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Ethical? Charging what the (charitable) market will bear…

Middle of last week, along came the following announcement in the community college e-mail:

Kewl, eh? For ten bucks you get an artsy-craftsy bowl (potential Christmas present!), a light meal, and some general socializing. And you donate to a good cause.

I asked La Maya and Kathy if they’d like to drop by this thing by way of entertaining ourselves and picking up a lunch. Kathy couldn’t get away from work, and La M had other things to do. But, said she, the local paper reported that this event was happening at AJs’ stores, too. She gathered the one in our part of town was hosting it on Saturday. She was busy, but Kathy thought she could make the endless drive from the hinterlands where she lives to the central part of the city.

So during the week when I was in the vicinity of that AJ’s store I checked, and yea verily: Bowls for Charity on Saturday.

Fortunately, Kathy changed her mind at the last minute. But that notwithstanding, yesterday morning I drove down to the store to check out the bowls.

A cluster of society wives was buzzing around the table where a bunch of young volunteers were peddling the nonprofit’s wares. As one of the women selected an unexceptional bowl, the amateur saleslady said, “That’ll be twelve dollars!”

Oh? And BTW, not a cauldron of soup nor a loaf of bread to be seen…

“So,” said I, “these bowls are $10 at the community colleges but $12 here?”

The young girl behind the table looked puzzled—and young, very young. She was probably a high-school kid. She had no idea.

Annoying. The presumption that just because you happen to shop at AJ’s—or because you would choose to go to that site after you read about the event in the newspaper—you therefore can be charged more for less: that’s annoying.

It’s every bit as annoying as the presumption that just because I wear a pair of Costco jeans into the local Saks, I can’t afford to shop there.

Is it unethical? I don’t know. Vaguely, I feel it could be. Why, I couldn’t say. It just feels like a gentle rip-off.

People on food stamps shop at AJ’s, believe it or not. One afternoon, before the Department of Economic Security started issuing debit cards in place of paper food stamps, I saw a man roll an entire cart full of healthy, nonjunk food up to a cash register and pay for it with food stamps. Should he have to donate an extra two bucks for charity (and not get the soup or the bread) just because he chooses to spend his dole at a store that stocks more real food than junk food?

If all you want is to pick up a handmade bowl or two, for twelve bucks you’d do better to wait for the next street fair. Or visit the excellent artists’ and crafters’ consignment shop directly across the street from that AJ’s.

If you want to donate to a worthy cause? Frankly, I think you’d do better to send money directly.

So, what cause would your purchase or donation support? Paz de Cristo is one of the most venerable soup kitchens in Phoenix’s suburban East Valley. Year in and year out, it has distributed hot meals to the poor, every single evening of the year.

It’s the offspring of St. Timothy’s Catholic Church, which for as many years in and out has supported it generously. Along about last August, in the depths of the worst recession this country has seen since the Great Depression, rel=”nofollow”St. Timothy’s decided to drop that support, abruptly cutting $300,000 in funding and throwing the charity to the mercy of private donors.

No indication of any wrongdoing on the part of Paz de Cristo was offered as an excuse for this moment of Christian charity. Instead, the church said that tithes had dropped off so sharply (could this mean something?) that it would no longer support the soup kitchen.

Hmm. What would Jesus do?

2 thoughts on “Ethical? Charging what the (charitable) market will bear…”

  1. I’ve always been annoyed by these things. I had a “don’t buy/don’t sell” policy when my children were in school. Instead of buying the gift-wrap etc, I would donate cash. I also didn’t peddle their wares at my place of employ. Neither do I buy the stuff left by parents.

    Amy D. of Tightwad fame always gave cash to her children’s schools as well. So I’m in good company!

    P.S. When I was a girl scout, I sold 60 boxes of cookies. Out of the 60 cents (!) charged, our little troop got 3 cents. A good reason to give cash directly to whatever organization you please.

  2. @ Frugal Scholar: Agreed! When I saw the ad, though, I didn’t perceive it as one of those GirlScoutsy kinds of things. The promise of food led me to think it was some sort of event–which AJ’s does indeed stage every now and again.

    I always felt exactly the same way about the junk peddled at the school, and I don’t like it when people send kids to my door begging for money–no matter how fine the cause.

    Our choir used to sell Christmas ornaments each fall, to raise funds. They were kinda cute, but decidedly mass-produced. Finally the choir director lost patience with that scheme. He said they were costing us more than they were worth, and as everyone’s friends and relatives got choir-ornamented out, we actually were paying more for them than we were earning. Better to give cash than to buy (or sell) tschochkes and junk food.

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