Friday, March 14, 2008

Using Children As Fundraisers


Anyone who has a child in a yeshiva elementary school can tell you that the weeks before Purim and Pesach is "teach-the-children-to-schnorrer" time. (To schnorrer means to beg for money.)

This is when the schools make it the child's responsibility to collect money for Matanot L'evyonim, Mishloach Manot for the teachers, Mishloach Manot for Israeli soldiers, the Purim Candy Sale, the Pesach Chocolate Sale, Maot Chitim, the 8th grade yearbook, etcetera, etcetera, ad nausem. This is when, every day, little Yankele or Suri pulls a pile of leaflets and envelopes out of their backpack, thrusts them at Mommy, and says, "Morah says I need to bring in money."

Don't get me wrong- I understand and value the importance of teaching children to give tzedaka. All of these causes are worthy, and they should be supported. What I object to is the way that children are being used as little fundraisers. Try telling your 9 year old that you don't have an extra $36 to buy a Purim basket for an Israeli soldier, or your 7 year old that NO WAY are you willing to buy $50 worth of ridiculously overpriced Pesach chocolate just so that he can get plastic binoculars that glow in the dark. These children are put under enormous pressure to bring these envelopes back to school "BY TOMMOROW OR MORAH WILL BE MAD AT ME!!!"

Just this week I was told by my daughter's teacher that the school is trying to raise $150 to buy a Purim Seuda for a poor family in the neighborhood. Excuse me, but $150 for one meal? I can cook a Purim Seuda for 20 people for 40 bucks. And just how is this money being raised? By selling candy, soda, and potato chips to the kids during recess. When I protested that it is really wrong to sell unhealthy, sugary snacks in school, I was told that, "Well, we need to raise the money and junk food is the only kind that kids will actually buy." (Ironically, my daughter's class just began a "Healthy Eating for Healthy Bodies" unit in science class.)

At the risk of sounding like your Great-Aunt Ethel, I'd like to note that in MY day, we were taught to give tzedakah by putting a penny into the pushka every morning after davening. When the pushka was full, we excitedly spilled it out onto the teacher's desk, counted the pennies, and watched proudly as Morah wrote out a check to JNF or Tomche Shabbos or an orphanage in Israel. And we got the message without bankrupting our parents.

SO: to Mrs. B. (mastermind of the $150 Purim seuda) and all the other principals and administrators that think that my little girl should be used as a fundraiser, I say: Back off. I will give my tzedakah dollars to whomever I choose. I don't want to be harassed by countless notes and reminders and swim-a-thons and Chanukah sales. Don't turn my children into little beggars who feel pressured to collect money for causes that they don't understand just so you can pose for a picture holding a giant check.

17 comments:

BrooklynWolf said...

An excellent post, although I have two minor points to pick:

1. To Schnor means to beg. A schnorrer is a person who begs.

2. While I agree you could probably do the meal for better than $150, I don't see how you can make a meal for twenty people on $40 (without resorting to pizza pies or the like). How would you do that?

The Babysitter said...

Interesting post. I never thought of it in that way. But I know my little sister wants a Kipling knapsack so badly. It costs like $90 or so. Her school was having a little Chinese auction to raise money. A Kipling knapsack was one of the prizes you could win. So my little sister made my whole family buy raffle tickets. She didn't understand that you don't always win what you put in for.

I like the penny a day idea in the pushka. I remember we used to do it in school too. It felt so good to feel how much it weighs as it was passed around, to see how it got heavier and heavier. But then we were rewarded when it was full, I think we had an ice cream party or something.

Baila said...

First of all I loved my Great Aunt Ethel.

Second of all, I hear you loud and clear. One year the school my kids were in were giving out prizes to the biggest shnorrers in the class. That is the kids who came in with the most money got a prize. I rarely got involved with this kind of stuff at school, but I blew a gasket at this. There were kids in the class who had parents and grandparents who didn't blink an eye at writing a check for 1,000 dollars. After all, its Tzedakah and goes toward their maaser...But most of us are normal people where there were days when 36.00 was a stretch. So I opened my mouth and said something to both the teacher and the principal, and you know what, they stopped that practise. I felt very vindicated.

I know exactly what you mean about manipulation/harrassment.

Leora said...

I am totally against the selling of candy to raise funds. I hate those fundraisers! And fundraisers should not be an added pressure on parents with limited funds.

I have one son in Scouts. At least there the main fundraiser is popcorn, so buyers can opt for the healthier, lowfat choice if they want. That son is great at sales, and I encourage him!

SuperRaizy said...

Wolf-
You're right. I should have used the verb form. Thank you. As for the seuda for 20-well, maybe I exaggerated a bit. What I probably should have said was that I could make a seuda for a large family(but maybe not 20 people) for $40.

babysitter-
Yeah, that's right, I had forgotten that we also used to pass the pushka around to see how heavy it had gotten.

baila-
Wow! I'm impressed that you were able to get the school to change it's mind. (I'll bet your Great Aunt Ethel is proud of you too.)

leora-
I hear you. If your son enjoys selling, then it's OK. But a lot of children (and parents) don't.

... Is the Window to Our Soul said...

Hey you just reminded me that I need to give my daughter money for the baskets going to Sederot.

I totally understand your frustration and the public schools are even worse. I have to buy my family and neighbors wares because they are supporting our fundraisers. And don't forget about the Girl Scouts. My poor neighbors and family (and I mean this literally), if we aren't selling for her school then it's for the troop. At least the girl scout cookies are kosher and to die for!!!

Bas~Melech said...

Two things:

1. I think we can educate our children in this mitzva just as well or even better by having them raise the money themselves rather than beg it off adults. Kids are at least as capable as adults of coming up with fundraising ideas.

2. I object to turning tzedakah raising into a prize-winning fest. Research shows that giving tangible rewards for inherently rewarding actions detracts from the intrinsic reward. Kids feel empowered by being able to help others, why take that away from them by saying "and if you raise $x then you can get a gameboy!" It also means that a large chunk of "tzedaka" money is going towards junky prizes and not to poor orphans in Israel, after all. (wrap your mind around that one next time you pull out your wallet)

1+2=. It is unnatural to expect children to work that hard solely for others. Adults, after all, are only expected to give 10-20% of their earnings. Therefore, my proposed solution would be for teachers to encourage their classes to come up with an innovative, independent way to earn enough money to buy pizza or a trip for the class, and give 20% of their earnings to tzedakah. This solves everything:
a. No one's shnorring.
b. Tzedakah money isn't going towards prizes.
c. The kids are getting a tangible result of their hard work and
d. the intrinsic good feeling of giving some of what's theirs to those less fortunate.
e. Teachers have a perfect, motivating, real-life way of enforcing math, creative thinking and writing, problem-solving, teamwork, computer (think making flyers for their campaign) and numerous other skills.

Bas~Melech said...

Oh, and I'm also wondering how you can serve 20 for $40. (don't know if this is universal, but my family's minhag is that in order to be a yomtov meal it has to involve hamotzie, meat, and wine -- not much, but all the men have a glass. This goes for every yomtov, including chol hamoed.)

Lion of Zion said...

great post. back in the day, when i was 3rd or 4th grade, the school started with the cookie fundraisers. my father took the brochures to work, shul, etc. and got all his coworkers, friends, etc. to buy. he was mortified when the cookies finally came, as it then became clear how overprices the cookies really were (the containers were smaller than they appeared in the brochures). he swore he would never do it again. for $100 worth of sales (1983-4 dollars) i chose a bike chain/lock as a prize. a couple of years later someone cut the chain and stole the bike.

good point also about selling the kids candy. first of all, schools should not be selling anything to kids. period. not books, not hanukkah gifts and certainly not candy. my son is in day care and it kills me when he comes home with this crap.

... Is the Window to Our Soul said...

bas-melech

- actually the sederot project my daughter's school is doing and the money they are collecting for it - is going to be exactly that - a fundraiser project that they (the children) are coming up with and being responsible for. I never thought about the point you just made until now. Thanks - I am proud of their decision to choose to raise money in that way.

Leora said...

A little bit of devil's advocate here--
Say you are an executive director who wants funds for X organization, and you have all these complaining parents. How do you make the fundraisers better?

Top on my list is teach the kids some sales skills. Help the shy ones overcome some of their fears. Get them to sell something they can relate to.

The selling unhealthy stuff is hard; from a kashrut point of view, you need something with a hekhsher. But there is not much available that one can sell that's healthy. Or is there?

ProfK said...

My first objection when the school had the kids sell something was that it wasn't really the kids who were going to have the contacts to do the selling; it was the parents. When "little Yankele" sold $500 worth of candy was there any sane adult who believed that he really had done so? My second objection was to what was being sold--candy, cookies, wrapping paper etc. If the school wants to raise funds then let the PTA offer something for sale and let me be free to decide to either buy it or not, based on what is being sold. Leave my kids out of it.

SuperRaizy said...

Wow. I see I hit a nerve here. I'm glad to see that most of you are backing me up on this, and that I'm not just a cranky spoil-sport. From our mouths to the administrators' ears!

Mike S. said...

Cheap festive meal for not too much:

17 lb turkey : $31

Stuffing: stale bread (you were going to throw it out anyway), onion, carrots, apple, celery (say $2.00)

1 large bag of frozen vegetables: $3.50

Salad: lettuce, radishes, 1 cuke, 1 can of olives: $6.00

2 bottles of wine (if you need it) $15.00

Electricity to cook same: $.80

$58.30

replace the wine with tap water and you are down to $43.30. While it won't feed 20 adults, it will feed a very large family.

Mike S. said...

if you want a Challah, add $3.75 for pre-baked, if you bake it your self, probably under $1.00 of ingredients.

Bas~Melech said...

Lion with the embarrassing cookies just reminded me: The last few times we bought chocolates for Pesach (can't say no to the grandchildren, can you?) they were stale. Or maybe just plain not good. I like my chocolate soft and creamy with no white flakes coming off it.

the opinion said...

when i went to boro park 1 girl went over to my father for money saying she is collecting for lev lachim and then came her brother just for a different organaztion