It was December in Manhattan, and the fragrance of roasted chestnuts mixed with the strains of a brass sextet (the Ljungholm family) playing carols 'round the familiar red kettle of The Salvation Army outside 'Bloomies'. Christmas was in the air. Two incidents pressed home the need for me to reassess the true value of the season.
A major toy manufacturer marketing manager phoned me at home (we lived on the SA building and the corps' phone would ring through). His company was involved in a media marketing blitz, and he wished to donate three recently introduced robots worth "several hundred dollars" . Ideally, he said, we'd like to present them to some children during your Christmas party for the under-privileged... And there was more ! "We'll supply a Santa, bring a well known Hollywood star, currently appearing on Broadway and.... All very heady stuff, however, not so very different from what we experienced fairly regularly, and it only took a few seconds before he added, 'we'll bring some TV network to shoot the gift giving for the evening network news!'
The day of the party came, and it was soon time for the gift-giving. The kids were seated anxiously awaiting Santa. We had made no promise to the assembled kids of special gifts or the visit of a Hollywood star…. And then the time went!
No toys, no big time movie mogul, no cameras, no nothing! Did I have the wrong time, the wrong date? I checked my calendar and I'd made no mistake. Even though it was now 7:00 pm I tried to reach the toy manufacturer by telephone, but to no avail. Not even voicemail or answering service for me to vent my frustration ! .
The next morning I learned that the Broadway star had become ill and the company, seeing no possibility to profit through free publicity due their 'generosity,' decided it wasn't worth a visit to our simple Christmas celebration. And, they went one step further and informed the networks that the Christmas party was cancelled -------------------
It was Christmas in Europe and World War II raged. Many of those relocated to Displaced Persons Camps benefitted from the kindness expressed sporadically through the arrival and distribution of gifts from unknown donors. With eager anticipation they awaited news about a rumoured shipment of food and clothing from America.
Long before the train arrived the throngs pushed their way to the snow covered rail road yards. The steam from the arriving train could be seen long before the trains arrival at the station.
The crowd shuffled through the snow and as the heavy box car doors slid open all moved forward eagerly to see what their anonymous benefactors had sent in the name of brotherhood. Would it be blankets, clothing, shoes, food?
Quickly the word spread that one box car was loaded with boxes marked clothing. Those suffering through the winter cold moved anxiously through the box car. There they were, dozens of boxes, all bearing the inprint of a major USA garment manufacturer. The boxes were thrown to the waiting crowd, distributed and ripped open. In the sub zero temperatures of the rail road yard faces froze in disbelief. Each box contained dozens of brand new bow ties!
Two situataions, two distorted views of giving.
Reflecting on the value to the toy manufacturer of the proposed publicity ploy, I doubt that their sales volume would have been significantly affected by joining us for our under- privileged childrens' Christmas Party. Their ads were running daily in every New York newspaper and their robots were seen in almost every store window. I must admit that I paid particular attention to their marketing campaign subsequent to my disappointment, and their real motive for 'giving'.
Is the bow tie incident any different? Is it unreasonable to assume that the donor sought a tax advantage? Most charities can point to similar experiences of 'giving to gain'.
When the giver seeks only gain, all the precious satisfaction of sharing is lost. And, when the gift is witheld because of poor potential for profit, or because of greed or indifference, the potenial donor is the looser.
Today the quality of life is for many measured simply by material gain. Christians however, need to remember that the quality of one's giving affects more than most will ever know, the quality of one's living.
Birkenhead Central Corps, UK