Monday, December 21, 2009

Why I Don't Like Random Acts of Kindness

It all started with Avery's gauntlets. He's a skinny little chicken bone of a child and he gets cold easily. (He also packs away huge amounts of food so you needn't worry about him.) Avery is a big fan of blankets, wool socks, hand warmers etc. Last year I was trying to learn how to knit a gauntlet (arm warmer with a thumb hole) after a lot of frustration, I made one. Then I gave up. He wears that thing all the time and adores it. In an act of love, I tried to make the matching one. No luck. In fact, I've pulled it apart many times and have two neatly rewrapped balls of yarn to prove it. Knowing with all this back/meds business I'm not getting smarter or faster; I decided to meet his need for warmth another way. We watched a craft show where they made leg warmers from a thrifted sweater so I thought I'd try it - arm warmers and leg warmers are practically identical. We had a lot of donations packed and ready for Goodwill (Deseret Industries here in UT) so we hauled them over there and I went shopping for some sweaters to cut up.

I'm going to digress for a moment here... I know several people who think people with a nice income shouldn't buy second-hand as we should (and this is a direct quote) " Not steal affordable items from poor people who need it." I don't agree. First off, it's a store. I shop there. So what. Secondly as someone who cares for the earth, I'm not terribly enthusiastic about rushing off to buy brand new things when perfectly usable existing goods are available. And three, with our super-tight budget it is much friendlier to buy used as opposed to hauling our cookies to Buckle at the mall. Back to the story~

I found four sweaters that would make great hats, arm warmers and still have enough pieces left to sew plushie animals. As I was making my final selection two ladies came up to me and shoved a white paper in my hand and said Merry Christmas. I thought it was a coupon or a religious tract. I thanked them and watched them high-tail it out of the store - seriously, they sprinted.

When I looked at what they gave me, it was an envelope with a one hundred dollar bill in it. We looked for them to return the gift as they were obviously trying to lighten someone's burden during tough economic times and we certainly don't fit the criteria of needing help. Didn't find them. So we paid for our sweaters and left the store. Utterly unsure of what to do.

We considered giving it to someone else but didn't feel right about picking who looked like they were having the hardest time. We thought of friends we know who could really use the cash but didn't want to risk making them uncomfortable.

In the end. We donated it to to a local homeless shelter that we are involved with. One hundred dollars provides shelter for seventeen days. It's nice to know that with a big storm bearing down on Utah, we did a little to help make sure there is funding to keep people warm and safe.

The gift brought up our personal concerns and quirks. My husband immediately started berating himself for his outfit and decided he must not be dressing as nicely as he could be.

I blurted, " It's because the boys have duct tape on their jackets!" My issue. The boys have these wonderful, perfect-fit, expensive ski jackets that they are very attached to. The fronts split at the the outer layer, just a few inches but in an irreparable spot. We covered the rips with a strip of tape and they happily went back sledding. While the fix is frugal, environmentally friendly and it helps them keep jackets they (oddly) love, I feel weird about it. And I was positive it was why they thought we could use the money. Flaw to my theory was that the kids weren't nearby. Oops.

Here's a pic of the duct tape on Avery's jacket:

Fun Angle

My mom would say God was blessing us and rewarding our diligence.

I think it's less than that. I think some very sweet, generous people saw a nice young couple and wanted to make our Christmas special. Thank you anonymous ladies.

But, FWIW, this is why I prefer targeted acts of kindness. By using appearance as your criteria to determine need, they chose a family that was economically stable but was having a casual day (and let's face it, with my back how it is right now, everyday is casual day). That money could have made a real difference to a struggling family this Christmas.

I would love to hear your thoughts on what you would have done in our place. Would you have been embarrassed? Humbled? Would you have kept it? Given it to another random shopper like you were playing Hot Potato? Donated it? Is it more honorable to give a random person $100 or pay down your debt by that amount? Would you be embarrassed if a friend gave you cash because they knew you could really use it? Should we have done something random ourselves - Bought 100 chocolate bars and handed them out all day? Do you think there was a moral dilemma at play here or were we over-thinking it?


Mel said...

I think you did the right thing by donating it. It still goes to help someone which is how the gift was intended.
I agree with your thoughts on the subject for sure. Direct targeted acts of kindness make much more sense.
I giggled at your entry because it reminded me of us who are always extremely casual. No one would guess my poorly dressed slob husband with bushy hair makes a very healthy income. A good example of recent days...we were snubbed at first when he went to buy his car at the Infiniti dealership...the guy was rather condenscending in a nice way and also asked if he was a musician or artist...he was very shocked at the reality and what our income was, he seriously could not hide his surprise and even said something about it. Joke was on him. I guess their usual buyers don't wear ill-fitting faded t-shirts with Dr. Pepper logos and tears on them and baggy old Levi's and combat boots. LOL So yah, no one should ever assume anything...I also know some people who dress or present themselves very well yet don't have a true penny to their name.

Adriana Puckett said...

Sounds like you did exactly the right thing by promptly regifting it to an organization that you know will use it well. Good for you!

Unknown said...

Somebody once bought a toy for Bayley when I was shopping with him and he wasn't at his best. I didn't think that the woman thought he 'needed' the toy, but that one day she'd been there, hauling a cranky baby through a store, and somehow connected to that. He didn't need the toy, but I thanked her and he kept it. In fact, that Pooh bear is around here somewhere.
It could be 3 boys. Maybe one of the women had 3 boys and connected to that. Whatever it was, it provided a lesson for the kids (Chris's fashion woes nonwithstanding) and 17 days of shelter.
We paid for a family's dinner the other night. I'd read an article about it in the paper, and decided to do it. Did we pick right? Who knows. But it wasn't about getting the most bang for our buck, as it were. Just about paying it forward and putting it out into the universe. If that family didn't need it, then I hope they looked around and paid the tab of another family.

Scrapamum said...

First off, I think you are amazing. I agree that anyone should shop second hand. New clothes are not good for the environment and kudos to you for mentioning that.
I think you absolutely made the right decision. I would have been tempted to keep it but I think it is always better to pass good fortune on to those less fortunate.
Great post!

Maggi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maggi said...

I agree with Jenna. While I think that y'all are so awesome for donating it to a worth while cause, I think they were just trying to bless you. I suppose it could have had something to do with the way you looked but I bet not. I am one of those that love surprising total strangers and blessing them whether it's financial or in other ways that have nothing to do with money.

Whether or not the person receiving it actually needs it isn't the point. Sometimes you feel the leading to bless someone and it has nothing to do with them at all. Whether targeted or random, sometimes it's about you following that leading and if nothing else, you're telling that person that you see them, they aren't just a face in the crowd and they're not alone.

I think you were right to give it away and I think you would have been right to keep it. They did give it to you after all and that one act probably made their whole day, there's so much joy in giving to others.

Carmen said...

I think Maggi probably hit it spot on. This year is the first year Craig and I have not bought 'big' presents for each other but have put the money towards a childrens charity instead. And it felt good. We will be doing the same next year. We are by no means well off but I would never say we were poor either and we really don't want for anything but we are the biggest fans of charity shops/second hand shops you will find. I've never heard of people saying who should and shouldn't shop in these places - maybe it's different over here - they are crying out for business - but they aren't all that cheap either - it's sometimes cheaper to buy new!

I think the couple were just doing a RAK, it made them feel good and they hoped it made you feel good too. I think you did the right thing. Craig would have jumped to the same conclusion as your hubby - he's always coming shopping with me in his work gear and he gets very self conscious about it.

Kristen H said...

Actually, Goodwill isn't for poor people, all the money they earn goes to fund program for the poor, needy, and special needs program in the community!!! So, every dollar spent there is an excellent dollar. I know someone who works there, and the money is very beneficial!!! I bought ALL my work clothes at Goodwill because I got super dirty at my work.
For Christmas, we try to do stuff for people, and we don't buy gifts for each other. We get stuff for the Grands, and that is about it.
Now if you were going to eat at a shelter to save money, then I think we could frown on you.

Claudette said...

I enjoyed reading this and the comments you got.....I would have done the same " pay it forward" either to another party or an institution.

Since being on the road its not always possible to get on line so let me wish you a Merry Christmas to you and your family. Claudette

Lydia said...

Good for you all round, don't be insulted, my kids have shoes that have electrical tape on them because they love them. There is nothing wrong with being frugal. It frustrates me to no end that humanity in the "civilized" world is OBSESSED with new. What a waste. There is nothing wrong with being clean and well used {monatairily}. I think I am pretty well off, my husband makes enough that I can stay home with my kids and drive a nice car, but I choose to dress in a manner that reflects my thrifty nature. If it were me I would have gone to the local giving tree, it is a tree with tags all over it for children in need of gifts this holiday. I do this every year and I love doing it with my kids, it spreads the spirit of giving, and teaches my kids that it is feels good to give. Gets them involved in something specific.

Whether those ladies thought you needed or not, it made them feel good. It was more about them than you, you did a good thing by Passing it on.

Merry Christmas and goodwill towards ALL men {rich poor and in the middle}

Tiff said...

Sigh...I have been one of those ladies! In high school, there was a really intelligent and sweet girl that sat behind me in every class. She was far from popular and wore, what were to me at the time, the rattiest clothes. Before prom, I put together a big box of clothes for her. I had a prom dress, matching shoes, clothes, and accessories-everything a girl could need. my step-mom delivered the box to the school's front office and had this sweet girl of a target walk from class to pick up this huge box. I gave the box anonymously... Turns out, she was PISSED when she opened the box and extremely insulted. I've always been extremely caring and thoughtful, but at the time, I was terribly Naive. Her dad was a wealthy businessman (didn't know that) and she just liked to wear what she wanted. I am her friend on FB now and can't find the courage to fess up to my box of good intentions.

Unknown said...

I think you did the right thing too, Your donation was directed where it would be best used. Happy christmas to you and your family!!

Anonymous said...

I am once again reminded why we were and are friends....your life often parrells mine and I find that your steps would mirror mine! We too are very keen on the thrift stores and my mom works in a 'sharing centre' for the church and a large part of the kids clothing is supporting single moms and children in her home town... in fact my eldest thinks that shopping at a consignment store means getting a one of a kind outfit! Plus we are doing something good for the earth. As for the money you do a great thing... perhaps in the scheme of things you were meant to receive so that it would ultimately good to the shelter... so glad to hear that the true spirit of Christmas is still around. In fact Sierra wanted to know if all wars stopped on Christmas day as a show of peace and good faith. I love the 'spirit of Christmas' you have shown us all through your act and the act of those two woman that the spirit is still alive! Perhaps it was not random after all eh?

Kathi said...

You're overthinking it. You did the right thing, by first trying to find them and give it back and then by donating it to a homeless shelter, which can always use food, clothing, cosmetics, otc medicines, and money.

I like that you used duct tape on the kids' jackets. Sounds like something I'd do.

Anonymous said...

Came here because a friend posted your A-Z on their facebook as a link. Fabulous blog and my sincere best wishes for the future.

Just to say with RAKs I believe that a RAK always finds it's way to it's ultimate destination . . . sometimes that route isn't direct and that's where you came in :-)

Sue N

Anonymous said...

I think you did the right thing!

However the idea of 100 chocolate bars amused me. I think it would have been hard to give away candy as we have all been taught never take candy from strangers!

Mima said...

A couple of years ago I was the recipient of a RAK, I am one of the most disabled members of my local MS branch and live in a council adapted bungalow with a team of carers, and that Christmas they brought me a box of things to make a Christmas with. I really didn't need it as I have lots of family around and had Christmas planned with them, and enough money that I was able to do that without needing the charity. I talked it over with my Mum, and we called them to say that it was a really kind thouht, but that it should go to someone who was in much more need than me. I would have felt terrible accepting it knowing that other people didn't have the financial means to by all the Christmas food and would have to do without.