Season of giving?

Brian and I recently attended the Pan Pacific Christmas Wish Breakfast here in Vancouver.  It’s a yearly event in Vancouver and one that I have attended before.  The idea is simple: You bring a new, unwrapped toy down to the hotel and you get to go have a free breakfast from their buffet afterwards.  Yum!

For our gifts, I purchased two new puzzles from the dollar store – one geared towards boys and one geared towards girls.  They were several dollars each, cute and well packaged.  If I were a child who didn’t expect any gifts, I think I would have been pretty happy to receive them.  I’ve worked at a toy bank before and “gifts” are typically repackaged, used crayons or cast-off dolls and trucks – for a family who regularly uses these services, I suspect ANY toy that is actually new would be a treat.

For the most part, people brought modest, but appropriate gifts.  I saw lots of dolls, trucks, Playdoh packages, classic board games and more puzzles… But then there were the “generous” givers – they held expensive board games like Settlers of Catan and expensive luxury gifts like bikes and scooters.  This bothered me on several levels.

When I imagine a family in need, I imagine a family with several young children who are perhaps struggling to get by, for whatever reason.  And I really don’t think young children or even many teens would appreciate a game like Settlers of Catan.  For the price, you could have gotten several copies of Scrabble for Kids instead.  For an older teen – I’m sorry, but once you’re past 16, I really do think you can get a job and help out your family.  That’s just my opinion.

And the bikes and the scooters… I realize that the gift givers were being generous and wanted to brighten up some kid’s Christmas… but when there are thousands of beneficiaries, only a few families will be lucky enough to get one of the few bikes that were given.  What about the others?  How is that fair?  How is that better than giving multiple $20 gifts which would benefit many families?  If I could afford to buy a $200 bike, I think I would rather buy ten $20 gifts and benefit several families instead of one lucky child.

Think of it this way – how many families did not get to benefit from this service, because they ran out of toys?  Would you still buy the expensive gift, or would you buy multiple cheaper ones?

I suspect that many of these generous givers are simply that – they want to be generous because they can afford it.  The problem is they do not consider how best to apply their generosity.  Charity, at its basic level often bothers me, because it requires picking and choosing who “needs” the services.  In reality, the majority of people would probably appreciate a helping hand at some point in their lives.  But logistically, we are forced to choose.  And I think that we need to more often choose the way that benefits the most people, rather than providing a windfall to a few lucky candidates.  This doesn’t mean that the Christmas Wish Breakfast is unimportant – but it does mean that as givers, we need to consider how we can most benefit the families using the service – not how we can make ourselves feel good.

Posted in: Philosophy

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