Forced Charity

by admin on August 11, 2010

I went to a trade show recently with my friend who is a caterer. The trade show was dedicated to those in the food industry. I went with her because she was pregnant and didn’t want to go alone. This was a 3 day show. We went for 2 days total. Now outside the convention, there were companies giving out free samples. It was a good thing as it was hot outside, June weather and all.

Once inside there were long lines to get your badges so you could enter the actual convention. Once inside there were various vendors and exhibitors giving out free samples of food. Some gave us bags to hold our samples in. These were snack sized samples, think of those snack bags you get at the deli’s for a quarter and such. There were also lots of vitamin and flavored water bottles being handed out. We walked around the show, talked to people, made some contacts and were very satisfied.

Upon trying to show, we were stopped by a very rude employee. He stated we could not leave the show with a bag full of full sized samples. Clearly the samples we were given were snack sized and he knew it, but felt the need to harass us. He claimed that we had to give up our full sized samples to the food bank. Now I asked which food bank in question and he had no idea. Not a good sign. Rude employee and not knowledgeable. I put something into the box, and he goes you have to donate more than that. That was just incredible rude. He was not satisfied until I had put in 4 items into the box. And they were not full sized samples of anything.

Then he moves onto my pregnant friend. She opens her bag and realizes in her pregnant nature that she drank most of the bottles, which were empty or half full, and eaten most of her snack sized snacks. She had cravings throughout the show. This rude employee then has the nerve to touch her, and put his hands on her shoulders to move her out of the way so others may pass by! I was angry that he had singled us out and let others pass. He then made my pregnant friend stand there as he went through her bag to find something for her to donate. It was highly inappropriate of him to do that, and my friend was getting upset.

I was infuriated. Why were others allowed to walk by and not donate but we were forced to? I said something to him, mentioning that he did not ask the other people who walked by for donations. He ignored me and said we could go. I was going to press on because his behavior was just plain rude. My friend who was already upset wanted to get out of there, and I went with her not wanting to cause a scene.

We had gone to the other level, and upon leaving they said we could not leave with any full sized samples. This was getting ridiculous. I had already “donated 4 items upstairs. Now they wanted more. We were trying to leave, but the staff had blocked the only exit for that level, and we were desperately trying to catch the shuttle bus back to the train station to catch the train. They didn’t care. They reached into my bag and grabbed out the biggest item they could find. They did the same to my pregnant friend. I wondered if they were just taking these items for themselves, as they seemed pretty greedy about it.

My friend was so upset, and just wanted to go home. I didn’t want to start an argument at the exit. Several other people were angry and annoyed at their forced donations that they got off the line and went to find someone. I should have done the same. But my pregnant friend wanted to leave, and I went with her.

I am all for donating to charities. Of your choice. Being forced to donate something is just plain tacky. Its rather presumptuous of them to think everyone wants to donate to the same charity. Maybe I wanted to give it to my church, or a children’s hospital. The staff didn’t even know what charity they were donating to, a clear indication that they were most likely taking it for themselves.

I emailed the trade show to ask them exactly what charity/food bank they were allegedly donating these items to. And I told them about the rude staff and how they treated us. I received a short 2 sentence email response. It was very cookie cutter and they stated they picked a well known charity. I asked them why they just didn’t ask the vendors there to donate directly to the food bank rather than harassing each and every person. Or why certain people were selected to be forced to donate while others didn’t. And I asked if this was going to be an ongoing thing, where forced donations were going to forced at every trade show they hosted. I received no response.

All I can say is that I will not be going back there again. The vendors were very friendly, and making contacts was very helpful in the catering business. But does the food bank really need an orchid infused extract to infuse the flavor of their champagne? Whether they were racist, sexist, or judged me on my economical social class, I am telling everyone I know not to go to this horrid trade show.  0701-10

{ 65 comments… read them below or add one }

lkb August 11, 2010 at 4:27 am

Yes, this was very rude, especially as not everyone was forced to donate.
However, this also calls to mind something that happens in many workplaces each year. There is a charity that is in many workplaces. Employers are apparently encouraged to hound their employees to give so the company can be honored for 100 percent participation. This particular charity does give to many organizations and probably does a lot of good, but my husband and I call it the “Social Conscience Tax” because we are hounded to the point of not really having a choice whether to give. What if we don’t agree with the policies of some of the member organizations? What if we gave at church or elsewhere? But no, we really are hounded until we give something, all so that our employers can get another plaque on the wall and we can get a little cheapie pin.

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catrunning August 11, 2010 at 4:43 am

In the US, it is totally illegal for anyone other than law enforcement to detain you and search you and confiscate your property. And even then, they can only do it under certain circumstances. I would have immediately called law enforcement on those people. From what OP said, this was blatantly illegal. I would consult a lawyer on this – those people need to be stopped. A lawsuit filed against the trade show would be a start.

I don’t know what that “charity’s” agenda was, but nothing good could come of it.

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josie August 11, 2010 at 5:51 am

Especially upon touching your friend, I’d so want to tell the guy “lay another finger on her and I’m calling the police”. Totally uncalled for. Vendor freebies are yours and demanding you hand them over is just wrong on so many levels. Perhaps your email should of been sent to the head of the trade show also, not just the venue.

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nomnom August 11, 2010 at 5:52 am

Name and Shame the organizers.

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jan August 11, 2010 at 6:13 am

I sounds like extortion to me~

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KarenK August 11, 2010 at 6:34 am

I think the next step, should the OP wish to take it, would be to contact the charity itself and tell them what had been perpetrated in its name. I’m sure they’d like to know.

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Skoffin August 11, 2010 at 7:09 am

This is quite bizarre. If vendors are given away free samples then the intended purpose is for the people to try them out and potentially become customers of these vendors. That’s the whole purpose of given away samples. By these employers forcing people to give away their samples, they are actually damaging the vendors they are supposed to be there for. The entire point of these shows is for the vendors to get their product out there. If the people cannot try the samples then they have no idea if they like the product, so the vendors spent their money on producing these samples to hand out while no actually getting any return investment on it. Giving stuff to a charity is all well and good, but a charity are not likely to try these samples and say ‘hey I like that, I think I’ll go buy some’. That would kinda defeat the purpose of it needing food donations.

I think the vendors should perhaps demand their money if they had to pay to be there.

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Jen August 11, 2010 at 7:18 am

Holy Crap!

I’ve attended the International Hotel/Motel and Restaurant Show in New York City with my husband and I’ve never heard of such a thing. My husband has worked as a caterer and has attended multiply trade shows by himself and he has never heard of such a thing.

In my state, I ‘m pretty sure it’s illegal for restaurants and bakeries to donate food that has not sold that day for fear of spoilage and such. I would think that this would apply to a three day trade show as well, though I may be wrong.

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Tara August 11, 2010 at 7:57 am

You did not need to donate. What are they gonna do? Holding you against your will amounts to illegal detainment, and they have no right to do so. Touching your friend amounts to assault. You should’ve just walked out and ignored them. They have no legal right to stop you, since you weren’t stealing anything.

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Doug Stephens August 11, 2010 at 8:15 am

I would have refused to donate. I might have thrown a piece of food onto the ground and stomped on it. And I would have screamed if any of them reached into my bag.

Donations are donations. If they didn’t like it, they could call the police.

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LovleAnjel August 11, 2010 at 8:32 am

This sounds really odd. Every convention I’ve been to gives out goodies and none have required charity. I wonder if there was some law in the city that forbid the give-aways and the charity thing was a way to circumvent it. But it seems odd that no one was informed that they had to give away their goodies. Surely the companies there would have known and said, eat this now or they’ll take it from you at the door.

It was extremely rude to be held up while other people were able to escape, and there is no excuse for someone to have put their hands on the friend. I don’t know how they would have known the OP’s socioeconomic status, but regardless it was rude of the door people to harass them.

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Ripple August 11, 2010 at 8:33 am

I suggest you contact several of the larger vendors and let them know what happened. If enough vendors complain to the trade show because their potential customers are complaining, then this will probably not happen again. I agree, very rude and very unprofessional.

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PinkPenguin August 11, 2010 at 8:42 am

Wait a minute – they give you samples – then demand them back to give to someone else? Forced charity issue aside, unless I’m missing something – EWWWW!

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BusyBee August 11, 2010 at 8:49 am

I think I was at the exact same show! As I was walking near the exits I noticed those donation bins set up and was a little surprised–it seemed fairly presumptuous of them to try to force people to donate. I’d been to the show before and knew how obnoxious they could be, so I brought a very large dark purse and stashed most of my samples in there in the hope of avoiding being searched. As it turned out, my fiance and I accidentally exited through a side door that wasn’t being monitored, so we were able to escape without being harassed. So sorry this happened to you and your friend, that sounds pretty outrageous!

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Xtina August 11, 2010 at 9:15 am

And obviously the trade show management condoned or was not concerned about this kind of behavior, judging by the response you got back from them. I would very strongly consider getting in contact with some of the vendors that you met at the show, and telling them of the kind of harrassment that guests were receiving at the hands of the show’s management (and that when you contacted said management, they did not seem to care). Perhaps if the trade show management company stands to lose money from vendors renting space from them, then they’ll listen more closely.

How ridiculous. Wouldn’t forced donations to a charity not chosen by the giver border on being illegal?

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Jillybean August 11, 2010 at 9:50 am

I agree with Skoffin and Ripple – contact some of the vendors themselves – I doubt they know this is going on, and would likely be in a better position to cause a stink. The entire point of samples is to get you to buy. For you to buy, you need to try. So, it’s in the best interest of the vendors for you to keep your samples. Wacky!

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gramma dishes August 11, 2010 at 9:57 am

Skoffin’s post is superb and covers the bases well.

This wasn’t a contribution. This was theft!

I am particularly suspicious that the person doing the confiscating didn’t even know the name of the ‘food bank’ that was supposedly going to be the recipient of these items.

Yes, by all means, contact the individual vendors and tell them what happened and that you and your friend are so sorry they were not able to sample your product and why. Since you have no idea what it tastes like (because you were unable to taste your sample), you’d be unlikely to purchase it in the future.

As paying vendors, they probably will not be happy about that and will contact the management to make clear they won’t be participating next year. I’m guessing that some of the guests of the trade show won’t be back next year either, not wanting to re-experience the shakedown tactics that concluded an otherwise nice event.

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SHOEGAL August 11, 2010 at 10:11 am

I’ve never heard of this either and I agree that these samples aren’t meant to be donated but are meant to be sampled by the person who is in a position to purchase more . How is that accomplished if it is given to charity??? Weird. After trade shows it is not unusual for there to be many leftover samples that are too costly to ship back so they are left. These items should go to charity. Not ripping the samples out of trade show attendants hands.

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Shannon August 11, 2010 at 10:17 am

I just want to add that, while it’s easy to say “Oh, I would have kept walking/called the cops/screamed bloody murder,” it’s much harder to actually do that when you’re the one in that situation. Like the OP, I probably would have grumbled and fought back, then given up the goods just to get the heck out of there (and get my upset pregnant friend somewhere quiet where she could put up her feet!).

I find the situation really bizarre and outrageous. Physically impeding someone from exiting is illegal detainment…I wonder what would have happened if someone called the police?

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Zeppelin August 11, 2010 at 10:29 am

Absolutely outrageous. This story made my blood boil.

If someone were to touch me/my friends/our belongings, I’d call security or law enforcement immediately. And of course, belittle the offender(s) – it’s totally warranted.

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Gloria Shiner August 11, 2010 at 10:36 am

I’m a little skeptical. If this account is for-real, and the OP has emails or letters from the umbrella organization, then she should be willing to name the trade show and when this occurred.

Why would anyone with a spine allow this to happen? With all the cop and lawyer shows, everyone has heard of illegal search and seizure!

Also, and maybe this is just poor communication skills, there are a lot of things in the story that don’t make sense, e.g. “Upon trying to show, we were stopped by a very rude employee”.

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JeanFromBNA August 11, 2010 at 10:39 am

Yes, by all means, contact the vendors. They paid good money for those booths for the opportunity to sell their products. I’m sure that they would certainly like to know why attendance is dwindling, and they’re not getting good value for their advertising dollar.

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Kristin August 11, 2010 at 10:39 am

@lkb

I have the same problem at my workplace (and I am sure it is the same charity). It has come to the point that I dred that time of year where all of our bosses hound us for our donation and make us feel like terrible people if we don’t. I’ve even been called into the office for not donating. It has come to the point that it makes me ill. Way to promote charity and the joy of giving!

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kiwi August 11, 2010 at 10:48 am

Hmm… reminds me of the time I went to the Los Angeles Science Center when it was somewhat recently opened. They had built this huge new building with a giant open atrium — gift store, kinetic sculptures, restaurants, and special exhibit ticket booths downstairs… but to get upstairs to the regular, non-special exhibits, you had to go up an escalator.

Now, supposedly, the science center is free (at least, the regular exhibits are) to get into. But curiously, when you approached the bottom of the escalator to get upstairs, there were donation boxes with signs indicating a recommended donation of $7 per person. ALSO, there were even employees standing there next to the boxes!

As we were waiting in line to approach the escalators, a man a few people ahead of us stuck a $5 bill in the box, and attempted to go up — but the employees STOPPED him and told him he couldn’t go up until he gave the $7 recommended, and when he complained that it was RECOMMENDED and not required, they still wouldn’t let him up. Ugh. I don’t remember what happened at the time, since I was only about 10, but… geez. Drives me nuts.

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JT August 11, 2010 at 10:57 am

Wow, this just sounds bizarre! I’m wondering where this took place, because I would like to think that in the U.S., such behavior would be considered illegal. You can bet if someone tried to stop me from leaving and started rifling through my belongings, I would have the cops there, pronto. (Not that I’m doubting the OP — I’m just curious as to where this occurred.)
And I agree with other comments that the OP should post the name of this organization so that we can try to avoid them. A forced donation is NOT charity.

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TulipWorthy August 11, 2010 at 11:14 am

Why didn’t you just say no and continue walking?

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Beth August 11, 2010 at 11:30 am

I totally agree-especially with a pregnant friend who deserves respectful treatment. How is she doing?

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Asharah August 11, 2010 at 11:37 am

Try to take food away from me without express permission might result in bodily harm to the person attempting to do the taking.

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mommaknowsbest August 11, 2010 at 11:40 am

Again, totally unbelievable –meaning how and why in the world would the OP let this happen? People, get a spine, put on a smile and walk away–if they detain you, call 9-1-1 or demand to see their supervisor immediately!

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jenna August 11, 2010 at 11:55 am

I’d contact the vendors, but also splash the name of this trade show over any industry networking site or organization you can, warning people not to attend and explaining their atrocious actions.

The Internet is great that way – the Wedding Industrial Complex has gotten a lot kinder to many a bride due to fear of bad online reviews – something they didn’t have to worry about quite so much before the series of tubes was built. I post on a private wedding planning forum (NOT any of the big name ones – I dislike all of ‘em. Too traditional) and the advice given, time and time again, to brides upset over a vendor issue is to find review sites and publicize it. And they do. And it works.

Methinks the same thing could work here.

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Brenda August 11, 2010 at 12:18 pm

I went to a similar show many years ago with a friend. I’m not in the business, but he wanted some company. There were donation bins at the doors, but no one pressed us to give. I guess in the years since then that these people have become more aggressive.

My other thought is that they singled the OP out because of the pregnant friend. If the OP is female and with a pregnant, hormonal friend, the “charity worker” may have felt they were easy targets to intimidate into giving. I’ve noticed personally that men are less likely to be hassled on the street by polltakers and charity workers.

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Patti August 11, 2010 at 1:14 pm

No one else has mentioned the sanitary issues of the samples. Who is to know if you licked them, fondled them with unwashed hands, etc? I’m in no way saying you did, but most charities would not accept them (at least in the U.S.). One time my employer had a party and had oodles of leftover food. They would not take it because it was not packaged.

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geekgirl August 11, 2010 at 1:33 pm

This reminds of something that’s grown up a great deal over here (UK), I don’t know about the States. It’s people who have been nicknamed ‘chuggers’, short for charity muggers. They basically stop you in the street, and talk and shame and guilt you into signing up for a monthly donation to whatever charity they work for. They’re very difficult to avoid, and make it almost impossible to say no to them without being very rude. It’s basically using highly aggressive street salesman technique to make you donate to charity. Personally, I believe giving to charity should be a choice one makes oneself, not something you’re forcibly talked into by a salesperson, and I refuse to give to any charity that uses these chuggers – but I’ve seen quieter, shyer people than me practically bullied into signing over £20 every month. When did collecting for charity get so aggressive?

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MamaToreen August 11, 2010 at 1:38 pm

I am very twitchy about being touched. If he had Started to grab my bag, I probably would have screamed “Stop, Theif!” Dramatic, and probably rude, but How dare they lay hands on attendees?

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kim August 11, 2010 at 1:47 pm

I’m wondering if there was a contest among the employee’s to see who could collect the most donations?

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Jillybean August 11, 2010 at 2:25 pm

Patti – I got the impression these were wrapped samples, but I could be wrong.

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Joe J August 11, 2010 at 2:39 pm

I may be possessed by an unseemly curiosity today, but I Googled “Trade Show” with “Forced Donations” to see if this was a common practice, and to my surprise one of the first results was the OP’s story on another site (although with a few more cuss words – I applaud OP’s restraint here). Seems like the trade show was “Fancy Food Show” in NY and the charity might have been “City Harvest”, but I learned a long time ago to not rely totally on the information received via the Web, so make of that what you will.

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Tiffany Maxwell August 11, 2010 at 3:10 pm

That is utterly shocking, and I am with nomnom, name and shame, name and shame!

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Jamesy August 11, 2010 at 3:18 pm

I’m not appalled or disgusted, just taken slightly aback. This is inappropriate behavior to say the least and the organizers of this event should be ashamed that they allowed this to happen. Not the HUGE deal everyone is making it out to be. However, they crossed the line when one of the employees or – cough- “charity workers” actually put their hands on someone. Ugh, how gnarly.

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Enna August 11, 2010 at 3:28 pm

That is harrasement, theft, immtimdation and for you firend it could be seen as sexual harrsement him touching her. OP should say in a very loud voice “THIS IS HARRESMENT LEAVE US ALONE OR WE CALL THE POLICE” and not give anything over. If they try and immtidate you just walk by – if they touch you shout “PERV GET YOUR HANDS OFF ME” – that would embrasses most ppl to let go and if the perosn doesn’t push them off “leave me alone you are stealing/harrassing me.”

Contact the police, the company who was hosting the event and the vendors to let them know what is happeneing. I’d be in clined to get the person’s details – say “we’re going to sue you’re stressing a pregnant woman – that could be a VERY expensive lawsuit.”

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Jillybean August 11, 2010 at 3:38 pm

I also just thought about any time I’ve gone to an event like this. Everytime I’ve ended up with some samples I didn’t care about, or would have no interest in trying. But sometimes you take them because the vendor almost makes you feel bad if you say, “no thank you.” Or sometimes a vendor has to hand out a certain number of samples so they give 10 to each person that walks up. All they would need really, is a couple bins at the front, with the name of the charity and someone with a nice booming voice shouting out, “Please feel free to donate any unwanted samples to the such-and-such food bank on your way out.” I’m sure they’d get many donations. And as a side bonus the vendors themselves could even look at the donations at the day’s end and realize, ok – everyone took one of those, but nobody actually tried it, which often happens, but it’s usually at home that they just throw it away (this is, of course, assuming pre-wrapped samples) which means the vendor doesn’t know.

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Victoria August 11, 2010 at 4:56 pm

I dunno, I sorta call shenanigans. I can’t imagine anyone NOT stopping someone from putting their hands on their person and/or digging through their bags. Especially a pregnant woman. I’m pretty laid-back, but when I was pregnant, any stranger that touched me unwelcomingly would have drawn back a bloody stump.

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kero August 11, 2010 at 5:47 pm

Horrible! I want to know the name of this trade show and the charity so I do not attend it! Urgh, I have a feeling that you and your friend were targeted because she was pregnant.

Is “donations” the new word for “fee?” I have been to a few events where the event has a “donation tickets that can be purchased for $__. I go to the event and it is mandatory to buy the donation ticket in order to enter. What the!? Donations are supposed to be voluntary gifts! The amount, I believe, should be at the giver’s discretion too!

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Blufyor August 11, 2010 at 6:28 pm

Submit this to someplace like Consumerist.com, but naming names. They regularly post consumer-submitted stories about customer service disasters, rude/abusive staff, and offensive store policies, so they’d probably be interested in this as well.

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Vrinda August 11, 2010 at 6:34 pm

The original poster said they were given snack-sized samples, and the rude employee told them that they could not leave with so many “full-sized samples.” She doesn’t mention telling the employee that the samples were only snack-size. That would not have changed the course of events, but it might have put the rude employee on the spot so he would have to find another reason to have stopped them.

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Amy August 11, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Last year I volunteered to sort food at my local food bank. While there were tons of boxed, canned and bagged foods, if they had been crushed, opened or past date, they were tossed. And there was a lot of tossing that day. I felt sick to my stomach when I had to throw out a ten pound bag of sugar because it was slightly opened. They explained to us that if the USDA (I think that is the organization that monitors them) found the rejects in the giveaway boxes, they could be shut down. So I am not really sure how far snack sized items go pass the test. At least this food bank was very serious about following the rules and we obliged because of all the good work they do.

My company has the same charity that we are asked to donate to and while I wouldn’t mind donating, my budget says I can’t. So I try to donate my time to charities that mean something to me. While I have had the look given when I turn my form in with no donation checked, I make sure they understand that my salary can only stretch so far.

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A August 11, 2010 at 7:28 pm

What on Earth?! Putting your hands on anyone in that manner sounds like a form of assault to me. And, what good are they doing to the vendors when they take back the products before you can consume the samples? Maybe you already tasted some, but were taking a sample so you could let others’ try it and get more opinions…weird, weird, weird. Report them to the Better Business Bureau or a similar organization and never go again!

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Margaret August 11, 2010 at 10:06 pm

To: geekgirl #33: That’s awful, but if I were shamed into signing up for a monthly donation in that manner, I would go home and immediately cancel the pledge AND request that I be put on a no soliciation list. I support various charities, but a couple of times I have been so ticked off that I have crossed them off entirely. There are many many worthwhile charities, so I have only a limited amount of patience for bad behaviour. Examples were where a phone solicitor was rude to me, and after I complained, I received several more solicitation calls but no apology, and in another case where I wrote 2 or 3 times to cancel a monthly donation, and after 5 or 6 months, they were still charging it to my visa. It wasn’t a huge amount, so I didn’t feel it was worth going to Visa to have the charges reversed, but it was quite a large charity and they’ll never see another dime out of me.

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Rachel August 11, 2010 at 10:52 pm

According to an article on the event – “The show management had decided that no samples were to leave the show floor, and so people who were either not smart or not deceitful enough to just put their samples into bags, out of sight, were being forced to drop them off into cardboard boxes. They shouldn’t feel too bad about it though — all samples were being donated to City Harvest.”

If I were a vendor at the show I would be furious (the vendors already donate all opened, perishable foods at the end of every day.

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Mrelia August 12, 2010 at 6:44 am

I guess saying, “Touch my bag buddy and you’ll be talking to the police!” would have been rude…

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