Archive for the ‘Charity Begins at Home’ Category

Service of Humiliating, Harmful Strategies to Get Paid: Lunch Shaming

Monday, May 8th, 2017



The headline alone of Bettina Elias Siegel’s article in The New York Times, “Shaming Children So Parents Will Pay the School Lunch Bill,” is enough to sink hearts and for readers to scream: “What are they thinking?” To embarrass a child in front of others for something they have done is horror enough but to do this over something over which the young one has no control is unthinkable. Adding injury to insult is that it involves an essential life-sustaining activity, eating, and it is fomented by school administrators who, of all people, should know better. Further, there’s a huge element of waste involved.

I wrote about school lunches four years ago in a different context: Service of Equality: Free School Breakfast, Lunch and iPads.” In that post I wanted NYC to pay for breakfast and lunch for the children whose parents couldn’t afford to buy them but thought that giving free iPads was a bit much when there are viable, far less expensive tablet options.

Recently Siegel wrote: “On the first day of seventh grade last fall, Caitlin Dolan lined up for lunch at her school in Canonsburg, Pa. But when the cashier discovered she had an unpaid food bill from last year, the tray of pizza, cucumber slices, an apple and chocolate milk was thrown in the trash.”

What’s the strategy here: It’s better to toss good food than give it to a hungry child? That’ll teach a parent who isn’t there who may not have the money to pay in the first place.



News in the rest of the article doesn’t get much better. Siegel further described “lunch shaming,” as the nasty approach is called. “The practice is widespread — a 2014 report from the Department of Agriculture found that nearly half of all districts used some form of shaming to compel parents to pay bills. (About 45 percent withheld the hot meal and gave a cold sandwich, while 3 percent denied food entirely.)” Instead of a real lunch some are given two pieces of bread with a thin slice of cheese.



Siegel described a cafeteria worker in Pa. who quit when forced to take away a child’s lunch. A child in Alabama went home with a stamp on her arm: “I need lunch money.”

There’s no free lunch and there’s the lunch bill to pay. What to do? Some qualify for a federal free meal program though others are afraid to apply because of their immigration status. Communities ask for “random acts of kindness” and organize fundraisers and GoFundMe pages. A Texas-based 4th grade mentor, Kenny Thompson, paid the bill when he saw the lunch lady refuse food to a child whose mother, he knew, was in the hospital. Next he founded “Feed the Future Forward,” and through fundraising events and donations hopes to wipe out over $50,000 in debt. To qualify for the refund money, however, Thompson makes schools sign a pledge that they won’t give children with unpaid bills a meal different from the other kids.

Lunch shaming is nothing new. Siegel quoted a mother whose son won’t eat peanut butter as the result of an incident two decades ago. How did it catch on and why do communities permit it? What gets into the minds of administrators who lose sight of their clients—children—when addressing a problem? How can parents permit such cruelty in a place they entrust their children?

Feed the Future Forward

Service of Good Samaritans

Monday, March 26th, 2012


I’ve known Good Samaritans and have written about them at least twice, in Service of Snow and Service of Pets II.

Two Good Samaritans helped out my husband, Homer, last Thursday night.

The weather turned hot and Homer left his winter coat on the 4:38 pm Metro-North Harlem Line train and in its pocket were his car keys. The car was in the parking lot at the railroad station. I had the second set of keys and I was at the office in the city, two hours away.

mta-policeI dialed the MTA police emergency number clearly marked on the train schedule, worrying that our crisis wasn’t bad enough and didn’t qualify as urgent. The policeman 3764–he wouldn’t give me his name–was wonderful, calming and quick. After hearing the story, he took my number and hung up. He called me back immediately saying he’d reached the conductor on the train who’d found the coat and put it in a lockbox at the last station. Our stop is third from last.

Meanwhile we couldn’t reach a neighbor at home or at work to drive Homer to the other station or home.

I asked the MTA policeman to do me a huge favor: To please call Homer directly in the event he had a question. He didn’t hesitate and said he’d gladly do so and even gave Homer a message from me.

doverplainsrrTrains don’t come often to this rural spot. Homer planned to take the next northbound one to retrieve his coat and then wait on that isolated platform for almost two hours for the next southbound train.

Soon a man on a motorcycle drove up to my husband. He was Dale Hossfield, the Metro-North conductor from the train Homer had just exited. Hossfield reassured him that he’d found his coat and told him precisely where he’d stored it at the end of the line.

I settled into a new project at my desk at work, deciding not to leave my desk until the situation was resolved and Homer had a way to get home. The station is in an iffy neighborhood and once a train moves on, it gets lonely. I was surprised to hear from Homer some 20 minutes, not 1.5 hours, later. “I’m inside our car!” he said.

Instead of going home to dinner after a long day at work, Hossfield returned to the lockbox two stations up and cycled back to the station with Homer’s coat and car keys. He wouldn’t accept a cent for all the gas he used driving back and forth [$4.04/gallon for regular]. There was no way to repay him for his time and kindness. Talk about beyond the call of duty.

People are in such a rush and often don’t take time to help others. We’ve learned to ignore someone who might welcome help. We have selective vision, like a waiter in a crowded restaurant who won’t move his eyes from the water he’s pouring to see a customer who is motioning for the check–or for water–and may have been doing so for several minutes.

How can we get the message to the “I’m too important and far too busy” crowd to tell them how much someone might appreciate a hand? Can you share a Good Samaritan story?


Service of Luxury Purchases

Monday, August 8th, 2011


The lead to Stephanie Clifford’s article “Even Marked Up, Luxury Goods Fly Off Shelves,” in The New York Times last week was: “Nordstrom has a waiting list for a Chanel sequined tweed coat with a $9,010 price. Neiman Marcus has sold out in almost every size of Christian Louboutin ‘Bianca’ platform pumps, at $775 a pair. Mercedes-Benz said it sold more cars last month in the United States than it had in any July in five years.”

mercedes-benzShe continued, “Even with the economy in a funk and many Americans pulling back on spending, the rich are again buying designer clothing, luxury cars and about anything that catches their fancy. Luxury goods stores, which fared much worse than other retailers in the recession, are more than recovering – they are zooming. Many high-end businesses are even able to mark up, rather than discount, items to attract customers who equate quality with price.”

Radio talk show host Michael Smerconish thought that this was great news because it meant jobs for the sales associates and showroom managers, manufacturers, shippers, inventory stock people, and it all translated into tax revenues.

Not all of his staff or listeners agreed with him but I do. Clifford, quoting Mark Zandi, Moody’s Analytics, also noted that the top 20 percent of income earners generate almost 60 percent of spending. I say, “What does it matter what these folks spend their money on? Is it anyone’s business?”

grand-central1On the other hand, I was on a train with a fellow passenger who rang my chimes. She dragged me and anyone else around her on the crowded Friday night train-no place to move–into her private life. She’d just bought a house in a tony Connecticut town and had a loud and detailed conversation on her cell phone with her insurance broker. We learned she’d paid cash for the place, had four college degrees, how old she was, and that she had just sold another home in NYC. Next, she called a contractor about her remodeling plans, dotting her conversation with her deal with the seller.

In between calls all of us heard about her upcoming travel plans when she kept up her incessant banter with her weekend guest. I am happy to report that when I got off the train I took a look at this woman. She would have been greatly improved had she used some of her money to fix herself up with some of the luxurious goods noted in the Times article.

I’m not quite sure why reading that people are paying lots of money for cars and clothing doesn’t bother me and yet this woman did. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t forced to read Clifford’s article but I had to hear about her. Further, I don’t equate looking great or being comfortable in a car with spending a boatload of money. An officemate has three new stunning summer dresses that make her look like a $million. She said she paid $30 for each at Lord & Taylor.

How do you feel about people who spend excessive amounts of money on stuff? Does what’s happening in the economy make a difference to your answer? Would the train lady have annoyed you? Do you know people like this?


Service of Little Luxuries

Thursday, May 20th, 2010


It’s easy to criticize how others spend–or you may feel waste–money. We all have our little luxuries and they aren’t the same. Chances are, what’s important to you is considered frivolous to someone else and vice versa.

sunglassesAn acquaintance bought a pair of non-prescription designer sunglasses at what was for her a bargain price of $150. They normally cost $400, she said. Hiding behind those shades must make her feel like a million bucks. As long as I don’t squint when I’m in the sun and they look OK, what makes me happy is to pay $25 or less for sunglasses. I love beautiful clothes and accessories, though I’ve never been fashion label-addicted or impressed. It’s the overall effect I’m after at the best price I can find. Neither of us is right or wrong.

A bag of truffled [sic] popcorn @ $8.99 for three ounces and a $206 olive-wood handled picnic knife were featured in a Town & Country column, “Life’s a Picnic,” in the June issue. They got me thinking of my little luxuries. My current favorites: Verbena-scented soap, greeting cards on fine paper, creamy lipstick, getting my hair done when I don’t need it cut, buying a perfect gift and dinner party favors.

I also observe others’ essential non-essentials. Some are not so small.

refrig**A frugal friend who lived in a series of rental apartments couldn’t move in without a new refrigerator and top-of-the-line washing machine. In every other way, she was totally unspoiled and a penny-pincher by necessity. Hot water, disinfectant applied with a new sponge on the appliances that came with the apartments was not an option for her.

**Another pal watched every dime spent on herself and spent almost none. Fresh flowers were her only extravagance if you don’t count the wonderful, creative gifts she gave friends.

**I know people who still smoke. A pack runs upwards of $7 in New York City and I bet they can’t buy just one.

**Brought up to read the right side of the menu [where the prices are listed] before ordering food at a restaurant, I discovered my mom wasn’t as careful when traveling.

**Some eat dinner nightly with a bottle of wine. If you know where to buy wine these days, it can cost less than soda, milk, juice, or bottled tea or water. Compared to water from a tap, all of these drinks are luxuries.

manicure**Manicures, pedicures, massages and other spa amenities may not be my style but are very much in style and beloved.

What are your small–or not so small–luxuries? Have these changed recently? Are you judgmental about friends’ picks? Any in particular?


Service of Incredible Audacity

Monday, December 14th, 2009

I’ve been bothered by what a friend described to me a month or so ago. She’d been invited to a birthday party at a restaurant and was told by the birthday girl what her share of the check would be.

Note: In my opinion, this person was a greedy facilitator hired by herself to get people together to give her gifts.  She wasn’t a host. If she wanted to plan a gathering that she could afford she might have ordered in pizza and served an ice cream smorgasbord at her home or waited until a year when she could pick up the bill.

How can people be so self-centered and assume that others not only care to toast them, but want/are able to fork over money to do so?

Turns out, this woman isn’t alone. You may have read “When Invitations Come with Invoices,” by Beth Levine in The New York Times Style Section on December 6.  Ms. Levine described something worse: Bill-sharing by the guests at a very expensive restaurant was the big surprise made known when the check came. The birthday boy’s wife handed it to the person next to her and asked him to figure out what each guest owed, according to Ms. Levine. Would I have left the restaurant then and there? I’d have been tempted to do so and thank the wife the next day, telling her that her sense of humor was priceless.

I love contributing to events and dinner parties. My favorite is baking pies and making all kinds of desserts and I have always asked what I might bring–through both thick and thin economies. I’ve gladly brought yawn-items such as salad and dressing or a vegetable dish. My sister, who frequents a fabulous bakery, always offers to bring the most incredible treats to gatherings. And I’ve happily participated in many a baby or wedding shower at a home where everyone brings a treat, as well as in get togethers in a colleague’s home to celebrate participation of members of a committee.

But I feel there’s a big difference between volunteering and being hijacked to contribute.

I don’t think the economy is an excuse. Why do you think that this kind of behavior is considered acceptable?

Service of Market Research

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

For our third and last post in conjunction with the 2009 Bathroom Blogfest, we asked 15 people [16 if you count me] to respond to this question: If you could change one thing in your bathroom, what would it be?

Some asked if the change should be big or small, but for the most part, people replied off the cuff and without hesitation.

The largest number of responses–four–wanted a larger bathroom. One snuck in two additional druthers, saying that his was a run-on sentence. In addition to a bigger bathroom, he also wanted twin sinks and a Jacuzzi. Might we extrapolate from this that men think big? Hmmm.

One woman skirted the issue of big when she wished for more room between the door and the sink. She said that now, anything behind the door gets in the way. [In a NYC bathroom, behind the door space can be an important spot for towels, bathrobes and the like.]

The second largest number of respondents–three women–had issues with their vanities. One wanted to upgrade the top of hers from the budget beige version chosen 20 years ago when she and her husband bought their weekend house to something more interesting and attractive. A second wished to change out the 1980s style lights on her vanity for contemporary fixtures and a third hoped for a sink in a vanity, to add storage space, instead of the pedestal sink she has.

Double counting the last answer regarding a vanity gives “more storage space” two respondents–both women.

Three responses involved dreams of new plumbing fixtures–a deeper sink “so that water doesn’t splash all over the bathroom and an aesthetically pleasing one;” a deep-dish bathtub and a giant shower enclosure to take the place of the old fashioned tub-with-shower-coming-out-of-the-wall system currently in place.

Two wished for different tiles. One wanted a more conservative tile because she’d bought a bathroom’s worth based on a small sample and when surrounded by the design-in-full, the effect overwhelmed her. Lesson learned: To avoid such unhappy surprises, make sure that you see a photo of a pattern to cover a wall in any room in the house whether you are installing tile, wallpaper or textile. If there’s no photo, then put several samples together in the showroom so you have some idea of a pattern’s impact, even if it’s a marble that appears fairly tame.

Tile color, not pattern, was the problem for the second respondent.  He thought he’d bought a white tile but it turned out it was beige, and once installed, didn’t match the woodwork.

Color–the wrong blue–was what needed changing for one  participant and the last wanted a device that successfully  caught her hair and prevented it from clogging the drain.

What was my answer? I’d love to incorporate wasted space outside our bathroom or make a second one with that space.

We’d like to know: If you could change one thing in your bathroom, what would it be?

The Service of a Financial Crunch—Part 2

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

Greed may be rampant these days as evidenced by Ponzi and other schemes big and small crawling out of Wall Street’s woodwork and by unjustifiable bonuses provided by the public’s money, but so are generosity and a spirit of looking out for others.

Take the staff  at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center that Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen wrote about on March 12th. It’s a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital and employs 8,000.

Cullen described what president and CEO Paul Levy said to his staff after touring the hospital for days, observing procedures big and small. He saw how caring and essential-to-healing the transporters, food-delivery, cleaning and maintenance men and women were to patient recovery.

I can vouch for that. A family member was in Lenox Hill Hospital in New York last summer where the woman who changed the sheets made us laugh and a guard, noting that we were freezing waiting for a test in a drafty, over-air conditioned hallway brought us blankets just warmed in a microwave oven. We hadn’t asked him—he volunteered.

Back to the president/CEO, whom Cullen quoted speaking with the staff at the Medical Center:

“I want to run an idea by you that I think is important, and I’d like to get your reaction to it,” Levy began. “I’d like to do what we can to protect the lower-wage earners – the transporters, the housekeepers, the food service people. A lot of these people work really hard, and I don’t want to put an additional burden on them.

“Now, if we protect these workers, it means the rest of us will have to make a bigger sacrifice,” he continued. “It means that others will have to give up more of their salary or benefits.”

“He had barely gotten the words out of his mouth when Sherman Auditorium erupted in applause. Thunderous, heartfelt, sustained applause.”

Cullen ends the column:

“Paul Levy is trying something revolutionary, radical, maybe even impossible: He is trying to convince the people who work for him that the E in CEO can sometimes stand for empathy.”

You can read the rest:

Not every business has met with this attitude. A friend in Minnesota notes that the Teamsters involved in negotiations with the Star Tribune aren’t budging and she fears this intransigence may spell the end of a beloved newspaper.

Would you give up salary and/or benefits or fee under these circumstances? Should anyone be asked—or volunteer–to do this? What are the upsides and downsides?




Spirit of Service

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

We couldn’t let the day go by without posting an excerpt from President Barack Obama’s inaugural address, the part in which he addressed the “spirit of service.”

“As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment – a moment that will define a generation – it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.”

We thank the Associated Press for printing the entire address which you can see at:

We expect our next post will conclude the four part series on service personalities.

Service to Others in Need

Friday, November 28th, 2008

We welcome another friend, a philanthropist and retired executive, who generously shared his thoughts of Thanksgiving.

What is the “meaning of life”? What is “personal happiness”? Is there a “God”?

These are some of the eternal questions with which we are born and with which we will die.

How, then, to make sense of all this thing called “life”? I think that I have found a way that makes sense for me. I think that life has no inherent meaning. All that we see, hear and read about has been invented by mankind to try to deal with “life”. I can only find meaning in the following “theory”:

Some people are born “lucky” and some people are born “unlucky.” Those with luck are born with two loving parents, sufficient money, and live in an organized society with a rule of law. Those who are unlucky are born without one or two loving parents; and /or have no money; and/or live in a chaotic society without the rule of law. Those who are lucky should help those who are unlucky so that the unlucky ones have the chance to think of these eternal questions rather than struggling to survive. Isn’t that fair?

So as I write on this day of “Thanksgiving,” I urge you, if you are one of the lucky ones, to please consider helping those who are unlucky.



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