. (Although March of Dimes caught me in a weak moment)!

  9. Debbie Kunen Said:

    Debbie on Facebook: Know that every dollar matters {even to a homeless person} BUT I only donate to charities that are reputable and when I can, I support small theaters because the arts save society.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    If everyone was as generous as you I suspect we wouldn’t be in the black holes we are in so many areas such as food insecurity, the environment, arts education, animal rescue etc.

  11. Jeanne Byington Said:


    What I wrote to Debbie, above, applies to you as well. You are so generous.

    I fear that there are people with more resources than all my friends combined who don’t support causes unless they get something out of it like a sign that recognizes their generosity by posting their name on or above an institution’s door.

  12. Lucrezia Said:

    Life on the Planet id getting tougher by the second. The child’s response shows him wise beyond his years. It’s the best he can do, and he’s not ashamed of it. Humanity would do well to follow his example, and perhaps there will be way fewer “starfish!”

  13. Jeanne Byington Said:


    If everyone saved one starfish–even if it didn’t involve donating to charity–it would make a difference because it would move the needle from me, me, me, to what might I do for someone else? It might mean inviting a neighbor to celebrate with your family on a holiday, so he/she won’t be alone, or offering a traffic policeperson a cold bottle of water to pour on his/her hands and face on a sweltering day. There are many beached baby starfish. It isn’t hard to find them if you pay attention.

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