Greedy Giving at the Angel Tree
"Oh, that's terrible. Just disgusting."
I look up, as do the shoppers around me. We're drawn by the sheer force of the revulsion in her voice. Seeing our heads swiveling her way, she twists the card attached to the small tree so that we can read it. "X box games. What needy child really needs X box games?" She continues pawing the tree. "Here's another one," she calls, "An i-pod. Like that'll warm them up at night." A few shoppers walk on, some shake their heads, some agree with her. A conversation begins about people abusing 'the system'.
"Finally, some sanity. Slippers," her voice comes again, "Oh, but it's for an 82 year old man. Ugh. He can buy his own slippers," she sniffs haughtily. I shiver. The conversation to my right continues, as people berate those on food stamps. I turn over a few cards on the tree, and see the wishes. Dreams, really. Just dreams. Some were, perhaps, made by real children. Some were made by families. Some are suggestions from social workers, items that will be up for an offer at a holiday 'sale' for those who qualify. I'm not sure whether this tree is for families to shop at later, or for specific individuals, or will be handed out to recipients in need. There are a variety of these "Angel Trees" out there, and it's hard to keep track of which organization offers what sort of aid.
How do Unreasonable Requests Get on There?
This is a question i hate. Who defines what's reasonable? Who defines 'poor' anyways? Some people seem to have the belief that people who are 'poor' have nothing. They have either always been poor...with nowhere to go but maybe up (and only there if someone decides to offer them a helping hand. Up is not somewhere you can get on your own.) Or, they go from riches to rags overnight. A sudden misfortune leaves them homeless, in rags and on the street.
What about those individuals who were doing well. Who had a high income, 2 cars, and were steadily paying their mortgage...until one of those cars flipped. Leaving them with high medical bills, scrabbling to downsize their living space, leading to a job loss (due to inability to do the job, maybe a lower salary if they were kept on) and difficulty buying groceres, let alone Christmas gifts.
The kids are likely to be blessed with a closet full of clothes. A variety of stuffies. Maybe even a game system or blue ray player. Do they abandon all of that immediately to meet the definition of "poor"?
What about those displaced by fire? A child who remembers listening to music and misses it. Are they not to dream of that ipod nano that used to keep them busy? Just because they're poor? Or maybe they don't qualify as poor, no matter how hungry they get, because they know what it's like not to have 'things'.
Poor kids go to school with rich ones. They sit at the lunch table, they listen to other kids dreaming. Poor kids are likely to live in a roommate situation, either with another family or with relatives who might be better off than them. They are exposed to X boxes and Playstation 3s. They know what ipods and ipads are. They even have access to the computers necessary to utilize them...after all, poor kids go to a sitters house. They have neighbors and friends. They even have a history that might not include poverty.
Why shouldn't they have the same dreams as their friends? Because their bank account holds a smaller balance, or a deficit beyond their control?
What makes them worthy of generosity? How bad would a child have to hurt before this woman felt it appropriate to put a wish on the tree?
Dignity and Poverty
It's hard to ask for help. Services that provide holiday cheer do so not only to those who are completely destitute. Services are in place to help people stay afloat, and to keep them from falling to a point that they can't climb back up.
We seem to forget that there is a level between middle class and destitute. There are people who work hard for a living and still can't afford to buy shoes when their kids outgrow them. There are people who have situations beyond their control, that may have escalated beyond expectation.
As a society, sometimes we forget that the less you have the harder it is to admit that you need help. And too many people don't realize that comments and judgements, like critiquing a child's choice of wishes, make it harder for those who need it to ask for help. The fewer material items you can provide, the stronger pride grows. It's one thing that you can control...the ability to hold your head high. To look others in the eye. They say pride goes before a fall. But pride is what gets you back up after the fall, and keeps you moving. By berating a dream, by insinuating that those without money are somehow less worthy of hot ticket items, this woman wasn't just attacking a choice. She was also undermining someone's pride and dignity.
If the people running the giving tree program were to share her attitude, their recipients would fall into hopelessness. They might have dreams come true...but would they feel worthy?
As I listened to the conversation around me, I knew the answer was no. If any recipient was there at that moment, any gift that arrived on Christmas morning would simply add to their feelings of unworthiness. Or it would make them feel bitter, not good enough to provide simple dreams to their children who wouldn't know what was wrong.
There may be people who misuse programs. But who are we to judge or second guess? Is a gift given in good faith ever wasted?
Winter is a Season of Givng
Obviously, this woman and others like her don't feel that giving is something to be done on faith. Video games are expensive, but a child's faith is fragile. Their hope, no matter how old they get, is tender. They can dream. Is dreaming for what others have so outlandish?
And who puts an age limit on dreams?
It may not be as glamorous to give to the elderly, but they need dreams as much as any child, maybe more. That 82 year old man probably doesn't have family to see for the holidays. Or enough money to splurge on his own slippers. He may not know he's been placed on the tree by a social worker who hopes to brighten his day. Or he might. Does it matter?
If we are to give, give without expectations. Give freely. Give what you can, and then send a few prayers skyward, if you believe that way. The giving tree, or the angel tree, or whatever you want to call it, isn't there for the recipients to be judged. It's there for those who want to brighten someone's holiday to do so.
And how does criticizing them help? To berate them for having high hopes, beyond a warm bed? Sure, there are those that abuse the system. And the more individuals who berate them for it, the fewer honest ones will ask for help when help will still keep them afloat.
Sometimes the only difference between you and someone who's poor enough to meet the angel tree requirements is that your life wasn't turned upside down and flipped inside out. The only difference is that you haven't had to swallow your pride to ask for help.
I didn't take a tag from the angel tree. Not because I felt them unworthy, but because I can barely provide my own holiday cheer this year. My kids aren't getting an ipod, or an X box, or video games. But I don't begrudge others those gifts. A present is simply a bit of magic wrapped in trim. It's not a lesson in gratitude.
If you only want to give to someone who doesn't know what it's like to have big dreams, fill a shoebox next year for an underprivileged country. If you want to make a dream come true, don't judge someone for dreaming.
And thank you for letting me rant.