Saturday, November 21, 2009

Why I Don't Give to Salvation Army

Sometimes I just say no to something without explanation. That’s an assertive stance. You don’t have to explain or defend your choices. You can decline and be polite at the same time. Today I am explaining a decision to say no. I don’t donate to Salvation Army. I see those bell ringers and I pass right by. I don’t let anybody with me drop a coin in their drums, either. I don’t shop at Salvation Army stores, and I tell my friends not to donate or shop there. Here’s why.

A zillion years ago when I was a very young child, we’re talking in the late 50s or early 60s, my family needed financial help. Serious financial help. We needed food, clothes and money to pay for heat. One day my mother worked up her courage and beat down her shame and despair enough to ask for assistance. She dressed in her best clothes, walked to the bus stop (in my memory I can still see and hear her clomping down the street in those high heels). Some hours later she returned, defeated, and with an angry, frantic, trapped look in her eyes.

My mother had gone to Salvation Army to ask for help and was refused. I don’t know the specifics of her encounter because I wasn’t there and I was just a child. I do know that she cried when she got home. She blamed racism “Why should they help a well-dressed white woman?” and she blamed her own “stupidity” for getting dressed up to make her case for need. But she was trying to make a good impression and appear worthy of help. She wore her best holiday dress and, as always, she “put on her face.” Later she understood her attempts to impress were misguided. She might have garnered more sympathy / support had she arrived without makeup and combed hair. She "didn’t look poor enough," she surmised afterward. I wonder whether she also provided the supporting documentation that was likely required. She would have needed evidence of food stamps or unemployment checks, I suppose, even then. We had those things, but whether she brought them along I don’t know.

In any event, we didn’t get help from Salvation Army. My mother carried a grudge against them for the rest of her long life. In her honor (and in mine) I continue to do so. I don’t give to and I don’t patronize Salvation Army because they didn’t help my family when we really needed it. Not once. Not with food, clothing, holiday gifts, nothing.

I won’t even go into how sick I got eating spoiled trayfe baloney. My mother fed it to her youngest two children as a cost saving measure. I was so hungry I ate it (fast!) even though it was rank. It all came back up, “return to sender.”

We never did that again, either.

I suggest you find other places to donate generously to those in need. In memory of my mother.

No comments: