"It's better to give than to receive" is one of the many lessons my parents drilled into my siblings and me in an attempt to raise kids who would turn out to be good citizens. To my seven-year-old self, the words rang a bit hollow. In my limited experience, getting something was much more fun than giving something and anyway, I wondered, "Why does it have to be one or the other? Can't they both be equally virtuous?"
As an adult now, I understand the sentiment and I have experienced the thrill of giving to someone whether it's a gift, financial assistance or volunteer time. And as a parent, I'm doing my best to help my children realize how fortunate they are to live in a great country with loving parents who are able to provide for them and nurture them.
With that goal in mind that, last December, I asked them to take $20 from their piggy bank and purchase a toy for less fortunate kids. Neither was thrilled with this request but they approached it differently. One of them reluctantly agreed, knowing that resistance was futile but the other pushed against the notion, railing about the various injustices his father and I have perpetrated against him and how 'it's just not fair'. This was disappointing but not discouraging. At their ages, it's not important that they "get it", it's just important that they "do it". They will figure out why later.
After a quick trip to Toys R US, we took the subway downtown, making a day of it by taking in the decorations at Nathan Phillips Square and the windows at The Bay, before our final stop at the CHUM/City TV building, where we would drop off our gifts to the Christmas Wish program.
We walked into the building and came face to face with a mountain of toys so high it almost hit the ceiling. No one was there to greet us so we lingered in the hallway for a few minutes, the boys clutching their bags and looking enviously at the toy mountain. Finally, a security guard came up and sat down at a desk. When it became obvious he wasn't going to talk to us, I told him we were there to donate something to their Christmas toy drive. Without looking up, he gestured to the toy mountain and told us we could just add our stuff to the pile and went back to his paperwork.
While I didn't expect anyone to do cartwheels over our generosity, I had anticipated that a heartfelt 'thank you' to the boys would be the final step in my afternoon of teaching. Instead, they left feeling a bit sad and full of misplaced jealousy that some other lucky kids were going to get all those amazing toys. Totally deflated, I didn't even bother explaining that they needed to be distributed between thousands of children.
I have no idea of this was a case of bad timing and I have every reason to believe this is an organization and a program that is truly committed to helping. We will donate again this year and I'll continue to emphasize the importance of giving with no conditions. That said, charities must accept that they need to meet donors halfway, acknowledge them, thank them and in cases like this, understand that they are playing a role in the development of future donors.
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