No wrong answers in students’ tzedakah homework

Students at Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School check out a camera crew filming at the school for Givable. During March, eighth grade students at Mirowitz are using Givable, an online giving platform, to select charities each weekday to receive a donation.


Earlier this month, Halle Wasserman, an eighth grade student at Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School, had a choice to make: Should she donate to Giant Steps of St. Louis, a therapeutic school and camp for children with autism, or to the St. Louis chapter of Autism Speaks, an organization that promotes advocacy and research?

She read about each local organization and then decided how she wanted to direct her donation on a new online platform called Givable

Michael Staenberg, a local philanthropist, started the nonprofit organization about a year ago as a way “to get everyone involved and have small change make a big difference.”

He thought of it as a modern version of the tzedakah box. 

Each weekday in March, each of the 15 eighth-graders at Saul Mirowitz is given 50 cents, provided by a group of donors. The students’ homework: to make a choice between two local organizations that have a similar cause.

The goal is to teach kids “good habits and how it makes you feel good to give,” said Staenberg, a St. Louis real estate developer who is Jewish and provided $500,000 to start Givable, according to the organization. He also recently donated $1 million to Jewish Federation of St. Louis. 

On, users sign up for a rate they would like to give, such as 25 cents each weekday, totaling $8 per month. The organization highlights two organizations each day. 

Staenberg describes the selected nonprofits as “orphans” in that they are smaller, local organizations that “most people don’t know about. A couple of thousand people donating 50 cents on a given day could make a big difference, he said.

The organization plans to launch a website for Denver and eventually expand to other cities, always working with local organizations.

Halle said she decided to donate to Giant Steps “because it can affect” children with autism “right now,” whereas research and advocacy doesn’t necessarily have the same immediacy.

With Givable, she said, “you get this response that you don’t normally get.”

The students also selected between organizations such as the Freedom Arts & Education Center, a center for young people in northwest St. Louis, and the St. Louis Black Repertory, which focuses on performing plays by African-Americans; and two organizations that deal with treatment, research and prevention of kidney disease.

“Students are forced to make a decision between two things for which there are two right answers,” said Cheryl Maayan, head of school at Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School. “They are grappling with their own values. They have to decide which organization to support. The answer for that has to come from where they think they can make the biggest difference.”

Givable is also partnering with KIPP St. Louis, a charter school, and plans to add additional schools. For individuals who sign up to give monthly through the site, the organization adds an administrative fee of approximately $2.50 each month.  

Staenberg developed the idea after surveying other crowdfunding platforms but said, “I didn’t like anything I saw.”

He had his own experience with the tzedakah box growing up at a Conservative synagogue in Omaha, Neb., where “you couldn’t go in the building without having a coin. My parents made sure that we had a coin.”

“We are trying to teach people about these different charities,” he said, “and why it’s important to give locally.”