It breaks my heart

My older, but still quite little, girl came home from kindergarten today excited about the prospect of winning a prize in the school fundraiser, if she were able to raise enough. She begged me to let her participate from the first minute I saw her. Fortunately, she was able to hear what I had to say without pitching a fit. She’s not spoiled, but she is very sensitive. I have to approach the “I don’t think we’re doing that” very carefully. The first dose went down easy. There will be more.

I told her that we will find a way for it to work out, but that I had to look over the material and talk to her mom about it. What I feared turned out to be true. It’s the typical school fundraiser, a catalog full of crap. If you sell enough of it you get a crappy prize—the sort of prizes small children drool over, beg you for, and then break in an hour or less.

My daughter has absolutely no idea what this is about. Sure, she gets at some level that it is a way to raise money for her school. But she doesn’t understand what’s really going on. The school—a public school—is underfunded, as many are. The town routinely rejects overrides of the cap on increases in property taxes. Health care costs are ravaging the town’s budget. There’s not enough to go around. So the school has to beg. And it does so using its greatest asset: the small, impressionable children who are its captive for six hours per day and their weary parents. It is really very sad.

Instead of asking for donations, which they have probably learned doesn’t work, the school engages in all manner of thinly veiled panhandling. We had the list of “school supplies” for the first day, which included items our child was clearly not going to use directly. In fact, of the 15 or so items, only two were really designated for her. The rest just stocked the otherwise empty supply cabinet. It’d have been far more efficient to give money so the school could buy in bulk. Instead every parent had to buy a single package of wipes, a single box of tissues, and so forth. I want to weep.

And now the fall fundraiser. My girl is hooked. She wants that prize. But, without substantial help there is no way she’d win it. If we’re to really “do it right” we’d take her door-to-door and a small handful of people (of the small subset who are home and willing to answer the bell) will take pity on her and buy some piece of junk so she can fill out her list. Many would turn us away. I’d have to answer the question, “Why don’t people want to help my school?” She’s too young for the answer to that. And, trust me, she’s got better uses of her time.

I think we’ll find another way. We’ll try to explain it to our daughter. We’ll make a donation to the school. We’ll use the time she would have otherwise gone door-to-door doing something community spirited but far more honest. And, if necessary, we’ll buy her something she could call a “prize” so she doesn’t feel left out.

The whole thing just breaks my heart. Any other ideas?

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