Friday, November 19, 2010

sweet charity

How, what, when and where is charity taught?

Our school just had a book fair fundraiser that held a raffle.  2 of my kids won something.  This made me think, does this teach them anything about charity?  I really though of it more as gambling, but all the proceeds go to the school library, so isn't it charitable to support the library?  The support is probably more effective than buying books that I could get for a fraction online.  For some reason, in my mind, I think buying books and the school making money off of it is more charitable.  The more I write about it, the more convoluted it seems.  As the kids throw money at the raffle and deposit their tickets into the jar, I remind them that they could just be losing their money.  But, since it's helping the library, it really isn't lost, is it?

When we remember to dole out allowance, 1/3 goes to savings, 1/3 wallet and 1/3 charity.  The charity amount goes into tzedakah boxes the kids made at Sunday school.  It accumulates until we decide as a family how we want to share it.

Last year our school did pennies for peace for Haiti.  We had been collecting in out individual boxes at home for a while.  This spurred the question in my mind if school should be promoting donations or not.  What if we made different choices as a family?  Would my kids be treated differently for not participating at school?  Where was the button to wear saying "I gave at home"?  What this did do was give us the opportunity to discuss with the kids the choices we have with charities.  We explained that you did not have to give to the school program if you chose to do something different at home, or you could do both.  Since everyone's tzedakah is separate, it enabled each kid to make their own decisions.

Everyone decided to go the home route.  But, as the week wore on, some of the kids started to feel the tug towards the school charity option.  #3 decided to not just take her pennies, but take her whole $47 and give it at school for pennies for peace.  She was so proud, and we were proud of her.  She felt good about her donation.  She even got a letter of thanks from the principal.  I can't help wondering if her positive feelings were more about competition, in beating out the amount of most other students?  Is this okay?  It's still charity right?

#1 chose to give his money to a wildlife foundation.  He's always had a soft spot for nature.  For his gracious donation, he was to receive stickers, magazines and a stuffed animal.  This managed to put him on the mailing list for every "ask" this company made.  He did get address labels and magazines, but didn't get the stuffie.  Months later, I got around to calling and he finally got the little leopard or jaguar or whatever it was.  Is giving about receiving stuff in return?

#2 went the home route and we chose a charity together.

The kids all bring a little bit to Sunday school each week for class tzedakah.  I guess I expect it there, more than I would in regular school.  The schools feel it needs to be reinforced there because not everyone does it at home and it is an important lesson to learn.  I am not against charity, and am conflicted on how I feel about it in the school setting.

I think the messages get confusing since so much other asking happens at school.  Unfortunately, schools need donations too.  How does on differentiate the needs of art foundations, school PTAs, the garden, scouting, community needs and the needy people in our area and far away?  Bring a toy, book, money, jacket, school supplies and so on.  What if we are struggling in our own life?  What if we are not struggling, but make other choices.  Should we feel judged?  Are people judging us?  Do you judge others?  I honestly can say I judge others, but not about charity.

So, giving is important.  The context should be set at home.  Kids that exhibit charitable actions melt my heart.

1 comment:

  1. These questions of conflicts in charitable giving happen with adults, too. If anything, they are even more pronounced because of the dollar amounts involved. Many adults give in order to be recognized in the community. A major donor who gets his or her name on a cancer center, university building or symphony hall presumably wants to be remembered as being generous.

    Again, adults also get the thrill of possibly winning something in exchange for a donation. I don't think charity is the only motivation for people who go to church bingo or buy tickets from a school raffle.

    I think the idea of donations run through a school has the potential to be complicated in a few different areas. The first, as you say, is when the school pushes for donations for a cause outside of the school itself. Particularly in a public school, there is a potential for this to feel coercive, even when the cause is worthy. The other issue is the perception that institutional giving is less effective (or less satisfying) than individual gifts. For example, I can understand why many people might prefer to give directly to a local animal shelter or soup kitchen rather than the United Way or March of Dimes.

    Over the years, we have shifted more of our charitable efforts to donations of time rather than money. I like the idea of getting to know the people at a charity and having the opportunity to participate in the work they are doing. Particularly with kids, this breaks down some of the abstraction of trying to understand why giving pennies (or hours) might actually make a difference.