Tuesday, November 11th, 2008
I bought a book at a national bookseller last weekend. The cashier asked me if I also wanted to “buy a book for a needy child,” and she pointed to a selection on a bookshelf behind her.
Was I supposed to be grateful for a service that makes it easier for me to contribute to charity? Instead, I saw it as a way for the store to increase sales.
I also felt uncomfortable, not wanting to appear stingy or to deprive a child of a book. I asked if I would be paying full price plus tax. Answer: “Yes.” [I'd seen the book she held in her hand last year at T J Maxx for less than half the price. This did not increase my desire to contribute and pay in full for a book that should have come deeply discounted from a remainder table.]
The practice is nothing new. Grocery stores collect canned and packaged goods for families in need, especially before major holidays. What does the grocery store contribute to this effort, other than an empty cardboard box to hold the mincemeat, canned pumpkin and brown sugar? Don’t soup kitchens and other charities pick up the boxes? The store probably doesn’t incur a shipping cost–it just profits from the sale of additional food.
However, I like the anonymity of fulfilling someone’s dream. At this time of year, I prefer to pick up letters to Santa available from the U.S. Postal Service.
It can be very sad to read letters from children whom Santa forgot last year and who ask only for things for siblings and parents, though many of the letters will charm you and make you laugh. The best part is imagining the family’s reaction when a wrapped box arrives with just the wished-for skates or sweater inside. The USPS web site, usps.com, suggests, “Contact your local postmaster to find out how and where you can participate.”
This year Santa’s North Pole mailbox and the Angel Trees at clubs, associations and in places of worship will be fuller than last. Should you want to gift food, there are food pantries all over the U.S. that would happily accept donations. Participate in some surprise gift giving at any time, if you can, and you’ll fill your heart with joy.