by Katie Delp
The questions come.
Every year, organizations and ministries make the switch from adopt-a-child-type Christmas programs to a Christmas toy store model more like our Pride for Parents program. It’s a big adjustment for some, and it always excites me to watch leaders listen to their community and be willing to change directions to offer more dignity and choice to their neighborhood residents.
And it’s not uncommon for us to hear about their success. Local outlets will report about the new approach and interview neighbors who have appreciated the change. You can read some wonderful stories here from Nonprofit Quarterly and The Atlanta Journal Constitution.
But as with anything new, hiccups occur. And the questions come.
One that I receive most often and in varied ways is “What if someone tries to cheat you?”
In our years of experience running Pride for Parents, organizers want to know, what we have done when a shopper is buying too much or returning too often? The short answer is simply that we do not monitor our customers’ shopping habits. We want our neighbors to have the opportunity to be as generous with their children, neighbors, and friends as they can afford to be. We enjoy watching an enthusiastic grandmother purchase gifts for those she loves.
I’m also asked about shoppers who the staff know could afford to shop elsewhere. Do we screen our customers or require proof of poverty? No, we do not. While this freedom does mean that some shoppers are not truly in need, we appreciate that their participation in the store is also an investment in our year-long job creation programs. Their money goes further in our store.
We also know that requiring documents to vet shoppers means some people would never have the opportunity to buy a gift for someone they love. One year, I witnessed Tiara, a young teenager from the community, diligently searching the shelves. Our relationship was tenuous, and she often upheld a “cool” exterior that kept grown-ups like myself at a distance. But the sheer, childlike delight on her face when she found a gift for her younger sister has sustained me in this work for years. Tiara would never have passed a check to prove her need - she’s too young and even more, she would have never applied. But I want her to be a part of the circle of generosity.
While there are no formal rules about who can shop when or how much anyone can purchase, there are a few ways we seek to provide equity and enough for all. I am sometimes asked how we make sure one person doesn’t sweep in and clear out all the best presents. Quite simply, we don’t put them all out at once. Our store is open for two weeks, and we restock each day and throughout the day. We are also soliciting new donations during the weeks the store is open. This system makes it highly unlikely one person will walk away with all the goodies.
And then there is the issue of shoppers from other organizations who arrive with the intention of stocking their own toy giveaway program by purchasing a bulk of our low-cost toys. Other organizers have emailed me about this concern, and I have seen it in action myself. After some thought, I decided not to allow a handful of folks abusing the store to initiate large-scale protocol for all customers. Instead, I have pulled these few shoppers aside and talked to them directly about the purpose of the store and to ask them to please shop elsewhere. Most are gracious. Some are not. But I will choose a hard conversation with another service provider over a complex paperwork system that excludes Tiara and other shoppers who are the reason behind our Christmas store.
“What if someone tries to cheat you?” It’s a real question. And it’s important to think through those scenarios and how you will handle them in any community endeavor. For me and for Pride for Parents, I have decided I’d rather err on the side of big generosity than to hold too tightly to the resources that have been shared with us. It’s a delicate balance, and I lean into the delight of grandmothers and dads and teenagers like Tiara who share their joy at the chance to be generous and make choices with their money that bless their families.