June 26, 2007

Giving Back To Charity

You probably remember the UNICEF commercials as clearly as I do. They were a staple of my television consumed childhood. One nickel can save a life. That was the famous shtick that was supposed to beat us into donation submission by making us all feel like crap about our own lavish existence.

Maybe if we fat capitalistic egocentric Americans could find it in our cold cold hearts to skip having that extra Big Mac at lunch and, instead, send the money to UNICEF, well, maybe that Big Mac will have saved an entire village.

UNICEF's assertion that life could be saved at such a bargain basement price really stuck with me as a child. Back when those commercials first aired, it cost me less than a nickel to buy a piece of gum. I could save a life for the price of a Bazooka. What with inflation, that same piece of gum today costs closer to twenty-five cents. The good news in this, though, is that inflation apparently hasn't hit the life saving marketplace.

Twenty-odd years later, UNICEF is bringing back the whole nickel can save a life angle, which means either that the price of life is being ridiculously outpaced by the Dow Jones average, or that you can still buy a stick of Bazooka in Africa for a couple of pennies.

The reason I know that they have brought back the nickel can save a life slogan is because I recently got a very disturbing letter from UNICEF. You may have even received one of these yourself - I fear they may have sent out thousands.

I tend to donate to quite a few different charities throughout the year, my favorites being AIDS, MS, Alzheimer's and the Salvation Army, though I also toss a few other random ones in there as the feeling strikes. This year we've already seen some donations to Heal The Bay, Live Strong, Connections For Children and the SPCA (with a girlfriend named Cat, that one's a gimme.) I don't believe I've ever donated to UNICEF, but I could be mistaken. Either way, I'm sure I'm on some sort of "donation sucker" mailing list with big asterisks and pointy arrows next to my name.

So when I saw the UNICEF letter in my pile of mail, I figured I'd open it and see what was in store. Maybe there were some return envelope stickers with pictures of dying children on them and my name misspelled, that I could purchase for a moderate donation. What more could I want in life than to remind my mail carriers that, whilst they are serenely sorting through the days batch of envelopes, there are thousands of children slowly dying without anybody sending them any love letters.

Lo and behold, when I eagerly ripped open the envelope and pulled out the donation form, there were no return envelope stickers to be found. Instead, there was a nickel.


This is odd, I thought. Why is UNICEF sending me a nickel? Are they trying to save MY life now? Have I been over-valuing my very existence for the past twenty years? Has this all been a Truman Show-like scam where despite all my charitable giving, I'm really the one who is the charity?

I read the letter to get some answers. And answers are what I got.

Understanding their claim that a nickel can still save a life, UNICEF has decided to send a nickel to everybody on their mailing list, with the simple request that they send the nickel back to UNICEF plus whatever other donation you'd like to make on top of that.

I was flabbergasted. Here's a company that is saying a nickel can save a life and they're essentially just throwing nickels away. What with the 41 cent stamp, the cost of the printing, the envelope and the enclosed nickel, UNICEF had essentially killed no less than nine people just to get me to pay attention. Multiply that by thousands of donation letters they sent out, and I think we've got a good case for charging UNICEF with genocide.

One would think that when a charity claims that a nickel could save a person's life, yet that same charity starts giving away nickels like they were worthless, it might very well appear that said charity was acting quite inhumanely. It may even seem as if the charity were symbolically throwing lives away.

I was going to send my nickel back with a nasty note chastising UNICEF for their thoughtless, heartless behavior. I was going to yell at them in sentences that contained ALL CAPITAL LETTERS and lots of exclamation points to make sure they knew that I didn't want them letting people die in order to send me a nickel to tell me that it's not good to let people die. I was going to write the most furious note I've ever written and get myself all worked up in the process. My face was going to turn red and saliva was going to spit from my mouth when I talked. That's how angry I was going to be. And in this note, I was going to return the nickel. I was going to tape the nickel to the middle of the page and circle it with a big red Sharpie and put all sorts of asterisks and arrows around it so they got my point. That nickel return would be the coup de grace. It would scream Shame On You UNICEF! Shame shame shame on you!

Then I realized that spending another 46 cents (the nickel, plus the 41 cent stamp) does not make a valid point about wasting money to an organization who's claim is to not waste money when you can help save other people from becoming another statistic on a government chart. Two wrongs don't make a right and besides, they would most likely ignore my letter. The hypothetical statement I was going to make would be tossed away like the symbolic nickel lives they clearly had no respect for.

With UNICEF flagrantly tossing nickels every which way but loose, I also wondered where my UNICEF donation would go. Would I be sending in money simply to fund the distribution of more nickel envelopes? I want to save a life, not fund a donation drive.

I did a quick Google search and found all of the other people who are infuriated and confused with UNICEF's behavior and decided to save the money and utilize their energy for good.

So I walked outside and I gave the nickel to a homeless person. I also gave him about 70 additional cents to account for inflation.

He said Thank You and God Bless You. And he seemed genuinely happy.

I skipped buying any gum that day, just for good measure.


No Wetsuit Girl... overseas! said...

I once worked for an agonizing week on the streets of Boston trying to get people to sponsor children for a charity called Children International. In a 50-hour week I managed to save 3 children. My bonus from this: $30. What was disgusted me most about this job was people's reactions. I was accused of being a scam artist, an identity theif, a canvasser for Anyone But Bush in 2004 (now THAT could have saved lives!), and a whore. Our tag line was "for the price of a cup of coffee a day you can save this child's village" (I guess Children International had taken inflation into account, because this figure was based on the price of a Starbucks cup of coffee), and a capitalist pig willing to make a dime off anything. What I wonder is, short of all of us shacking up with Angelina Jolie, what advertising campaign is going to make us all find it in our hearts to dedicate our lives to ending poverty like Brad Pitt has these past couple of years?

triathlonmom said...

You are so funny. Thanks for the laughs! Great way to start my day.