questionswhat would you do (underprivileged child's gift…

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Also, as a long-time volunteer, I know that they advertise the program as kids writing adorable, glitter-adorned letters to Santa asking for dolls and cars but that the truth is, many of the letters are little more than an order form, pencil on lined paper, with no please or thank you, devoid of any "holiday cheer." While it's definitely more fun to shop for dolls and cars and LEGOs, I don't mind that this kid's letter is "boring." I DO mind being told to give a kid money when gift cards are not mentioned as part of the program.

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I have also stopped doing this. I used to get requests for coats, boots and other items that a child would need. They are supposed to come from needy families. I stopped doing this when I began seeing the majority of requests being for things like gift cards to Game Stop. Families that can afford an X-Box are not needy. This has gotten way out of hand and is being abused to death. A gift card to Old Navy, perhaps, but Game Stop? No!

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Yeah, one of the reasons I stopped volunteering for this group was because we would get letters like this. In fact, in the one I got the kid said he liked playing with his PSP. (They're encouraged to say a little about themselves.) I try not to judge, but it's hard. I know the PSP is somewhat old, but it's one more gaming system than I have! I'm not really sure why I agreed to do this again.

I'm also not really sure how well these letters are vetted. The was it works is, the main organization (let's call them GOOD PEOPLE INC.) works with homeless shelters, after-school programs, and schools in typically underprivileged areas to collect letters. . . but that doesn't mean each individual kid is needy.

The past few years, I've been giving toys to Toys for Tots and letting the Marines deal with who gets what.

I'm really tempted to just tell them that I can't answer this letter, return it, and make a general donation.

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@curli76: Yes, I should have said that I do Toys For Tots now. And I don't donate video games to them! :)

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I got frustrated with our Giving Tree at work for a similar reason. Several organizations, some serving shelter kids and others seniors in nursing homes, put paper ornaments with the clients' first name, gender, age, and request on the tree, and we pick them out and buy the gifts. But for the past five or six years all the senior ones have been for a watch for the men and a blanket or sweater for the women, and the kids ones are a doll for the girls and a truck for the boys. Clearly the clients aren't even being asked and you don't feel any connection with the recipient. So I just started taking a half dozen and buying them whatever I wanted. For the seniors I'd make a gift basket with a lap throw, playing cards, Yahtzee, dominoes, or sudoku and puzzle books, a holiday mug, and a small resin holiday decoration. For the kids I'd fill a plastic bucket with an assortment of toys. I've never been a big fan of Christmas lists anyway. Selecting gifts is the main fun in giving for me.

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@moondrake: Yeah, that's another issue--I think all these organizations mean well but the execution isn't great. I think Toys for Tots, which organizes gifts based on age/gender, works well. Nothing's perfect--there are plenty of little girls who want a Transformer--but I think their method is good.

So are we in agreement that a toy with a gift receipt is ok?

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@curli76: If I were you I'd get the gift card. They let the kid ask for it, don't pick a toy you know he won't like and be dependent on a parent who doesn't have the time to take him for a return. I know it'll be hard, I feel the same way you do. This is a problem for the organization. After you have made the kid happy for christmas (trying not to be the one to decide whether or not he deserves it, I know, even harder) write or call the organization with a complaint. Tell them you did as they said even though you strongly disagree. Let them know if policies don't change you'll be taking your generosity and holiday cheer else where.

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@nmchapma: Thanks. They know how I feel. Obviously they disagree. I think I'm done communicating with them, because I don't want to be told again how "wrong" I am.

Also, if he has no one to take him to return a gift, who is going to take him to redeem a gift card? (I know the window is longer for a gift card, but still. . . )

I guess I should also mention that he asked specifically for a Toys R Us or Best Buy gift card, so chances are he's going to have to go to the store anyway.

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@curli76: gotcha. gift card location matters, thought it might be for PS points or something redeemable online, etc.

I also get that any kid with an xbox doesn't seem very needy. But I will add that I've met more than a few parents who fell behind on a power or phone bill to be able to give their kid something like that. is it irresponsible? maybe. I'm not going to judge, I'm not sure I wouldnt do the same every now and then if I were in that situation.

I'm not calling anyone wrong here, I'm just trying to throw out a different perspective. A lot of people abuse the system but I can't sort them out.

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@nmchapma: Yeah, I wrestled with that for a while, too. It's hard. I just decided that I'd rather give to a kid who puts a priority on a needing winter coat than one who puts a priority on "needing" a video game.

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@nmchapma: Right. Just because this kid goes to an after-school program for poor kids doesn't mean he's so poor his parents won't get him a gift. That's more a problem with how the organization vets (or doesn't vet) its gift recipients. I'm not going to punish the kid for that.

But I also think gift cards get lost, and returning an item to Toys R Us is not that much bigger a deal than going there to use a gift card.

But since the organization has chided me for daring to give an actual gift instead, they've put me in a frustrating position.

I guess the main lesson learned is: Stay away from this group from now on.

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The kids (or parents who are helping them write the letter) should be instructed to be specific, and not to include gift cards. However, @nmchapma has got it right. Just because the kid has a video game system doesn't mean they aren't still needy. You can get a used xbox 360 for under 100 bucks, and there are plenty of parent's who skimp on their own needs (and sometimes irresponsibly on the needs of the household) to make sure the child doesn't feel poor.. that's a very real dynamic in schools - no child wants to be the poor kid, and no parent relishes the thought of it either. Before gaming systems it was whatever-else. When times were lean, my dad would stick cardboard, plastic, and etc in between the insole and soles of his shoes (to prevent water from getting in the worn through soles on rainy days) so that his kids would never have to. They'd go to a secondhand goods store and let the kids get "whatever they want" - so they would never, ever feel the pressures of poverty.

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@goatcrapp: Right, which is why I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to neediness.

I guess my main question is, which would you do:

1. Get the kid his gift card, even though gift cards are often lost and unused.

2. Get the kid a toy and a gift receipt to the store he wants a gift card from.

3. Spent half the money on a toy and half on a gift card.

4. Return the letter to the agency and say that I don't feel comfortable answering it. (Here, I'll say that they never have trouble finding people to answer the letters. In fact, so many people want to participate that they run out.)

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# 3 seems fair. This is a dilemma, isn't it?

There have been allegations in my area that "needy" families were seen returning all their "gifts" to the store for credit.

What's a Jaded Hippie to do when all she wants to do is spread some love?

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@curli76: I saw a lot of this happening, and it made me sad. People in my area are very generous, and I think, to some extent, it does get taken advantage of. I have focused specifically on a local shelter for women and children, and every single item that comes in is appreciated. Children who have left home without familiar toys, or (sometimes) more than the clothes they're wearing, are happy to fit in at school with clothes that match what the other kids have, and a soft stuffed animal, or a doll that looks like them (and yes, I do make an effort, including finding talking dolls that were bilingual a couple of years ago).

I've even stopped kids (with parental permission) in the toy store, and asked them what they thought was the coolest, or the best (if I have an age range, and gender), and then bought that.

I'd return the letter, myself, since you say they tend to be oversubscribed, and find a charity that suits you better.

Lots of nice people commenting here. Hugs all around. :D

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Since it is early and they get enough particiation, return it. If one of the regular organizations in your area does not suit you, call a homeless or battered family shelter and ask if they have a child in need. Be specific that you are not asking for names or locations just donating with a goal of reaching a needy child. Maybe the nursing home could be a good spot to donate time or gifts, also.

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@curli76: I would not give a gift card. It only helps underscore an already disgustingly over-commercialized holiday season. I would do option #4, and find another, more personal way of giving.

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It's interesting so many people are saying "he has this or that so he can't be that poor." Video games are just toys. If a kid said he liked to ride his bike would you say "well he's got a bike, he must not be needy?" It kind of reminds me of some government study a while ago that got Fox News' panties in a twist because the majority of people on welfare had televisions. I mean, televisions in the 21st century! Surely they don't need government assistance if they have a television right? But I digress. If it were me I would just give the kid what he asked for or choose a different organization. If you really want to give actual tangible goods to kids in need, may I make a suggestion? childsplaycharity.org supplies toys(mostly video games) to children's hospitals all over the world. You can even pick a specific hospital and order stuff on their amazon wishlist and amazon will ship it to them for you.

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Giving anything to someone that you have NO connection with is unfortunate. It removes the human relationship from charity. It makes the recipient an anonymous beggar in the eyes of the donor, and makes the donor nothing more than a resource to the recipient.

It really isn't that hard to find needy families that you can help, even if you prefer to do it anonymously.

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@curli76: If you really are that uncomfortable giving the gift card then you should return the letter. It sounds like you're going to regret it if you buy the gift card. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be personally comfortable with the way your charitable donations are used. If you do return the letter please make sure (for yourself) to find a different organization to help. You may regret not buying the gift card but I think helping no one will be worse. good luck. hope it works out.

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Thank you all for your comments.
I've decided to just eat the money, give the gift card, and be done with it. I can't keep obsessing over it.
I haven't participated in this particularly gift drive in a few years and now I remember why.

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I would be done with it. Just think, if they are screening these for appropriateness - what's stopping the recipient from redeeming it for something inappropriate?

I won't even give my own family gift cards, for the most part.

That just sounds completely wrong.

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@omnichad: It's a gift card for Toys R Us. . . not saying everything they sell is something I'd want a kid to have, but he can get whatever he wants from there and I can sleep at night.

I actually like receiving gift cards. . . but I'm 37 and receive them from people who know me.

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@curli76: I agree with not obsessing with it. It is supposed to be fun or at least make you feel good!

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You are doing a nice thing @curli76. Accept the good karma points and move on.