I remember when I was growing up, that my parents had a “Christmas Club Account,” which they referenced around this time each year; usually in the context of being thankful they had it to help offset the costs of all the gift-getting.
I’ve always been pretty money-conscious, so I have my own Christmas account and though it always seems to burn up pretty quickly once I start shopping in earnest, there’s always a bit left that I try and use to help someone out during the holiday season.
You may be familiar with Clark Howard–the nationally known radio and television personality known for his frugality. He’s based here in Atlanta and each year he goes from Walmart to Walmart broadcasting on-air, to promote his “Clark’s Kids” holiday charity drive. It’s promoted as your typical “come choose a child to help this Christmas” toy drive.
I’ve tried to get over to the Walmart he’s broadcasting at for a couple of years now, but this year was the first time I’ve really been able to get there. So yesterday, I got the boys out of school early and we headed over to Walmart in hopes of teaching them a bit about “giving” and maybe help a couple of children have a better Christmas.
We arrived at Walmart and sure enough, there’s the local radio broadcast truck outside so at least I knew that we were at the right place at the right time. We headed in and just generally aimed for the balloons near the ceiling cuz, it’s Walmart and it’s pretty big. Arriving at the charity drive, we’re directed a long table filled with sheets of paper, each containing the details of a particular child: name, age, race, and then a list of three items he or she had selected for Christmas.
I encouraged my boys to each look through and select a sheet of someone they wanted to “help” and while they did that, I began to just peruse the sheets. As I did, I noticed a couple of things:
- The lists were very similar. For instance a “VTech” game thing was a common theme. I asked if the kids were given a list of items to choose from and was told “Yes.”
- There were some pricey items on the list. I saw a Samsung Galaxy smartphone, bicycles, and other large-ticket items
My own boys came back to me with their lists and on them I saw:
For the 4 year old my youngest son selected:
- a double-sided whiteboard easel
- a balance bicycle
- a little-tykes basketball thing
For the 9 year old my oldest son selected:
- a Simon game
- electric scooter (and if you bought a scooter, you were supposed to also buy a helmet)
- a basketball hoop you mount to your door inside
Let me say here that my expectation was to spend about $50 on each child, so I asked one of the volunteers how “this” worked; did I just buy a couple of things on the list? She replied that the idea is for you to buy everything on the child’s list, but if you didn’t, it would go back in the pile in hopes someone else would finish it up. No guilt there right?
Now, I won’t bore you with the next 45 minutes we spent walking around, unsuccessfully trying to find the exact items on the list, many of which I was told Walmart didn’t even carry, or me looking at the price of an electric scooter and saying, “Yeah, that’s not gonna happen. My own kids don’t have an electric scooter.” But we did end up getting (similar gifts since we could find an exact match for most things) all but the most expensive item on each child’s list (they didn’t have the balance bike) and it still came out to $145 total.
I’m happy to have been able to help of course, but the onsite expectation didn’t match the promoted expectation. And who thought this through? If a kid did get a smartphone from someone, who is going to pay for the cell phone plan? Is a balance bicycle really the best use of $60 when they’re likely going to outgrow it in a matter of months? I don’t know…it just felt a bit “thrown together” and I didn’t feel like I was really “helping” someone.
Being a charity run by the Clark Howard foundation, I’m more than a little surprised. For someone so bent on saving money and making every dollar count, this toy drive certainly didn’t live up to what I’ve come to expect from Clark.
Next year I’ll find someone, or an organization, a bit more “need” driven and a lot less “wish” driven.