A semi-popular fundraiser for local school groups involves assembling a small group of kids (usually 9th-12th graders, though sometimes 6th-8th grade students do it as well) and taking them to a local grocery store. The students then post a sign at the end of the checklanes announcing the sport/activity they are trying to raise funds for, and place a donation bucket next to the sign; the hope is that shoppers will toss change (or ideally, bills) into the container as they walk out of the market. But to help ensure financial success, the students apply a slight amount of pressure: instead of patiently waiting at the table and simply smiling at patrons (who largely attempt to avert their gaze), the kids approach individual shoppers in line as they are attempting to unload their basket/cart and ask, “Would you like me to bag your groceries for you?” The implicit understanding is that if the store patron replies, “Yes,” that person will place some cash into the donation can on his/her way out the door.
As much as I dislike saying, “No” to kids who are trying to do good things for themselves, I dislike being put upon even more. I know that there is no ‘good’ way for student groups to try and raise money for their activities: I dislike door-to-door sales of overpriced products I don’t need and will never use, of magazine subscriptions to periodicals I will never read, and of coupon books for locations I will never visit. I know that car washes are often impractical and only marginally successful, and I know that parents and relatives can only push so much extra cash into schools that need the supplemental income. I know that public schools need more funding and that sustainable solutions need to come from broader changes in public policy; yet until that transformation occurs, these small-scale, short-term measures are the best chance some kids have to participate in events that exist outside the scope of graduation requirements.
I know all of these things; and yet, I still feel a degree of frustration and anger every time I see a small cluster of students (and the obligatory adult) camped out near the exit doors of the local grocery store. Similar to my past experiences with lemonade stands, before today I had always calmly-but-firmly said, “No, thank you” to the unfortunate student who approached me and asked if s/he could put my food items into a bag. Yet similar to my lemonade challenge, I put item #17 on my 101 list to make myself say, “Yes” to the football/soccer/speech/swim/band students at least one time, and to see if participating in the experience (instead of pushing against it) might change my perceptions of/feelings towards it.
Now that the newness of the 2013-2014 academic year has faded and school participants (students, faculty, coaches, advisors, and parents) are all more comfortable with their respective routines, I have begun to see some student groups arrive in the local supermarket. Interestingly, while the girls soccer, boys cross country, and cheer teams all took a shift at the store last month, no student approached me to ask if they could package my purchase. Admittedly, I was pleased to have escaped the uncomfortable experience for three consecutive weeks – but I knew it was only a matter of time before my turn would come.
Indeed, my string of ‘luck’ came to an end yesterday. Moments before I scanned my credit card to complete the shopping transaction, an adolescent wearing a Boy Scout uniform approached and asked if he could bag my items for me. With only a slight moment of hesitation, I handed the kid my reusable sack and said, “Sure.” Genuinely pleased that he had secured a customer, he deftly-yet-gently placed my semi-delicate vegetables and fruits into the small tote. By the time the cashier handed me my receipt, the teen had finished the task at hand and was waiting for me at the end of the conveyor belt, the full bag extended in my direction. “Wow, you’re fast!” I told the kid, genuinely surprised and pleased. “Thank you very much,” I finished, with authentic sincerity. The student smiled at me briefly, nodded slightly, then walked away to find his next patron.
As I walked closer to the exit and approached the donation bucket, I took a bill from my wallet, folded it tightly, and discreetly slipped it into the container. I then asked the adult at the table if I could take a picture of the group’s sign, and he responded, “Um, sure… go ahead?” clearly confused by the seemingly strange request. I quickly snapped a photo, smiled at the man, said, “Thanks!” then made my way to my car.
While I didn’t have the same feelings of contentment and satisfaction after this encounter that I experienced following my lemonade stand visit, it did feel good to help a group of kids continue to move their interests forward. I don’t know exactly what the young men will do with the funds they collected, but whatever it is, I hope they both learn from it, and enjoy it.